Saturday, March 05, 2011

Does Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) Accept the Historical Innerancy of Scripture?

At least one Roman apologist was giving my friend, John Bugay, some grief because Mr. Bugay was citing the work of Peter Lampe. It was alleged that Peter Lampe is a "liberal" because he denies the innerancy of Scripture on historical points.

Whether or not that is true, I wonder if that Roman apologist would be willing to aim his "liberal" label-maker at Joseph Ratzinger, who appears to deny the historical accuracy of the gospels, and in particular that of Matthew in this selection from his forth-coming book:
In all essentials, the four Gospels harmonise with one another in their accounts of the progress of the trial. Only John reports the conversation between Jesus and Pilate, in which the question about Jesus' kingship, the reason for his death, is explored in depth (18:33-38). The historicity of this tradition is of course contested by exegetes. While Charles H. Dodd and Raymond E. Brown judge it positively, Charles K. Barrett is extremely critical: ''John's additions and alterations do not inspire confidence in his historical reliability'' (The Gospel According to Saint John, p. 530). Certainly no one would claim that John set out to provide anything resembling a transcript of the trial. Yet we may assume that he was able to explain with great precision the core question at issue, and that he presents us with a true account of the trial. Barrett also says ''that John has with keen insight picked out the key of the Passion narrative in the kingship of Jesus, and has made its meaning clearer, perhaps, than any other New Testament writer'' (ibid., p. 531).

Now we must ask: who exactly were Jesus' accusers? Who insisted that he be condemned to death? We must take note of the different answers that the Gospels give to this question. According to John it was simply ''the Jews''. But John's use of this expression does not in any way indicate - as the modern reader might suppose - the people of Israel in general, even less is it ''racist'' in character. After all, John himself was ethnically a Jew, as were Jesus and all his followers. The entire early Christian community was made up of Jews. In John's Gospel this word has a precise and clearly defined meaning: he is referring to the Temple aristocracy. So the circle of accusers who instigate Jesus' death is precisely indicated in the Fourth Gospel and clearly limited: it is the Temple aristocracy - and not without certain exceptions, as the reference to Nicodemus (7:50ff.) shows.

In Mark's Gospel, the circle of accusers is broadened in the context of the Passover amnesty (Barabbas or Jesus): the ''ochlos'' enters the scene and opts for the release of Barabbas. ''Ochlos'' in the first instance simply means a crowd of people, the ''masses''. The word frequently has a pejorative connotation, meaning ''mob''. In any event it does not refer to the Jewish people as such. In the case of the Passover amnesty (which admittedly is not attested in other sources, but even so need not be doubted), the people, as so often with such amnesties, have a right to put forward a proposal, expressed by way of ''acclamation''. Popular acclamation in this case has juridical character (cf. Pesch, Markusevangelium, ii, p. 466). Effectively this ''crowd'' is made up of the followers of Barabbas who have been mobilised to secure the amnesty for him: as a rebel against Roman power he could naturally count on a good number of supporters. So the Barabbas party, the ''crowd'', was conspicuous while the followers of Jesus remained hidden out of fear; this meant that the vox populi, on which Roman law was built, was represented one-sidedly. In Mark's account, then, as well as ''the Jews'', that is to say the dominant priestly circle, the ochlos comes into play, the circle of Barabbas' supporters, but not the Jewish people as such.

An extension of Mark's ochlos, with fateful consequences, is found in Matthew's account (27:25) which speaks of the ''whole people'' and attributes to them the demand for Jesus' crucifixion. Matthew is certainly not recounting historical fact here: how could the whole people have been present at this moment to clamour for Jesus' death? It seems obvious that the historical reality is correctly described in John's account and in Mark's. The real group of accusers are the current Temple authorities, joined in the context of the Passover amnesty by the ''crowd'' of Barabbas' supporters.

Here we may agree with Joachim Gnilka, who argues that Matthew, going beyond historical considerations, is attempting a theological etiology with which to account for the terrible fate of the people of Israel in the Jewish War, when land, city and Temple were taken from them (cf. MatthÌusevangelium, ii, p. 459). Matthew is thinking here of Jesus' prophecy concerning the end of the Temple: ''O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken'' (Mt 23:37f.: cf. Gnilka, the whole of the section entitled ''Gerichtsworte'', pp. 295-308).

These words - as argued earlier, in the chapter on Jesus' eschatological discourse - remind us of the inner similarity between the Prophet Jeremiah's message and that of Jesus. Jeremiah - against the blindness of the then dominant circles - prophesied the destruction of the Temple and Israel's exile. But he also spoke of a ''new Covenant'': punishment is not the last word, it leads to healing. In the same way Jesus prophesies the ''deserted house'' and proceeds to offer the new Covenant ''in his blood'': ultimately it is a question of healing, not of destruction and rejection.

When in Matthew's account the ''whole people'' say: ''his blood be on us and on our children'' (27:25), the Christian will remember that Jesus' blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Heb 12:24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment, it brings reconciliation. It is not poured out against anyone, it is poured out for many, for all. ''All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God God put [Jesus] forward as an expiation by his blood'' (Rom 3:23, 25). Just as Caiaphas' words about the need for Jesus' death have to be read in an entirely new light from the perspective of faith, the same applies to Matthew's reference to blood: read in the light of faith, it means that we all stand in need of the purifying power of love which is his blood. These words are not a curse, but rather redemption, salvation. Only when understood in terms of the theology of the Last Supper and the Cross, drawn from the whole of the New Testament, does this verse from Matthew's Gospel take on its correct meaning.
- Joseph Ratzinger (under the name Benedict XVI), "Jesus of Nazareth - Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection" (source)

I don't endorse the paragraphs above. Moreover, it does appear that Ratzinger is denying the historicity of Matthew's account. He states that Matthew is "going beyond historical considerations" and "Matthew is certainly not recounting historical fact here." It is interesting that he defends John against the charges that he appears to then make of Matthew. What will our Roman apologist friend do?


William Twisse on Romans 9

William Twisse is the most famous (I think) superlapsarian Reformed theologian. He was Prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly. His works are not widely available today, but I was happy to discover (via that a writing of his on Romans 9 has become freely available on-line (here's the link).


James of Edessa on Scripture

Roger Pearse recently posted on-line a translation (Original to French by Francois Nau and then French to English by Roger Pearse) of James of Edessa's Letter to John the Stylite on the genealogy of the Virgin Mary. I'm not sure the precise date of the letter, but James of Edessa (aka Jacob of Edessa) was a Syrian who lived from about A.D. 633 to 708.

The letter itself deals with a relatively minor problem. The minor problem is this. There were stories that alleged that Mary was of the tribe of Levi. Moreover, there was some minor corroboration of these stories in that Elizabeth was Mary's cousin, yet Elizabeth is described this way:

Luke 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.

In the letter, James of Edessa's response is essentially one of sola Scriptura. Rather than addressing the matter via tradition, James of Edessa begins from a very simple syllogism.

1. Jesus descended from David.
2. Jesus descended from Mary.
3. Therefore, Mary descended from David.

I would say he mistakenly analyzes the gospel genealogies in saying that neither of them is Mary's, but nevertheless, his fundamental approach of relying solely on Scripture to answer the question is correct.

He provides extensive documentation from the Old Testament to prove that the Messiah was the Son of David. From that, using the syllogism I identified above, he provides Mary's Davidic genealogy (with a lacuna from David to Mary) by simple logic.

Along the way, some of his comments about Scripture are quite fascinating - they are the sort of thing one would expect to hear from Calvin:
1. The divine apostle Paul when he wrote to men like those today, who were interpreting with great difficulty the mysterious words of the Gospel of Christ, said with wisdom and profundity: If there are men for whom our gospel is hidden, it is so for those who are perishing, for the unbelievers whose minds the god of this world has clouded, so that they do not see shining the light of the Gospel of the glory of the Messiah who is the image of God [2 Corinthians 4:3-4]. — But all of us, he said, who behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same shape, that is to say into the same image, from glory to glory, when we believe without hesitation in the words of the Gospel as (coming) from the Lord who is the Spirit [2 Corinthians 3:18]. So your Fraternity will know that, if someone interprets with great difficulty, finds obscure the words of the Gospel and does not believe it, or wants to oppose it with insidious and treacherous subtleties, this is one of those for whom the Gospel is hidden, one of those who are perishing, and one of those whom God has abandoned and, so that their minds are darkened by the shadows of the god of this world, and that the light of his Gospel does not shine in their eyes, because they are not worthy of being saved, because of their disbelief and the lack of rectitude of their spirit.

2. For we who — in the words of the apostle who knew and taught the mysteries of the Messiah — see and look at the words of the holy book as in a mirror, there is nothing in the Gospel that lends to difficulty or disbelief, but we are informed by the mysterious words it contains; we look at these words like one who looks at his reflection in a mirror, and they show clearly the picture of the truth. We learn from it that the Messiah has truly come, and we say that if he has truly come he was born, in the flesh, of the seed of David, as the prophets said of him; if he came and if he was born of the seed of David, he must necessarily also come at his time; if he came and he came at his time, and if he is born in the flesh of the seed of David, then the woman who gave birth is also by absolute necessity of the seed of David, as all these things depend on each other and are attached like (the rings) of a chain; they are combined and established by a necessary sequence of ideas and there is no (possible) hesitation on this subject.

- James of Edessa, Letter to John the Stylite, Sections 1-2

The quotation provides a very typical sola Scriptura contrast between those who don't understand the Scriptures because their minds are darkened and those for whom the Scriptures are perspicuous - at least on certain subjects.

But James of Edessa goes on:
3. So by a firm and conclusive syllogism we must show to a Christian or Arab interlocutor that the Blessed Virgin Mary and Mother of God is of the seed of David, although this is not shown by the (holy) Books. This cannot be demonstrated by providing "evidence" from strange and superfluous stories that are brought forward by many and is written and read, but are not part of the holy books. Know indeed, O friend of truth, that I know the stories written by men of zeal, based on their own ideas without any testimony of the (holy) books. The Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of the Messiah, is the daughter of Anne and the just Joachim; the latter, according to the authors of these stories, was the son of Panthir, and Panthir was the brother of Melchi; the latter was the son of Iani, who was descended through his family from the tribe of Levi. They were based in Galilee, near the place where Tiberias was built.

As I said earlier, I do not want to demonstrate the matter with a superfluous demonstration taken from strange things, but using this firm and conclusive syllogism as I did earlier, O friend of God and the truth, that I want the truth to be upheld and not using words (learned) from superfluous stories; whoever the man may be who speaks with you and asks you or presses you on this issue, whether a Christian or a Mohammedan, if he is intelligent and has a reasonable soul, he will understand what the syllogism from which he will understand and will gladly testify to the truth without discussion. What I have said is enough to show clearly to a Christian or to a Mohammedan who talks about this subject, that the Blessed Virgin Mary is of the seed of David.

4. I must now quote for you the words of the prophets. They will show you evidence that the Messiah is, in the flesh, of the seed of David; it will then be shown you, in order to refute the Jews, that the Messiah has come in his time as it was written about him. Thus the expectation (of the Jews) is pointless, for because of their wickedness and blindness of heart, they were led to believe in a lie and not in the truth. The (holy) Spirit (by the) psalmist, testifies to you that the Messiah comes from David, when he says:

I have found David my servant and I have anointed him with my holiness (with my holy oil) [Psalm 89:20];

and speaking of the Messiah who is to come from him, he adds further:

I will make his seed eternal, and his throne like the days of heaven [Psalm 89:29 Peshitta].

The prophet Micah said:

And you Bethlehem, house of Ephrata, you're are not the (most) little among the thousands (the major cities) of Judah, because from you I will make come a ruler, who will command over Israel, and his outgoing (his origin is) from the beginning of the days of the world [Micah 5:2 (Unknown version)].

— Isaiah said:

And I'll make with you an eternal covenant: the holy things (the virtues) promised to David [Isaiah 55:3].

— Jeremiah said:

Behold, the days come, says the Lord, and I will raise unto David a just offspring, and a King shall reign and be wise; he will make judgement and justice on the earth. In his days (during his reign) Judah will be saved, and Israel shall dwell with confidence and the name that the Lord will give it will be: our righteousness [Jeremiah 23:5-6].

— And after something else:

I will break the yoke on their necks and I will cut their chains, and foreigners shall not subjugate them any more, but they will serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom he has established [Jeremiah 30:8-9].

— And further on again:

Thus says the Lord: If you can make pointless my covenant that I have made with the day and my covenant that I have made with the night, so that day and night no longer have a place in time, then my covenant that I made with David my servant also will be pointless, and he shall have no son to reign on his throne [Jeremiah 33:20-21].

— Ezekiel says in the name of the Lord:

I will make a covenant together with David, I will kill every wicked animal on earth [Ezekiel 34:25 (LXX)].

By "animal" he means, in my opinion, the devil. — And further on:

I will purify them and they shall be my people, and I will be their God; and my servant David shall be their king and they shall have only one shepherd [Ezekiel 37:23-24].

— And again:

My servant (David) will be their leader forever [Ezekiel 37:25].

These are the testimonies of the prophets, to show you that the Messiah is descended from the seed of David, and there are others like them.

- James of Edessa, Letter to John the Stylite, Sections 3-4

Notice How James of Edessa does not want to build any doctrine on those books. What you will find interesting, perhaps, is that it is from that class of books that Rome finds its earliest evidence for some of its doctrines about Mary. May I suggest that whatever you may think of James of Edessa's conclusions, his approach is better than theirs. He builds his theology on necessary inferences from Scripture, they build theirs without such evidence.

There is one final item from James of Edessa that I wish to bring to your attention:
So now, everyone: the true Christians and the bold heretics, the Muslims and the Jews in spite of themselves, all confess truly and necessarily that the Messiah has indeed come, that he came in his time, and he is descended from the seed of David, and if all these things are necessarily satisfied (are linked), Mary, the Blessed Virgin who gave birth to him, is also descended from David, although that is not explicitly written in the Holy Book, and that we are not able to produce what is not written. Because that which the truth (the reasoning) states, without allowing anything to be added or subtracted, shows much better the truth to our spirit and to our faith than if we were gathering superfluous words which are not written (in the Bible) and that we can not demonstrate from the sacred books.
- James of Edessa, Letter to John the Stylite, Section 6

That last portion really shows the force of James of Edessa's comment. His operative principle is sola Scriptura. If he can't show it from the Bible, he can't show it. He treats extra-scriptural tradition as unnecessary and extraneous words, and basically denigrates them to the point of their not being worth considering (although he knows what they say).

It would have been nice for James of Edessa to explicitly state the principles of sola Scriptura, but I believe we can fairly clearly see them at work in this letter. The entire letter may found at the following link (link).


Friday, March 04, 2011

Your Hell is Too Small, Mr. John H. Armstrong

To John H. Armstrong, author of the book, "Your Church is Too Small," and to those who buy into his way of thinking, my response is "Your hell is too small."

What do I mean by that? I mean that you are too quick to assume that people don't need to hear the gospel. You figure, "if they call themselves Christians, who am I to judge?" But in the process you lose the chance to convict them of sin and exhort them to repentance and faith in Christ.

By accepting their Christian professions despite their idolatry or other serious and unrepented-of sin, you are not doing them any favors. You may make a lot of friends for yourself (and that will be your reward) but you are not showing them love.

We love our fellow humans and we don't long for hell to be as large as it is. But on the other hand, we need to be realistic and to keep in mind that there will be many who are now saying "Lord, Lord," who will be there. It's not loving to tell someone with a treatable disease that they are fine, even if they don't want to hear about their disease.

Mr. Armstrong, you may think that my definition of the church is too small, but I'm afraid I must tell you that your definition of hell is too small. If I'm wrong, I've shared the gospel in vain. If you're wrong, you've failed to share the gospel with those who need it. If there's any uncertainty about who is right, I suggest you come over to my side.


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Challenging Your Rome-Colored Glasses - Set Aside Your Anachronism

Suppose you are reading through the writings of Gregory of Nazianzus and you hear him say that either the apostle Peter or the bishop of Rome is "entrusted with the chief rule over the people, in other words, the charge of the whole world." Would you think that he was affirming the universal jurisdiction and primacy of the Roman see? I think a lot of folks who have joined the Roman communion would think that way.

Likewise, if you are reading through Athanasius and see him talking about the bishop of Rome in these terms, "he is the pride of the Church, fighting for the truth, and instructing those who have need, they should not resist such an one, but rather accept his good conscience," many of my readers of the Roman communion would draw a similar inference that Athanasius is affirming Roman primacy.

Moreover, imagine you are reading through Basil's works and you come across him describing Rome this way, "No one knows better than you do, that, like all wise physicians, you ought to begin your treatment in the most vital parts, and what part is more vital to the Churches throughout the world than [her]? Only let [her] be restored to harmony, and nothing will stand in the way of her supplying, as a healthy head, soundness to all the body." I am sure that my friends and relatives in the Roman communion will tell me that this means that Basil viewed Rome as the head of the whole church.

The more suspicious of you will be asking, Why did he use "[her]" there? What did it actually say?

Well, that's the rub: none of these quotations is about Rome or the bishop of Rome. The last is about Antioch (that's the "her"). The middle is about Basil. The first is about Athanasius.

We all know that Gregory of Nazianzus didn't think that Athansius was the pope (in a Roman sense) of the church. We all know that Athanasius didn't think that about Basil. And we all know (well most of us do) that Basil didn't think that the bishop of Antioch had universal jurisdiction and primacy.

We know that because the same Gregory wrote this about another bishop: "After that he is a pastor; indeed, the greatest and most respected of pastors. He does not preside merely over the church [of his city or of the city and surrounding area] which, thanks to him and his efforts, is famous to this day, but also over the entire western region and in effect even over the east itself, and the south, and the north, everywhere that he came to be admired." And no that's not about the Roman bishop, but about the bishop of Carthage, Cyprian (the full quotation is below).

Yet if those statements had been made about the Roman bishop, you can bet they would be plastered as seemingly irrefutable proof of their belief in the papacy. And if we suggested that they were just hyperbolic, we'd be told we were twisting the words of the fathers and so forth.

The real culprit here, however, is the informal fallacy of anachronism. The fallacy is simply assuming the papacy back into the early church. Positive comments in passing that support the person's preconceived ideas are taken as confirming it, despite the fact that a reasonably alternative interpretation is present.

My dear Roman-communion readers: challenge your Rome colored glasses. Set aside your anachronistic reading of the fathers, and discover that while they were not Reformed Baptists or Presbyterians in their ecclesiology, they were also not papal in their ecclesiology. Rome's historical claims, therefore, are false. The papacy was unknown to the early church fathers.

We're not suggesting that the fathers were right, nor that they should be made the standard. Like they did, we are saying that the Scriptures are the rule. Yet we are saying that Rome's historical claims - her claims that the fathers confirm her authority - are false.

More importantly, when you have seen that Rome's historical claims are false, turn to the Scriptures and read them without imposing your church's theology upon them. When you do so, you'll see that there is no papal ecclesiology, the distinctive doctrines of Rome are not taught, and there is almost no emphasis on Mary. You'll see the Word of God in a whole new light.

- TurretinFan

As promised, here are the full quotations:

Gregory of Nazianzus (329/330-389): Thus brought up and trained, as even now those should be who are to preside over the people, and take the direction of the mighty body of Christ, according to the will and foreknowledge of God, which lays long before the foundations of great deeds, he was invested with this important ministry, and made one of those who draw near to the God Who draws near to us, and deemed worthy of the holy office and rank, and, after passing through the entire series of orders, he was (to make my story short) entrusted with the chief rule over the people, in other words, the charge of the whole world (τὴν τοῦ λαοῦ προεδρίαν πιστεύεται, ταυτὸν δὲ εἰπεῖν, τῆς οἰκουμένης πάσης ἐπιστασίαν, PG 35:1088): nor can I say whether he received the priesthood as the reward of virtue, or to be the fountain and life of the Church. For she, like Ishmael, fainting from her thirst for the truth, needed to be given to drink, or, like Elijah, to be refreshed from the brook, when the land was parched by drought; and, when but faintly breathing, to be restored to life and left as a seed to Israel, that we might not become like Sodom and Gomorrah, whose destruction by the rain of fire and brimstone is only more notorious than their wickedness. Therefore, when we were cast down, a horn of salvation was raised up for us, and a chief corner stone, knitting us to itself and to one another, was laid in due season, or a fire to purify our base and evil matter, or a farmer's fan to winnow the light from the weighty in doctrine, or a sword to cut out the roots of wickedness; and so the Word finds him as his own ally, and the Spirit takes possession of one who will breathe on His behalf.

NPNF2: Vol. VII, Oration 21, On the Great Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, §7.

Athanasius (297-373) to the presbyter (πρεσβυτέρῳ) Palladius: As you have told me about the monks at Caesarea, which I also learnt from our beloved Dianius, that they were grieving and resisting our beloved Basil the Bishop, I thank you for the information: but I have pointed out the fitting course to them, to be obedient, as children to their father, and not to resist what he approves. For, if he were suspected of not holding the truth, they would do well to resist him: but if they feel confident, as we all feel, that he is the pride of the Church, fighting for the truth, and instructing those who have need, they should not resist such an one, but rather accept his good conscience. For, from what the beloved Dianius told me, they seem grieved without reason. For he himself, as I am sure, becomes weak to the weak that he may gain the weak; but let our friends, looking at the end his truth has in view, and the discretion he uses, glorify the Lord, who has given to Cappadocia such a Bishop as every country wishes to have.

Translation from Thomas William Allies, The Church of England Cleared from the Charge of Schism (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1848), pp. 32-33.

Basil of Caesarea (Ad 329-379) to Athanasius: No one, I feel sure, is more distressed at the present condition, or, rather to speak more truly, ill condition of the Churches than your excellency; for you compare the present with the past, and take into account how great a change has come about. You are well aware that if no check is put to the swift deterioration which we are witnessing, there will soon be nothing to prevent the complete transformation of the Churches. And if the decay of the Churches seems so pitiful to me, what must--so I have often in my lonely musings reflected--be the feelings of one who has known, by experience, the old tranquillity of the Churches of the Lord, and their one mind about the faith? But as your excellency feels most deeply this distress, it seems to me only becoming that your wisdom should be more strongly moved to interest itself in the Church's behalf. I for my part have long been aware, so far as my moderate intelligence has been able to judge of current events, that the one way of safety for the Churches of the East lies in their having the sympathy of the bishops of the West. For if only those bishops liked to show the same energy on behalf of the Christians sojourning in our part of the world which they have shewn in the case of one or two of the men convicted of breaches of orthodoxy in the West, our common interests would probably reap no small benefit, our sovereigns treating the authority of the people with respect, and the laity in all quarters unhesitatingly following them. But, to carry out these objects, who has more capacity than yourself, with your intelligence and prudence? Who is keener to see the needful course to be taken? Who has more practical experience in working a profitable policy? Who feels more deeply the troubles of the brethren? What through all the West is more honoured than your venerable gray hairs? O most honoured father, leave behind you some memorial worthy of your life and character. By this one act crown your innumerable efforts on behalf of true religion. Despatch from the holy Church placed under your care men of ability in sound doctrine to the bishops in the West. Recount to them the troubles whereby we are beset. Suggest some mode of relief. Be a Samuel to the Churches. Share the grief of the beleaguered people. Offer prayers for peace. Ask favour from the Lord, that He will send some memorial of peace to the Churches. I know how weak letters are to move men in matters of such importance; but you yourself no more need exhortation from others than the noblest athletes need the children's cheers. It is not as though I were instructing one in ignorance; I am only giving a new impulse to one whose energies are already roused. For the rest of the affairs of the East perhaps you may need the aid of more, and we must wait for the Westerns. But plainly the discipline of the Church of Antioch depends upon your reverence's being able to control some, to reduce others to silence, and to restore strength to the Church by concord. No one knows better than you do, that, like all wise physicians, you ought to begin your treatment in the most vital parts, and what part is more vital to the Churches throughout the world than Antioch? Only let Antioch be restored to harmony, and nothing will stand in the way of her supplying, as a healthy head, soundness to all the body. Truly the diseases of that city, which has not only been cut asunder by heretics, but is torn in pieces by men who say that they are of one mind with one another, stand in need of your wisdom and evangelic sympathy. To unite the sundered parts again, and bring about the harmony of one body, belongs to Him alone Who by His ineffable power grants even to the dry bones to come back again to sinews and flesh. But the Lord always works His mighty works by means of them that are worthy of Him. Once again, in this case too, we trust that the ministry of matters so important may beseem your excellency, with the result that you will lay the tempest of the people, do away with the party superiorities, and subject all to one another in love, and give back to the Church her ancient strength.
NPNF2: Vol. VIII, Letters, Letter 66 – To Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, §1.

Gregory of Nazianzus (329/330-389): For a long time his change of heart is considered suspect, and he is turned away because it seemed a thing in the realm of the odd and incredible that Cyprian of all people should ever be counted a Christian. Yet transfer it he does and the proof of his conversion is clear to see: he takes his books of magic and exposes them to public display; he stands triumphantly over his evil and pathetic store; he preaches against the foolishness they contain, he makes a flame leap up brightly from them, he destroys in the fire their vast deceit that had been powerless to support a single spark of carnal desire; he parts company with the demons, he assimilates himself to God. How mighty is the power of grace that it can reveal God through a base passion and spirit! He becomes a holy sheep in a holy flock and even, as I have heard, a church menial, much given to prayer that he might rid himself of his former brazenness and school himself to humility. After that he is a pastor; indeed, the greatest and most respected of pastors. He does not preside merely over the church of the Carthaginians and of Africa which, thanks to him and his efforts, is famous to this day, but also over the entire western region and in effect even over the east itself, and the south, and the north, everywhere that he came to be admired. So does Cyprian become ours.

Fathers of the Church, Vol. 107, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Select Orations, Oration 24.12 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2003), p. 149-150.

Men Only Gain Judgment By Opposing God's Will

One of my fellow pseudonymous bloggers, "diglot," has posted a response to one of my co-blogger's articles. The response is titled: "Matt. 23:37 and the Calvinism/Arminian Debate," and addresses Jamin Hubner's article on the Team Apologian blog, "Matthew 23:37: Misquoted by Arminians (and Calvinists?)"

Diglot's response to the article is to say, in effect, that the observation that it is the leaders (not the people who were being gathered) who "would not," does not fundamentally address the Arminian objection.

He writes:
Granted that White’s point is correct that Jerusalem represents the leaders of Israel and the children are the general populace, I can’t [] see what exactly this changes. I mean, how does pointing that out resolve the issue of human freewill interfering with the will of God? Because either way, whether it is the Jewish leaders or the Jewish people, someone is impeding God’s desire by not being “willing”.
Actually, however, the verse is part of a long criticism of the leaders of Israel and it is pronouncing judgment on them for their sins.

God's revealed will is opposed by the Jewish leaders and consequently they have incurred God's wrath. The point of the passage is not about how poor God has suffered at the hands of the leaders, but rather about how the leaders have come under the judgment and condemnation of God.

That is the drumbeat of the passage, which we might call a diatribe against the Jewish leaders, if not for the negative connotations of the term "diatribe":

Matthew 23:13-39
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!

Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.

Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.

Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.

Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Notice how the "Jerusalem, Jerusalem" verse is not the first mention of this bad behavior by the Jewish leaders. They are accused in this way: "ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in." They refuse to serve God and they attempt to stop others from doing so.

The point is not that the leaders of Israel succeeded in stopping God from getting what God wanted. The point is that they opposed God's expressed will. They killed the messengers of God and they are about to "fill up the measure" of their fathers by killing the Lord of Glory.

But while they may have wished to stop God's will, they were actually doing God's will. For it is by the death of Christ that Christ obtains victory over sin and death on behalf of his people.

Moreover, God is the Almighty - no one is able to stop God from accomplishing what He desires. As King Nebuchadnezzar recognized, "all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?" (Daniel 4:35)

And God tells us:
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
(Isaiah 55:11)

Praise His name!


Innocent IV as Reported by Von Dollinger

Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger wrote the important work, "The Pope and the Council." One of his interesting observations regarding the mutation of the papacy is this:
Innocent Iv. supplemented the hierarchical organization by adding a link hitherto wanting to the papal chain, when he established the principle that every cleric must obey the Pope, even if he commands what is wrong, for no one can judge him. The only exception was if the command involved heresy or tended to the destruction of the whole Church.[fn1]

1. Comment, in Decretal. Francof. 1570, 555. Innocent wrote this commentary as Pope. He has openly told us what amount of Christian culture and knowledge, both for clergy and laity, suits the Papal system. It is enough, he says, for the laity to know that there is a God who rewards the good, and, for the rest, to believe implicitly what the Church believes. Bishops and pastors must distinctly know the articles of the Apostles' Creed; the other clergy need not know more than the laity, and also that the body of Christ is made in the sacrament of the altar.—Comment. in Decr. 2. Naturally, therefore, the laity were forbidden to read the Bible in their own tongue, and, if they conversed publicly or privately on matters of faith, incurred excommunication by a Bull of Alexander iv., and after a year became amenable to the Inquisition.—Sext. Dec. 5, 2.
(The Pope and the Council, pp. 161-62)

I should note that apparently the summary above provided by von Dollinger has been picked up by others due to some sort of typo as being a quotation from Innocent III. Unfortunately, this has lead to a variety of spurious "Innocent III" citations both on the Internet and in print.

This "hand your mind over to the church" attitude is not a defined dogma, per se. However, when you think about it, it is the logical conclusion of a sola ecclesia mindset: just place implicit faith in the church and go about your business. Know that God exists and trust in the church that if you do what they say, you will be saved.

That's not the line we hear from Rome today, and Rome is no longer excommunicating laymen who speak not just privately but publicly about theological issues (not to mention reading the Bible in their own tongue). Is that for better or for worse?

I think it's for the better, since thinking critically about theology and reading the Bible in one's own tongue is the way that a person can become free from the tyranny of Rome.

May God give abundant grace so that this freedom of mind will bear fruit in repentance and faith in Christ alone (rather than in Christ as supposedly mediated by the Roman church) for salvation.


Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Presbyterians - Give me an AV

Presbyterians' [Fn1] new hit single, "Give me an AV"[Fn2] (tune)

Hey over there
Please forgive me
If I like the good “King Jim”[Fn3]
Hate to stare
At your Bible
While they play my favorite hymn[Fn4]

So come here
'Little closer
Wanna whisper in your ear
Make it clear
Little question
Wanna know just how you feel

If I said I miss my “thees” and “thous”
If we could escape the crowd[Fn5] somehow
If I said I want your Bible now
Would you give me an AV?

Cause it speaks of paradise
And I need a translation tonight[Fn6]
So if I said I want your Bible now
Would you give me an AV?

Hey you might think
That I'm crazy[Fn7]
But you know it sounds just right
I might be 'little hazy[Fn8]
But you just cannot deny

There's a book inbetween us
When we hear the preacher preach
I want more
Wanna see it
So I'm asking you tonight

If I said I miss my “thees” and “thous”
If we could escape the crowd somehow
If I said I want your Bible now
Would you give me an AV?

Cause it speaks of paradise
And I need a translation tonight
So if I said I want your Bible now
Would you give me an AV?

If I said I want your Bible
Would you give me an AV??

(Yeah) (Uh huh) (Oh)

Gimme something good
Don't wanna wait I need to read (na-na-neat)
Read it like you should
And show me how you exegete[Fn9]


If I said I miss my “thees” and “thous”
If I said I want your Bible now
Would you give me an AV?

If I said I miss my “thees” and “thous”
If we could escape the crowd somehow
If I said I want your Bible now
Would you give me an AV?

Cause it speaks of paradise
And I need a translation tonight
So if I said I want your Bible now
Would you give me an AV?[Fn10]

  1. "Presbyterians" is an anagram of Britney Spears, the singer whose song ("Hold it Against Me") is being parodied.
  2. AV is an abbreviation for the "Authorized Version" also known as the King James Version, which is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year.
  3. I don't know anyone who actually refers to their King James Bible as "King Jim," but they could!
  4. I don't actually endorse hymns of merely human composition, but "King Joms" to rhyme with "Psalms" was even more of a stretch.
  5. The crowd of modern translations, of course: NASB, ESV, NKJV, Message, Living Bible, Amplified Bible, HCSB, etc.
  6. After the Sunday evening worship service, or perhaps after the mandatory (see Hezekiah 3:16) Wednesday night Bible study.
  7. And not just because I turned a Britney Spears' song into a song about the King James Bible.
  8. Hazy from trying to wade through all 15 of the archaic words found in the book.
  9. You knew it was coming.
  10. I hope this has been "relevant" enough for you.