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Rob Koons' Journey Home interview audio online

You can find it here on the EWTN site here.

Comments (61)

Concerning his paper "A Lutheran's Case for Roman Catholicism" I think the most trenchant paragraph is this:

"The sola scriptura position puts an impossible burden on each believer: in order to recognize true congregations, the individual believer must evaluate the congregation's confession for complete freedom from doctrinal error. To perform this task, the believer must not believe the essential doctrines of the faith, he must know exactly which doctrines are essential and which are a matter of legitimate difference of opinion. This seems inconsistent with the variety of talents, gifts and callings: not every believer can be expected to be a theologian. The sola scriptura theory condemns the majority of believers to de facto exclusion from the true church, by virtue of their inability to distinguish truth from error on all disputed matters."

Koons, of course, is dead wrong about this.

The doctrine of sola scriptura does not require anyone to "distinguish truth from error on all disputed matters" or to "know exactly which doctrines are essential and which are a matter of legitimate difference of opinion." Nor is "complete freedom of error" required of any Christian or any church. Nor does any Christian or any church possess it.

Every believer IS a theologian, however good or bad that believer might be at the task. The burden that God has placed upon us in this regard is not "an impossible burden," though it is an inescapable one.

"[T]he individual believer must evaluate the congregation's confession for complete freedom from doctrinal error..."

Is it morally wrong to associate oneself with a Christian body that teaches anything whatsoever that is doctrinally false? I don't think so, myself. I'd have to be a church unto myself if I thought that, which would IMO be wrong and unbiblical. But you do have to choose your battles, that's for sure.

Frank,

That is a very, very good interview. Koons is a great influence for a lot of people. Koon’s comments about Martin Chemnitz are interesting.

There should many, many more people like Koons influencing the world.

Nor is "complete freedom of error" required of any Christian or any church. Nor does any Christian or any church possess it.

Since that's the case, you'll forgive me if I don't take your word for it.

Is it morally wrong to associate oneself with a Christian body that teaches anything whatsoever that is doctrinally false?

Wouldn't it be wrong, Lydia, if you were aware of the falsehood?

No, Bill, I don't mind at all. Don't take my word for it. Don't take anybody's word for it. Figure it out for yourself. Of course, then you'd be falling into Koons' "impossible burden," (one that he apparently felt he was able to shoulder, as his entire argument demonstrates).

Or, if you wish, take one church's word for it, and ignore the claims of all the others -- Eastern and Western. Of course, if you you have to figure out which church to listen to before you listen to it, then you're back to the "impossible burden" again.

No, I don't think so, Bill. But it does depend on what the falsehood is. I have my lines and limits, but they are fairly specific and are different for different bodies, if only because one Christian group is likely to be prone to one error and a different one to a different error. But a lot depends on what "association with" means. And that varies from group to group, too. For example, I know quite well that one cannot be a good Catholic without accepting all that has been taught as dogma by the Church, period. But regular attendance and even membership does not require that same degree of doctrinal commitment to all teachings in every denomination.

I just want Michael to admit that "no Christian church has freedom from error" is a dogmatic assertion uttered by someone prone to error, and that therefore Koons could be right.

Of course I admit it, Bill. But then I never claimed to be without error. In fact, my statement clearly affirmed that I am not. I admitted it before you ever asked or wrote. But that fact is irrelevant to my point. I don't have to be without error to make a true statement. The question is not "Is Bauman without error?" The question is "Is what Bauman said true?" I am not the point; the point is the point.

In the paragraph quoted above, Koons is not right. His point is false. His conclusions do not follow from the data, whether Biblical or historical. He is simply wrong about the doctrine of sola scriptura and what follows from it, as I have argued and as Lydia has argued -- without refutation. Koons might be quite right about many things -- I have no doubt that he is -- but he is not right about this, for the reasons noted above.

If your only concern was Sola Scriptura, why was it necessary to make the contentious statement that no church is free from doctrinal error?

Does this article at Wikipedia accurately convey an understanding of it (sola scriptura, that is)?

Your supercilious tone is off-putting, by the way.

My concern was stating more truthfully and accurately the doctrine of sola scriptura, and the things that did or did not follow from it, things that Koons himself wrongly attached to it. I didn't introduce them. He did.

Don't confuse direct and forthright with supercilious. If you want supercilious, read Koons again.

William,
The Wikipedia article you noted is a mosaic of competing and tendentiously articulated views, cobbled inexpertly together.

I have no interest in sorting out all the errors in that article. I am happy to talk about the article by Koons, which is very good in many ways, though not in this one. My involvement in this discussion arose solely because of the exaggerated quotation trumpeted in the first entry.

If God has led Koons to Rome -- and I have no reason to doubt that He has -- then I am supremely happy for him. May he prosper in every way. As a fellow Christian, I wish him well on all counts. But I dissent from the notions quoted above, and I said why I dissent. In so doing, I stuck to the ideas he raised.

I don't know what Michael had in mind, but if I were to say something like "no Christian church is free from error" I'd have in mind specific errors that I believe different groups teach. Of course, to list these when members of those groups are present can be uncharitable and risks offense. It would risk offending Presbyterian Calvinists to say that one way Presbyterians are not free from error is that they believe in double predestination. Every Baptist body I know of teaches that one is saved once and forever at a particular point in time and can never fall from grace, which I have come to believe is an error. And so forth. I wouldn't mean it just as a dogmatic assertion but as an assertion based on my own examination of all the particular bodies I know of. Could I be wrong? Sure. I could be wrong about a lot of things. Perhaps I'm wrong about falling from grace and about my wussy via media Real Presence view and the Baptists have everything right with their point-in-time salvationism and memorialism and are entirely free from error. Perhaps, indeed, they have been guided by the Holy Ghost to be thus free from error. ;-) But I'm not betting on it.

The doctrine of sola scriptura does not require anyone to "distinguish truth from error on all disputed matters" or to "know exactly which doctrines are essential and which are a matter of legitimate difference of opinion."

But it would seem that the doctrine of justification by faith would require one to "know exactly which doctrines are essential and which are a matter of legitimate difference of opinion." For if, as Mr. Bauman claims, no church possesses freedom from error, there seems to be no way for the believer to know with any confidence whatsoever whether any congregation is not in fact an enemy of the Faith, unless he first knows exactly which doctrines are essential and which are a matter of legitimate difference of opinion -- and is able to distinguish truth from error in these essential matters.

George,
Salvation is matter of faith in Christ. It's not a matter of discerning which church, if any, is free from error. The relevant issue here is the perspicuity of Scripture regarding salvation, not adjudicating between the competing triumphalist claims of various churches.

A perhaps relevant epistemological point, in response to George. Suppose one adopts a doctrine of justification by faith according to which one must in fact believe some set of core or essential doctrines to be saved. It doesn't follow that you have to know that those *are* the core or essential ones and that all the others aren't. That would be necessary only at the next epistemic level, in order for the person who adopts such a doctrine of justification to tell that he is, in fact, saved. But there's a difference between believing an essential set of doctrines and knowing that the set of doctrines you believe include the essential ones. Moreover, justification by faith is a sufficiently individual matter that "knowing that one's church is not in fact an enemy of the faith" is not necessary for one's own justification. Though, of course, one would like to know that!

I should add too that even George's characterization itself is quite different from Rob's quoted statement that started off the thread and is, in fact, significantly weaker. For one thing, George's statement brings in an entirely different doctrine and does not purport to deduce from sola scriptura the necessity of "distinguishing truth from error on all disputed matters." Consider the fact that many Protestant bodies themselves acknowledge that many of the matters they dispute over are not essential for salvation--eschatology, for example.

Michael,

You are correct in stating that salvation is a matter of faith in Christ (although not the only matter but that is an argument for another day). Christ stated that he would establish his church on the Rock of Peter and that "the gates of hell would not prevail against it". If faith in Christ is a matter of our salvation, should we not believe Him when he tells us that His church will prevail? The question then follows, What church has been in existence since the time of Christ? What church did the earliest Christians follow?

Hi All,

Just a note to let you know that I am following the discussion. Thanks for all the effort and enery you have put into your responses and rejoinders thus far.

Michael,

Please provide a Scripture reference for the doctrine of "sola scriptura". Just one .... please ....

Y'know, I don't really understand why Michael has to do that on this thread, MarkC. I think he had a fairly limited initial point regarding the overstatement that appears to be contained in the Koons quote that GregF lauded back at the beginning. Does the point "Hey, that's an overstatement, sola scriptura doesn't imply that" mean "I'd just love to have a lengthy debate with every Catholic who comes by WWWtW on whether sola scriptura as I conceive it is true or false and on how it can be known"? No, it doesn't mean that.

Lydia,

With all due respect, Michael has made three assertions with no arguments or proof:

1) Koons is "dead wrong"
2) SS DOES NOT require one to "distinguish truth from error on all disputed matters"
3) "complete freedom of error" is not required of any Christian or Church.

No wait, he does say "His conclusions do not follow from the data, whether Biblical or historical. He is simply wrong about the doctrine of sola scriptura"

Well, that's not too helpful either ...

One would like to know how one could speak so apodictically in response to a reasoned and sustained argument without any counter arguments.

I'm not asking for a treatise (like Dr. Koons has provided) just a few hints please ... If 2 and 3 are true, then how can one profess SS, the Canon, the Divine and Human natures of Christ, the Trinity ... Why would the Arians have stopped fighting if the Council of Constantinople (381) was prone to error?

Paul,
Christ did no such thing. He does not address Peter as the rock.
He clearly distinguished between Peter and the rock upon which the church is built. He speaks to Peter ABOUT the rock.

Markc
Your question seems to indicate that you might misunderstand sola scriptura. SS doesn't mean that one may use only the Bible in doing theology, or that one must proof-text every doctrine. It means that the highest and most reliable religious and theological authority available to us resides in Scripture, not in something else. One place to find the attitude and action that best portrays that doctrine is in how Jesus dealt with the satanic temptations in Matt 4: He went directly to scripture, and not to, say, tradition. At times He can be quite stridently critical of tradition, as in Matt 15.

To others:
I have recently finished writing an entire book in opposition to the triumphalism that pervades some churches -- on all sides of the churchly divide. I have no interest in re-writing that book on this blog.

I do suggest that, rather than attempting to undermine other churches, and thereby attempt to elevate one's own, perhaps we'd be better off figuring out how to strengthen and display the unity we Christians already have in Christ, and not acting as if that unity were somehow insufficient, as if only eclesiastical unity were good enough. After all, they'll know we are Christians by our love, not by our ecclesiastical uniformity. To my mind, the blatant ecclesiastical supremacy ought to stop. That is, we'd be better off imitating Avery Dulles and Louis Bouyer than Scott Hahn and Dave Armstrong; better of imitating Harold O. J. Brown than Loraine Boettner.


I should add too that even George's characterization itself is quite different from Rob's quoted statement that started off the thread and is, in fact, significantly weaker.

My argument was based on the assumption that faith for the Lutherans was some form of doctrinal assent, as it is for Catholics. According to Koons, however, this is not the case. Rather, Lutherans consider faith to be a trust in God.

Michael,

Now you are being magnanimous. You have already posited "Koons is dead wrong" but now you are too concerned about Christian unity to substantiate your assertion.

I appreciate that you allow for other fallible sources of knowledge than Sacred Scripture. "Sola" does not mean "solo". I get that. But if you cannot find one reference to "sola scriptura" in Scripture (which you posit as our only infallible source of knowledge) then where does it come from? Every other source of doctrine is fallible right?

If Sola Scriptura is the sole fulcrum of doctrine then where in Scripture is "sola scriptura"?

Michael said,

"Christ did no such thing. He does not address Peter as the rock."

And I also say unto thee [singular], that thou art Peter [Greek: petros, Aramaic Kephas], and on this rock [Greek: petra, Aramaic: Kephas] I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. Mt. 16:18.

Is this the passage where Christ "does not" call Simon "Rock"? Where is your deference to Scripture now?

Lydia writes: "I don't know what Michael had in mind, but if I were to say something like "no Christian church is free from error" I'd have in mind specific errors that I believe different groups teach. Of course, to list these when members of those groups are present can be uncharitable and risks offense. It would risk offending Presbyterian Calvinists to say that one way Presbyterians are not free from error is that they believe in double predestination. Every Baptist body I know of teaches that one is saved once and forever at a particular point in time and can never fall from grace, which I have come to believe is an error. And so forth. I wouldn't mean it just as a dogmatic assertion but as an assertion based on my own examination of all the particular bodies I know of. Could I be wrong? Sure. I could be wrong about a lot of things. Perhaps I'm wrong about falling from grace and about my wussy via media Real Presence view and the Baptists have everything right with their point-in-time salvationism and memorialism and are entirely free from error. Perhaps, indeed, they have been guided by the Holy Ghost to be thus free from error. ;-) But I'm not betting on it." Posted by Lydia | April 6, 2008 8:48 AM


I find this a charitable response and applaud Lydia for her tact.

However, what exactly is the periphery between a Christian denomination and their 'acceptable' individual beliefs within the larger context of the 'Christian Body' versus the notorious notion of Heresy? That is, would our early Christian brothers and sisters have simply dismissed the different beliefs of various groups in their days as merely a difference in opinion amongst acceptable Christian beliefs?

Today, would a Jehovah's Witness or a Non-trinitarian Pentecostal believing in/relying solely on the Bible be no more than a Christian with a difference in opinion?

I've still got to say, MarkC, that nothing in any of the three statements you mention from Michael requires him to say how he defends sola scriptura, much less whether it's found in scripture itself. I mean, the subject of *what is entailed by the doctrine of SS* is just a logically separate question from *why one believes SS*. You're trying to talk about the latter, and the statements you quote from Michael are about the former.

GeorgeR, yes, I can see that those are different characterizations of "faith," but even given yours, your claims about needing to distinguish essential from inessential doctrines based on justification by faith are getting onto a new subject and off of the original point, which is simply that Rob just overstates what is entailed by sola scriptura when he says that it requires the believer to "distinguish truth from error on all disputed matters." (emphasis added) Even bringing justification by faith in, for that matter, and even taking "faith" to involve inter alia an intellectual assent (which seems to me quite reasonable by itself), does not require the believer to distinguish truth from error on all disputed matters. It's really a rather simple point. I think Rob just got a little carried away in trying to place this huge burden on the poor Protestants.

No, I do not believe that a denial of trinitarianism would have been considered a mere acceptable variation in the early church.

I've known a number of Pentecostals and not a one non-Trinitarian. I suppose there could be some, but I'd be interested in where the idea comes from that Pentecostals generally are non-Trinitarian.

Sure, those demarcation lines have to be made. That's life. In the early church the questions were things like, "Should we kick out Gentiles who aren't circumcised, or should we kick out as heretics the Judaizers who try to make the Gentiles be circumcised? Do we have to observe holy days? Are people who eat meat offered to idols consenting to idol worship? Once Jews become Christians, do they still have to keep kosher?" Or even, to pick one where the answer "no" is given very decisively, "Is it okay to worship angels?" Different specifics; same perennial problem of deciding what's an acceptable variation and what isn't.

Most of the things that divide Christians today are not addressed in their present-day form explicitly at length in Scripture. One must draw inferences. I have my own set of inferences and could, if I chose, wax eloquent about what I think the Apostle Paul would say about some of the doctrines Christians today are asked to accept. So if the question is, "Can we infer from Scripture what the Apostles and early Christians would have said about whether Calvinists, Catholics, or Baptists are heretics on X, Y, or Z point, or whether they would have simply smoothed over the differences on those points?" well, it's not like I don't have opinions on some of those subjects. But I'm not sure those opinions are best aired here.

I think Rob just got a little carried away in trying to place this huge burden on the poor Protestants.

I still suspect that Professor Koons had good reason to make that statement; but I can't prove it yet. There are parts of his paper I still haven't read.

It seems that he places more importance on recognizing "true congregations" than you or Michael. This helps explain why he sees sola scriptura as so burdensome.

Well, but don't we get to say what _we_ mean by sola scriptura, and how much it has to do with distinguishing "true congregations," and whether distinguishing "true congregations" requires us to make a definite decision on all disputed questions? I mean, if he felt this great burden as a Protestant, maybe it was self-created. The more important question seems to be whether such a burden is _intrinsic_ to Protestantism, and how great of a burden it is, if so. I'm certainly not going to deny that Protestants have to...well...think for themselves. Frankly, I think Catholics do, too, and to their credit, good Catholics do plenty of it. But I think a rather easy-going attitude on a number of disputed questions is probably a healthy thing. Perhaps even more, an easy-going meta-attitude. There can be things you think are incorrect that a congregation teaches or advocates, but still go there. There can be a different set of things you think are still more seriously incorrect that would prevent you from belonging to a particular church, but you still have full friendship with people who believe those things and tell your kids that those people are Christians. (I know that sounds like a weird thing to say, but the way I was raised, if you knew someone was a Catholic, you were supposed to assume he was _not_ a Christian. My parents and probably my in-laws probably think, though they do not say, that I am rather lax in that I tell my children, "Oh, yes, our friend Miss X is a Christian. She's a devout Catholic," as though that settled the matter.)

In any event, you don't have to worry about every little thing. It's probably a good idea to resign yourself to the fact that any church you attend will sometimes teach things you think incorrect.

I can't think of anything in sola scriptura or the doctrine of justification by faith that contradicts those pieces of advice.

Yes, Mark, that's the passage.

He talks TO Peter ABOUT the rock: "You are Peter, and on this rock (not "on you") I will build my church," the reference being to Peter's immediately preceding divinely motivated confession, not to Peter's person. If you're interested in what Christ actually calls Peter himself, then perhaps you might drop down four or five verses to where He calls him Satan -- hardly the sort of name one might expect God would give to someone He'd just made the rock on which the church is allegedly built.

Now -- will someone on this board actually stop making triumphalist assertions about their own church and instead start making suggestions about how to strengthen and display the unity we Christians all already have in Christ, regardless of the ecclesiastical tradition from which we come? I want to hear about how we can be faithful to the church home to which the Spirit has led us while still working well with Christians of other traditions.

To every triumphalist claim, someone will have an answer. Those who decline to go to Rome are not stupid. Nor are and those who decline to go to Geneva, so to speak, or to Antioch. You will not settle the ecclesiastical issue. So change the entire discussion. Work together with those of other traditions rather than belittling them the way Koons' argument did when it implied that those who reject Rome are so silly as never to have noticed that they are under an impossible burden.

If you do not change the discussion, you'll keep getting what you give -- antagonistic counter-argument. Short of the Second Coming, it will never end.

Any takers?

Lydia,

The fact that Scripture nowhere teaches "sola scriptura" (a point which Michael has yet to provide a counter argument) is relevant because it shows that the doctrine is self-referentially inconsistent. If we believe only what Scripture teaches, we will not believe "sola scriptura", for Scripture does not teach "sola scriptura".

Also, you said "I've known a number of Pentecostals and not a one non-Trinitarian". I should think that is thanks to the biblical testimony AND to centuries of reflection and certain Church councils.

Michael,

It is very interesting that you choose to ignore the natural meaning of the Matthean passage. Jesus addresses Simon with a blessing (18“Blessed are you, Simon Barjona ...) and calls him Kephas or "the rock" (“I also say to you that you are Peter) upon which He (the builder) is going to build his Church ("and upon this rock I will build My church). Furthermore, He goes on to give Peter authority (19 “I will give thee (singular) the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven).” From this point onward, Peter takes the lead position in the early Church; conducting the election of Matthias, making the Pentecost proclamation, accepting the first pagan into the Church (Acts 10) and being the first to speak at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).

It is clear that the early Church Fathers interpreted Matthew 16 as the Catholic Church does today. St. Cyprian, for example, Bishop of Carthage from 248 AD wrote:

"On him He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigns a like power to all Apostles. Yet He founded a single chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that
unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was; but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all Apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith: If he desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built,
can he still be confident that he is in the Church? The Unity of the Catholic Church (Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. I, 555-556).

I say that your inability to take the text at face value is interesting because on nearly every Catholic distinctive it is Catholics who opt for the straightforward reading of the text rather than the alternative interpretations and spiritualizing metaphors. For example, eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus (Jn 6:53), his Eucharistic declaration, “This is my body” (Lk 22:19), our being saved or regenerated by baptism (Jn 3:5, Rm 6:3), the indissolubility of marriage and prohibition of remarriage (Mk 10:11, etc.), Christ’s delegation of a real power of binding and loosing (Mt 16:18, 18:18), his transmission of real authority to forgive or retain sins (Jn 20:23), his building of his Church upon Peter the “rock” (Aramaic: kepha) and giving to Peter (whom Jesus specifically named “Cephas,” Aramaic: kepha) the keys of the kingdom (Mt 16:18-19; cf. Is 20:20).

Lastly, in response to your appeal for Christian unity I think it is instructive that Cyprian appeals to the Petrine office as the source of unity. Furthermore, unity can only be built on truth, and the sad fact is that the doctrine of "sola scriptura" has cut off millions of believers from the living traditions of the Church and resulted in massive fragmentation and splintering of Christian denominations. Your appeals for unity are ironic because the greatest cause of division in the Church is the principle of "sola scriptura".

I ignored nothing, Mark. I disputed your misreading, which does not distinguish between direct address in the second person from description/information about something else. He moves from "you" to "it." We all know what Peter's name means. That is not at issue. The issue is what the word "rock" refers to, the rock about which Jesus speaks to Peter. By using the language He does in the way He does, He distinguishes Peter from the rock about which He is speaking to Peter. He speaks about it to Peter, not to Peter as it. His language does not permit your sort of reading.

You'll also notice that the authority Christ says He will give is something He will give in the future -- it's future tense, not present tense. It's not given in Matt 16. By Matt 18 it is given and all the apostles have it, not Peter only.

As for opting for the straight forward and more literal reading, I notice that you di not read as literal the direct-address "Satan" comment by Jesus, and that Jesus is a door and a vine, that we are salt and light, that He is a shepherd and that we are sheep -- all of which is graphic language, not literal language. Jesus is an ancient Jewish rabbi. As such, He is a notoriously non-literal speaker. He often does not intend to be understood literally, as when He tells us to cut off our right hands or pluck out our right eyes, as if what He really wants is a bunch of one-eyed, left handed Christians. He wants us to stop sinning, not be maimed and self-mutilated. He sometimes speaks literally; He sometimes does not. The challenge is to discern which is which.

I showed you where things like SS are in Scripture and told you that your proof-text based question misunderstands SS (and hermeneutics), though you keep going back to your misunderstanding. The passages I adduced that exhibit it and that counter the opposite view you have ignored.

If you wish to quote the church fathers, fine. But unless you are debating with someone who agrees that the church fathers have authority equal to (or even higher than) the Scripture, the quotations are not telling points. The church fathers sometimes say silly things (and sometimes profound things). As a result of 2000 years of scholarship and debate, most of which the church fathers missed, our understanding of theological issues has progressed beyond that of the church fathers in many ways. For example, I assume that you no longer believe in the resurrection of the phoenix, even though Clement, a bishop of Rome, did and included it as a supposedly telling historical point in his letter to the Corinthians. In the nearly 2000 years since some of the church fathers lived, we have learned many new and relevant things about ancient Jewish history, theology, politics, society, etc, things that temper the prevailing views. As a result, our understanding of some issues is more well-informed and more true than theirs, such as that explained at length in David Instone-Brewer's recent book on marriage and divorce. Quoting the church fathers is not enough. You must show that they are correct. Nor is consensus enough. The fact that a view is old or is widely held does not make it right -- not in philosophy, not in science, not in history, not in politics, and not in theology. I have a PhD in historical theology (and English literature) from a Catholic university, Mark. I know what the church fathers say.

Now make a suggestion about how to strengthen and demonstrate the unity all Christians already have in Christ without resorting to ecclesiastical supremacism, which is a futile pursuit. Can you not set aside your triumphalism even for a moment in order to further the cause of the Faith, as opposed to furthering the claims of your own church at the expense of all others?

For the record, what I would mean by "sola scriptura" is not "we believe only what Scripture teaches." This is a common misunderstanding. I believe lots of things that Scripture doesn't teach, even on important matters. Even, for that matter, on theological and theologically-relevant matters. (E.g. I believe that God would never command me to torture a child, though Scripture says nothing explicit about torturing children or about God's commanding one to do so.)

MarkC,

You are essentially correct in your argument. However, I believe that Michael Bauman is correct when he asserts that Christ Himself is the rock referred to in Matthew 16. However, he is apparently unable to see that his correct interpretation is even more devastating to his anti-Catholic position than yours. For, although Christ is the Rock primarily, it is obvious that Peter is here being closely identified with the rock and with Christ Himself, so much so, in fact, that it actually appears that he is talking primarily about Peter. This, of course, is no accident.

Michael, it seems, while recognizing that Christ is referring primarily to Himself, refuses to see the clear identification of Peter with Himself as the rock. For that would take him down a doctrinal path he would rather not go down.

George,
Neither you nor Mark deal with the hermeneutical arguments I made, and made in some detail, regarding the grammar and the context of the passage.

Again, make suggestion about how to strengthen and demonstrate the unity all Christians already have in Christ, and put aside the fruitless triumphalism to which you consistently resort.

About this sentence: "... you are PETER and on THIS ROCK I will ...", Michael said, "He speaks about it to Peter, not to Peter as it. His language does not permit your sort of reading."

Grammatically, the adjective "this" refers to the nearest preceding noun: Peter. I could cite a dozen leading Protestant scholars who admit this: D. A. Carson The Expositor’s Bible Commentary on Matthew; Craig L Blomberg, New AmericanCommentary; R. T. Franc, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, W.F. Albright and C. S. Man, HowardClark Kee, Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible; H. N. Ribberbos, Bible Student’s Commentary; The Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. III, p. 386; W.F. Albright and C.S. Mann, Matthew: The Anchor Bible; William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Matthew.

Let me cite one, W.F. Albright, in the Anchor Bible Commentary:

"Peter as the Rock will be the foundation of the future community, the church....To deny the pre-eminent position of Peter among the disciples or in the early Christian community is a denial of the evidence."

Likewise, I could cite the testimony of 24 different Church fathers, from 170AD to 451AD, who affirm the Catholic reading of this passage.

Here's one:

"I now inquire into your opinions, to see whence you usurp the right for the Church. Do you presume, because the Lord said to Peter, 'On this rock I will build my Church ...[Matt 16-19]' that the power of binding and loosing has thereby been handed over to you, that is, to every church akin to Peter? What kind of man are you, subverting and changing what was the manifest intent of the Lord when He conferred this ***personally on Peter****? 'On you,' He says, 'I will build my Church; and I give to you the keys'...." (Tertullian, 220AD, On Modesty 21:9-10)

YOu reject the grammatical, Scriptural, Patristic, Conciliar, and academic reading of the passage. Also, you failed to supply a SINGLE passage where Scripture which teaches "sola scriptura" ... Just what are your sources of interpretation?

Mark, I just cannot understand why you insist on taking "sola scriptura" to require that the principle itself be taught in Scripture. I could have sworn that Michael, like me, indicated that he rejects that interpretation of it. One classic statement of SS is that "everything necessary for salvation is taught clearly in Scripture," but belief in SS itself is not necessary for salvation, as vide the fact that you are presumably going to heaven though you don't believe SS. :-)

Myself, I believe SS on the basis of reason. :-)

Neither you nor Mark deal with the hermeneutical arguments I made, and made in some detail, regarding the grammar and the context of the passage.

Are you denying that the passage at least identifies Peter closely with the true rock? If so, what does that say about the alleged "perspicuity of Scripture?"

Lydia,

I appreciate your thoughts on this (and so many other topics). To me reason says an effect cannot be greater than it's cause. However, SS elevates the Bible above the Church which established it. Furthermore, SS assumes a literate populace, and wide distribution of the text (not to mention the "clearness" of Scripture). This simply wasn't the case for 1600 years which, coincidentally, was when "sola scriptura" was first entertained in a serious way by the Reformers.

Peace!

The perspicuity of Scripture means that the Bible is sufficiently clear on necessary doctrines, not perfectly clear on all doctrines. That clarity results in the nearly unanimous acceptance of the theology in statements like the Apostles' Creed, the content of which well captures the clear teaching of Scripture, a content that is accepted by those who don't even accept creeds themselves. You'll notice that the ecumenical creeds do not make statements about the points at issue here. Those points are unclear and therefore are debatable. That's why the debate continues. That debate-ability is not part of what's meant by the perspicuity of scripture.

You are Mark, and according to this diacritical mark I make my case. "This" here does not refer to "Mark," the nearest antecedent. That's not how direct address works.

As for quoting Tertullian for your point, Mark, you are invoking a lost cause. The man rejected Catholicism and turned to Montanism instead. Quote that.

Am I to understand that no Catholic in this discussion is either willing or able to set aside triumphalism long enough to make suggestions about how to strengthen and demonstrate the unity all Christians already have in Christ? Is it the case that all you are able to do, or are willing to do, is to engage in endless and acrimonious debates over supremacist claims and over Protestant doctrines you do not understand?

Michael,

Let me make this suggestion to strengthen and demonstrate unity....I will pray for you and I ask you to pray for me.

Your Catholic Brother in Christ,

Paul

MarkC, you say that the adjective "this" refers to the nearest preceding noun: Peter. But the nearest noun is not Peter.

More importantly. "this" is a demonstrative pronoun that must agree in gender with the noun it refers to. In this case, "this" is feminine and Peter is masculine. In short, the pronoun "this" cannot refer to Peter in Mt. 16.18.


Michael said, "The perspicuity of Scripture means that the Bible is sufficiently clear on necessary doctrines ..."

I think Dr. Koons addressed this point:

"It is hard for me to believe that God intended the Scriptures to be the sole and sufficient norm for doctrine, given their silence on so many issues that must be resolved if the Church is to function: May infants be baptized? Should those baptized by heretics or hypocrites be re-baptized? Which baptized Christians may commune, and which should not? Should repentant heretics and sinners be reconciled to the Church, and if so, how and under what conditions? Should orthodox members of schismatic sects be excommunicated? Should orthodox members of non-schismatic congregations be excommunicated, if those congregations practice improperly ‘open’ communion? Must the threefold ministry of bishops, presbyters and deacons be respected at all times? How are clergy (in each order) to be ordained, elected, called or installed? Must there be at most one bishop in each city? What authority do bishops have, and what superior authority, if any, must they respect? What constitutes an authoritative council of the Church? These are matters upon which the Scriptures provide little explicit guidance, and yet, for practical reasons, it is impossible for Christians simply to agree to disagree about them."

To that, I would add that the hermenutical anarchy of "sola scriptura" has resulted, de facto, in the denominational factionalism of some 30,000 Protestant denominations.

KW,

So, you're suggesting Jesus was referrencing himself with the feminine pronoun "this"? (I think GLADD will be glad to hear that...)

Scripture scholars point out that Jesus spoke Aramaic and not Greek and that Matthew's Gospel was written originally in Aramaic. In Aramaic, the word for "rock" is "kepha". What Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 was: "You are "Kepha", and upon this "kepha" I will build my Church."

When Matthew’s Gospel was translated from the original Aramaic to Greek, there arose a problem which did not confront the evangelist when he first composed his account of Christ’s life. In Aramaic the word kepha has the same ending whether it refers to a rock or is used as a man’s name. In Greek, though, the word for rock, petra, is feminine in gender. The translator could use it for the second appearance of kepha in the sentence, but not for the first because it would be inappropriate to give a man a feminine name. So he put a masculine ending on it, and hence Peter became Petros.

"The natural reading of the passage, despite the necessary shift from Petros to petra required by the word play in the Greek (but not the Aramaic, where the same word kepha occurs in both places), is that it is Peter who is the rock upon which the church is to be built. . . . The frequent attempts that have been made, largely in the past, to deny this in favor of the view that the confession itself is the rock . . . seem to be largely motivated by Protestant prejudice against a passage that is used by the Roman Catholics to justify the papacy. (“Matthew 14-28,” Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 33b, Donald A. Hagner Fuller Theological Seminary,(Dallas: Word Books, 1995), 470.)

Seems like every time I stop by WWWtW there's a Protestant/Catholic debate raging.

"If so, what does that say about the alleged "perspicuity of Scripture?""

"not to mention the "clearness" of Scripture"

MarkC and GeorgeR,

I take the use of the word alleged and quotation marks around clearness to mean that you're skeptical of the perspicuity of Scripture. Are you as equally skeptical of the perspicuity of Lord of the Rings or The Brothers Karamazov? Is it texts in general that aren't clear enough without authoritative interpretors? That seems a bit too postmodern than I would take frequent WWWtW contributors to be. If it's not texts in general is it just God's revelation to mankind that is too obscure for the common reader to make firm judgments?

I'm really asking here. I find that my Catholic friends are usually realists when it comes to literature of all stripes. But when it comes to Scripture they often sound as if any meaning (or far too many anyway) can be valid, defensible readings and so we we need etc...

mike d:

Not to be embroiled in this debate (as Lydia is correct in her suggesting that this isn't an appropriate forum for debates as these), but are you implying that any simpleton can simply read Scripture and exact the correct interpretation?

"From this point onward, Peter takes the lead position in the early Church; conducting the election of Matthias, making the Pentecost proclamation, accepting the first pagan into the Church (Acts 10) and being the first to speak at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15)."

MarkC,

A Protestant could just grant that the rock is in fact Peter. You're still a far cry from the modern Roman doctrines surrounding the Pope. It could just be that what Jesus meant is what you described in the quote above; God uses Peter to begin building his Church.

Hi Aristocles,

Lydia's right. The debate is tired and doesn't really move forward. But to your question.

Remember that perspicuity only requires that necessary doctrines are sufficiently clear. Clear enough for what? I would say clear enough for salvation. I find that to be a fairly low bar. That's part of the lesson of the thief on the cross. He didn't grasp much beyond his guilt, Jesus' innocence, and his joining himself to Jesus somehow (Remember me - he says). So in this sense yes the simpleton can hear or read the simple messages of Scripture (perhaps John 3:16) and have a correct (though not exact - who said that was required?) understanding.

But that's not all that Scripture is clear enough for. Scripture interprets Scripture so Paul expounds on what Christ and the cross are all about. Maybe a simpleton can't read Romans without being a little perplexed but no Protestant says that all Scripture is equally perspicuous. And no Protestant doctrine says that its better to read Scripture alone. Give that simpleton a teacher and a church and he'll be much better off.

Peter says that we have been born again by the "living and abiding word" and goes on to say "and this word is the good news that was preached to you". Ultimately all saving faith comes from hearing (or reading) Scripture - that's how we know what the good news is in the first place. That good news is clear enough even for the simpleton to have a clear understanding. That good news is also deep enough for the simpleton to move on to obtain a Doctorate in New Testament theology.

mike d,

On the "perspicacity of scripture", please see my April 8, 2008 11:52 AM post.

On the "rock", Michael Bauman argued at April 7, 2008 4:56 PM:

"Christ did no such thing. He does not address Peter as the rock."

MarkC: you're suggesting Jesus was referrencing himself with the feminine pronoun "this"?

No, but that the nearest noun is not the man. That's a grammatical point. The better argument is to follow mike d: "A Protestant could just grant that the rock is in fact Peter."

We don't have any original Aramaic or Hebrew text. We might doubt the Greek text, but remember, the Greek has the word in both masculine and feminine genders.

Catholics can agree with the material sufficiency of Scripture; that it contains all that is needed for salvation. However, for Scripture to be formally sufficient, it would not only have to contain all of this data, but it would have to be so clear that it does not need any outside information to interpret it.

Dominican theologian Yves Congar states, "[W]e can admit sola scriptura in the sense of a material sufficiency of canonical Scripture. This means that Scripture contains, in one way or another, all truths necessary for salvation. This position can claim the support of many Fathers and early theologians. It has been, and still is, held by many modern theologians." . . . [At Trent] it was widely . . . admitted that all the truths necessary to salvation are at least outlined in Scripture. . . . [W]e find fully verified the formula of men like Newman and Kuhn: Totum in Scriptura, totum in Traditione, `All is in Scripture, all is in Tradition.' .. `Written' and `unwritten' indicate not so much two material domains as two modes or states of knowledge" (Tradition and Traditions [New York: Macmillian, 1967], 410-414).

In order to prove sola scriptura a Protestant must demonstrate the different and much stronger claim that Scripture is so clear that no outside information or authority is needed in order to interpret it.

Mike d,

The passage in question is plenty clear enough. In fact, it admits of only two (rational) interpretations; either, as MarkC argues, our Lord is referring primarily to Peter as the rock; or, as I say, He is referring primarily to Himself and is closely identifying Peter with Himself as the rock. Both interpretations are damaging to the Protestant position, i.e., bolster the Catholic position; so, of course, the Protestants have muddy the waters and deny both interpretations.

Michael's argument that our Lord was speaking "to Peter" and "not about Peter" is utterly indefensible. Presumably, according to Michael, when our Lord said "You are Peter" He really meant "Hey Peter, listen up." Then, when we do not buy into this silliness, he accuses us of "triumphalism."

Mike d:

You have some points, I grant you; however, if that were true then the preceding posts going back and forth between parties wouldn't inter alia be referring back to the original Greek texts of Holy Scripture and would simply take the Written Word as is. But, then again, just what is the definitive interpretation of the Written Word and Whose is the Correct One?

Lydia:

"I've known a number of Pentecostals and not a one non-Trinitarian. I suppose there could be some, but I'd be interested in where the idea comes from that Pentecostals generally are non-Trinitarian."

This is why I specifically stated "nontrinitarian pentecostals" in order to distinguish these from those who actually do believe in the Trinity. Had I believed that all pentecostals actually were nontrinitarian, I would've simply said "Jehovah's Witnesses & Pentecostals".

Michael Bauman said on April 5, 2008 9:18 PM:

"Of course, if you you have to figure out which church to listen to before you listen to it, then you're back to the "impossible burden" again."

Dr. Koons has already answered this charge:

"The Catholic position, in contrast, places a reasonable burden on the layman: he must simply recognize which congregations are in fellowship with that global church that is most continuous historically with the church of the apostles, i.e., with that church that has the most secure claim to being the Catholic (universal) Church. In other words, the believer need master only one, relatively small set of doctrines: those concerning the identity of the true Church, not, as Lutheranism requires, an exhaustive knowledge of every disputed point of theology."

"...that Scripture is so clear that no outside information or authority is needed in order to interpret it."

Outside information is _far_ different from outside authority. For example, I need outside information to interpret this blog--about word usage, culture, and such. If someone says "iPod" I won't know what that means if I don't have outside information about contemporary technology. Etc., etc. Very boring notion of "outside information." Of course we need some outside information to interpret Scripture. An outside authority is a whole different ball of wax. And yes, Protestants do generally hold that Scripture is, on the points necessary to salvation (not on all points, by a long shot) sufficiently clear that no single, structurally identifiable, official, on-going, Holy-Spirit-guided-forever-and-ever, authority is needed to interpret it. I have no problem asserting that.

Aristocles, I was merely puzzled as to how you picked Pentecostals, particularly. Perhaps it was just a random pick of some non-Catholic group that came to mind. But why not say "a non-Trinitarian Lutheran"? You can say, "Because if you were really a _good_ Lutheran, you wouldn't be non-Trinitarian." Fair enough, but I suspect most Pentecostals would say the same, mutatis mutandis. The real reason you probably wouldn't have picked that example is because Lutherans have a liturgy and look "more Catholic" and less strange. For the record, I have little cultural sympathy with Pentecostals and wouldn't be caught dead speaking in tongues. I just think it's important that we sometimes question how we come to say these things. Is there, perhaps, the underlying assumption that since Pentecostals have some weird ideas (which many of them do) and tend towards a very private and emotional type of religion (which is true), and hence are a sort of stereotype of the individualistic, rednecked Protestant, they are as likely as not to disbelieve in the Trinity? That seems a bit of a stretch. But I suspect I'm beating a dead horse and will stop.

Lydia: I had included the Non-trinitarian Pentecostals because they along with the Jehovah's Witness do not believe in the Trinity. Nothing more.

Interesting debate. It seems you have pulled one paragraph from Dr Koons comments. I think he was simplifying things a little. He was telling his story and not really trying to make a bullet proof logical argument. A church does not have to be right about everything. But they have to be close enough to the truth. What does "close enough" mean? Well, the bible does not seem to say. It often depends on the person. Dr Koons had a notion of what that meant to him. As a philosopher he has difficulty accepting a mix of truth and falsity. Especially when you have no sound reason to believe the mistakes won't impact the core doctrines. So his standard is very high.

So some people have a lower definition of "close enough." They still have the problems. Why isn't that definition an unbiblical doctrine? How do you know none of the key doctrines are in error? As usual those questions are covered up with a lot of bravado.

Lydia,

Clearly, this discussion has died down (I only just came across it), but perhaps I could add a few comments. I was fascinated by one thing you said:

"Most of the things that divide Christians today are not addressed in their present-day form explicitly at length in Scripture. One must draw inferences."

First, I am wondering what you think the sort of unity Christ prays (in John 17) His followers would have would look like? I mean, what is the nature of that unity Christ wants His Church to have? Is it doctrinal agreement? Only on essentials? How are those determined? Does it include sacramental agreement? (i.e. How many sacraments there are, and what they do, etc.) Does it include institutional unity? That's the first set of questions.

Second, the more important questions, in my opinion, are the meta-level questions. How is that first set of questions even to be answered? By consensus? Majority vote? Who gets to participate and vote? Who gets to supervise and moderate and make the rules? What would be necessary even for there to be an agreement about how to answer that first set of questions? And if by long and knock-down public debate we finally did somehow manage to come to an agreement regarding the answers to those questions, how would we possibly go about achieving that unity (i.e. whatever the sort of unity is that we agreed that Christ wants His Church to have)? Reading through this whole discussion, it seems to me that if Christ intended His Church to be one (so unified that it would testify to the world that the Father sent the Son), then He would not have left us in a kind of each-man-does-what-is-right-in-his-own-eyes situation. He would not have left the unity of His Bride up to the power of combox arguments to bring unity out of the chaos of sheep without a shepherd. The whole discussion above is evidence of the impotence of such arguments. Without a unified ecclesial authority established by Christ, the prospects for even getting some sort of robust visible unity off the ground, let alone preserving it till Christ returns, look extremely bleak! So either there is no point striving for robust visible unity (and we can gloss John 17 in some watered-down way), or the question is not "Is it morally wrong to associate oneself with a Christian body that teaches anything whatsoever that is doctrinally false?" but rather "Where is the Church that Christ founded, and what does it have to say about all these questions?"

Obviously I'm contradicting myself in a way, by constructing a combox argument for the sake of unity. But I'm trying to direct attention to a meta-level question regarding how ecclesial unity would be achieved and preserved, and what kind of situation Christ (being God, and caring greatly for the unity of His Bride) would have left us in. I'm not trying to debate any particular doctrine. :-) Perhaps this meta-level question could be helpful in some way; I suppose you've already considered it, so I'd be interested in what you think about it. As always, I'm very appreciative of your graciousness in conversations such as these, even when you strongly disagree.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

I'm all in favor of unity, Bryan, but not the sort I think you have in mind. But a lot of this was hashed out in another thread, and I've made a resolve to try to avoid such hashings in this context in the future. (Believe it or not, I was trying even to avoid it in this thread.) They don't seem to go terribly well in a blog environment. Great to hear from you, though! I can write e-mail to you off-blog about the subject some time, though I may not be Speedy Gonzales on it like I used to be in e-mail long ago.

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