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Sola Scriptura and Papal Authority


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#1 Evangelion

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Posted 12 January 2003 - 02:45 PM

With Regard to Sola Scriptura


Objection #1:

The doctrine of Sola Scriptura cannot be found in the Bible itself. Protestantism therefore presents a self-refuting claim.

This is a misrepresentation. Sola Scriptura is not a doctrine at all, but a basis for the formulation and definition of doctrine. It is an epistemological principle, not an article of faith. The Christadelphian Statement of Faith refers to Sola Scriptura as “The Foundation.” It is not considered a “Doctrine to be Accepted.” In fact, it is not a doctrine at all.

The principle of Sola Scriptura is, necessarily, a post-1st Century approach. It is the only way to ensure that our beliefs are founded upon the Word of God, and not on the ideas of men. Since those who originally received a specific teaching authority from Christ (i.e. the apostles) are long dead, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased, we know that the Word of God is the only doctrinal authority available to modern Christians.
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#2 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:05 PM

Objection #2:

Sola Scriptura does not guarantee doctrinal unity – in fact, it invariably results in schisms and controversies.
In light of the East/West divide, which resulted from the Great Schism of 1054 (when the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Byzantine Synod refused to accept the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome), one could say the same of Papal authority. The fact that different Protestants derive different doctrine from the same Bible on the basis of Sola Scriptura, therefore, is by no means an argument against the principle of Sola Scriptura itself.

It is freely acknowledged that the use of Sola Scriptura does not guarantee doctrinal infallibility.
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#3 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:06 PM

Objection #3:

Insofar as they accept the New Testament Canon (defined by the Church), Protestants accept the authority of the Church. On what basis, therefore, can they legitimately reject the authority of the Church with regard to other matters?
Firstly, there is a world of difference between accepting a Canon that was at some point defined by the Church, and accepting a Canon because it was defined by the Church. Secondly, the Roman Catholic Church took centuries to arrive at an official Canon – despite being (allegedly) guided by the Holy Spirit. In light of her indecisiveness, one is forced to ask the questions “Why did it take so long?” and “How might we reconcile this prevarication with the claim to Divine guidance?” Thirdly, the New Testament Canon is the only Canon which both Catholics and Protestants have in common – a Canon which was defined by both sides (independent of each other) at different times.

Fourthly, the uniformity of the Canon as presented in the four Protestant Bibles published shortly before the Council of Trent (at which the Catholic Canon – both Old and New Testaments – was officially defined for the very first time) proves that the Protestants had already agreed on an official New Testament Canon without reference to the decisions of the Roman Catholic Church.

Even within the (allegedly Spirit-guided) RCC, there had been considerable disagreement from an early date, with various bishops defining their own personal Canons at various times. Athanasius, for example (writing in his festal letter of AD 367) lists the 27 books of the New Testament as the same 27 that are currently in the Protestant Canon – without questioning any of them.

One might ask “If the Church was guided by the Holy Spirit, why did it take so long to arrive at an authoritative Canon?” If the (allegedly inspired) Magisterium had been leading the Church all this time, why the need for an official pronouncement by the Church, almost 1,200 years later? Athanasius certainly did not expect the Church to tell him what should and should not be considered Scripture – his Canon was the result of his own personal study – and neither did the other Church Fathers, such as Eusebius and Origen (whose own New Testament Canons differed from Athanasius’.) The very notion of an official declaration from the Church was wholly alien to them.

In any case, the Catholic Church centred in Rome never had any extensive control over the Eastern churches, which were in turn divided even among themselves. Ethiopian, Coptic, Syrian, Byzantine and Armenian Canons all competed - both with each other, and with the Western Catholic Canon (which itself was never perfectly settled until the 16th Century.)
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#4 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:07 PM

Objection #4:

What is considered Scripture itself, cannot be determined on the basis of Sola Scriptura.
As a matter of fact, it can. The consistency of the internal evidence proves this beyond any shadow of a doubt. Jesus cited the books of the Jewish Canon frequently, while the apostle Paul (referring to the Old Testament) declared that it was “inspired by God.” That is the Biblical definition of “Scripture” – a divinely inspired message, written on behalf of the Father Himself. The apostle Peter confirms:
II Peter 1:19-21.
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
Of course, the New Testament was not called “Scripture” at the first, but its authors were clearly guided by the Holy Spirit.

Thus, from the NIV:
  • John 14:26.
    But the counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
  • John 16:13.
    But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
  • I Thessalonians 2:13.
    And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.
  • I Corinthians 14:37.
    If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.
  • II Corinthians 13:10.
    This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority - the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.
  • I John 2:7.
    Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard.
  • II Peter 3:15-16.
    Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
(Emphasis mine.)

Many more examples could be given, but even these few are sufficient to prove that the apostles considered both their teachings and writings to be the authoritative word of God – which is consistent with Christ’s statements concerning the knowledge they would receive after his ascension. Since the apostles acknowledge the Divine influence under which they composed their work, we can be sure that everything that was produced by them can be legitimately referred to as “Scripture.” They meet the Biblically defined standard – Divine inspiration.

Even the Early Church Fathers (whose writings were far more prolific) considered these works inspired by God Himself, and never made any such claim for themselves. They cited the New Testament Scriptures constantly, appealing to them as a divinely sanctioned authority.
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#5 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:08 PM

Objection #5:

Protestants have no legitimate basis on which they might reject the Catholic Old Testament Canon, in favour of the Jewish Old Testament Canon.
The Jews of Jesus’ time already had a Canon, since the Torah had already been canonised in some form (possibly as early as 622 BC) when the true Torah was rediscovered and ceremoniously declared official by King Josiah, according to the Bible itself. (Though it was most likely significantly edited after the Babylonian Exile in the time of Ezra c. 500 BCE, in order to take into account the later writings of the major and minor prophets.) The surest decision was made in the 2nd century BC when the Septuagint was written.

Thus, from Josephus:
We have not myriads of books, disagreeing and conflicting with one another, but only twenty-two [this number is arrived at by treating as one, certain books which Christian collators chose to define as two; for example, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, and I & II Chronicles], containing the record of all time and justly accredited. Of these, five are the books of Moses, containing the laws and the history handed down from the creation of the human race right to his own death. This period falls a little short of three thousand years.

From the death of Moses to the time of Artaxerxes, who was king of Persia after Xerxes, the prophets who followed Moses have written down in thirteen books the things that were done in their days. The remaining four books contain hymns to God and principles of life for human beings. From Artaxerxes to our own time a detailed record has been made,
[he refers here to the books of the Maccabees, etc] but this has not been thought worthy of equal credit with the earlier records because there has not been since then the exact succession of prophets. [1]
The Jews rejected the books of the Apocrypha because they were written long after Divine inspiration was agreed to have ceased – and, as we have just seen, this was the exact qualification that Josephus accepted. Like the New Testament Christians, he understood that the sole defining feature of Scripture was Divine inspiration – a special gift that was bestowed upon the ministers of God’s Word at specific times, for specific reasons.
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#6 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:10 PM

Objection #6: (Part I)

If they reject the authority of the Church, Protestants are left with no legitimate basis on which they might accept the New Testament Canon.
Here we must allow the science of textual criticism (the same tool that Bible scholars have employed for centuries) to be our guide. We would not be new in doing so – Augustine had already arrived at his own Canon by the careful use of textual criticism. Let us read an early example of his work:
Now, if any one finds a difficulty in the circumstance that this passage is not found in the writings of the prophet Jeremiah, and thinks that damage is thus done to the veracity of the evangelist, let him first take notice of the fact that this ascription of the passage to Jeremiah is not contained in all the codices of the Gospels, and that some of them state simply that it was spoken “by the prophet.”

It is possible, therefore, to affirm that those codices deserve rather to be followed which do not contain the name of Jeremiah. For these words were certainly spoken by a prophet, only that prophet was Zechariah. In this way the supposition is, that those codices are faulty which contain the name of Jeremiah, because they ought either to have given the name of Zechariah or to have mentioned no name at all, as is the case with a certain copy, merely stating that it was spoken “by the prophet, saying,” which prophet would assuredly be understood to be Zechariah.

However, let others adopt this method of defence, if they are so minded. For my part, I am not satisfied with it; and the reason is, that a majority of codices contain the name of Jeremiah, and that those critics who have studied the Gospel with more than usual care in the Greek copies, report that they have found it stand so in the more ancient Greek exemplars. I look also to this further consideration, namely, that there was no reason why this name should have been added
[subsequent to the composition of the original text], and a corruption thus created; whereas there was certainly an intelligible reason for erasing the name from so many of the codices.

For venturesome inexperience might readily have done that, when perplexed with the problem presented by the fact that this passage could not be found in Jeremiah.
[2]
Furthermore, historical evidence shows that the 27 books of the NT were written during the 1st Century AD. Since the authors of these books were the earliest Christians (and therefore possessed a direct link to Jesus himself) it would be most unwise of us to include later books (such as the Gospel of Thomas) into the NT canon because we cannot be sure that they are reliable.
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#7 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:14 PM

Objection #6: (Part II)

If they reject the authority of the Church, Protestants are left with no legitimate basis on which they might accept the New Testament Canon.
A close examination of the 27 books of the NT will reveal that they share a social, ideological and textual relationship. The various authors are known to each other – they speak about each other, and sometimes to each other. They share similar histories; they share personal details; they share doctrines; they share fellowship. Their testimonies match; their writings frequently cross-reference one another. They are clearly contemporaries. Indeed, the general consensus of textual critics is that the New Testament writings (as with the Old) are wholly reliable.

Thus:
The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established. [3]

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#8 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:22 PM

Objection #6: (Part III)

If they reject the authority of the Church, Protestants are left with no legitimate basis on which they might accept the New Testament Canon.
A close examination of the Didache (one of the oldest extra-Biblical documents) will show that it consists largely of various passages which have simply been lifted straight from the books of the NT Canon. It does not reference its sources – but it doesn’t alter them very much, either.

Why is this significant?
  • Because the Didache makes deliberate use of passages that would have been well known to the early Christians.
  • Because Didache recognises the authority of its sources by using them to compile a comprehensive statement of doctrine and practice.
We can prove this by examining a few excerpts from the Didache, and comparing them with the record of Scripture:
  • Didache 1:2.
    The way of life is this. First of all, thou shalt love the God that made thee; secondly, Thy neighbour as thyself. And all things whatsoever thou wouldst not have befall thyself, neither do thou unto another. [4]
  • Didache 1:3-4.
    Now of these words the doctrine is this. Bless them that curse you, and pray for your enemies and fast for them that persecute you; for what thank is it, if ye love them that love you? Do not even the Gentiles the same? But if ye love them that hate you, ye shall not have an enemy.
    Abstain thou from fleshly and bodily lusts. If any man give thee a blow on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also, and thou shalt be perfect; If a man impress thee to go with him one mile, go with him twain; if a man take away thy cloak, give him thy coat also; if a man take away from thee that which is thy own, ask it not back, for neither art thou able. [5]
  • Didache 3:7.
    But be meek, since the meek shall inherit the earth. [6]
  • Didache 3:10.
    The accidents that befall thee thou shalt receive as good, knowing that nothing is done without God. [7]
  • Didache 5:1-2.
    But the way of death is this. First of all, it is evil and full of a curse; murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magical arts, witchcrafts, plunderings, false witnessings, hypocrisies, doubleness of heart, treachery, pride, malice, stubbornness, covetousness, foul speaking, jealousy, boldness, exaltation, boastfulness;

    persecutors of good men, hating truth, loving a lie, not perceiving the reward of righteousness, not cleaving to the good nor to righteous judgment, wakeful not for that which is good but for that which is evil-from whom gentleness and forbearance stand aloof; loving vain things, pursuing a recompense, not pitying the poor man, not toiling for him that is oppressed with toil, not recognizing Him that made them, murderers of children, corrupters of the creatures of God, turning away from him that is in want, oppressing him that is afflicted, advocates of the wealthy, unjust judges of the poor, altogether sinful. May ye be delivered, my children, from all these things. [8]
  • Didache 5:3.
    But concerning eating, bear that which thou art able; yet abstain by all means from meat sacrificed to idols; for it is the worship of dead gods. [9]
  • Didache 8:2.
    Neither pray ye as the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, thus pray ye: Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth; give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debt, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one; for Thine is the power and the glory for ever and ever. [10]
  • Didache 11:1-2.
    Whosoever therefore shall come and teach you all these things that have been said before, receive him;
    but if the teacher himself be perverted and teach a different doctrine to the destruction thereof, hear him not; but if to the increase of righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord. [11]
  • Didache 12:3-4.
    But if he wishes to settle with you, being a craftsman, let him work for and eat his bread.
    But if he has no craft, according to your wisdom provide how he shall live as a Christian among you, but not in idleness. [12]
  • Didache 15:1.
    Appoint for yourselves therefore bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men who are meek and not lovers of money, and true and approved; for unto you they also perform the service of the prophets and teachers. [13]
  • Didache 16:3.
    For in the last days the false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate. [14]

    Didache 14:2.
    And let no man, having his dispute with his fellow, join your assembly until they have been reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be defiled. [15]

    Didache 16:4.
    For as lawlessness increaseth, they shall hate one another and shall persecute and betray. And then the world-deceiver shall appear as a son of God; and shall work signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands; and he shall do unholy things, which have never been since the world began. [16]

  • Didache 16:6.
    And then shall the signs of the truth appear; first a sign of a rift in the heaven, then a sign of a voice of a trumpet, and thirdly a resurrection of the dead;
  • Didache 16:8.
    Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven. [17]

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#9 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:34 PM

Objection #7:

The books of the Apocrypha appear in the Septuagint, thereby proving that the Jews considered them to be inspired.
Firstly, the oldest version of the Septuagint (the Alexandrian LXX) did not contain the books of the Apocrypha at all. Secondly, most of the books of the Apocrypha were written after the composition of the Alexandrian LXX.

Observe:
  • The Hymn in the Song of the Three Holy Children - 200 BC.
  • Ecclesiasticus - 200 BC.
  • The Prayer in the Song of the Three Holy Children - 160 BC.
  • Judith - 150 BC.
  • Additions to the Book of Esther - 140 BC.
  • Bel and the Dragon - 150 BC.
  • I Maccabees - 90 BC.
  • II Maccabees - 50 BC.
  • The Wisdom of Solomon - AD 40.
  • Baruch - AD 70 or later.
  • II Esdras - AD 100.
Since the Alexandrian LXX was originally written somewhere between 250-200 BC, it is quite impossible for the apocryphal literature to have been included in its canon.
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#10 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:35 PM

Objection #8:

The apostles approved the use of tradition as a legitimate source of doctrine and practice in the Church. This undermines the alleged authority of Sola Scriptura, and vindicates the Roman Catholic authority of Sacred Tradition.
The Christian “tradition” to which the New Testament refers, is that which was instituted by Christ himself. This “tradition” is always contrasted against “the traditions of men.”

Thus:
I Corinthians 11:1-2, 25ff.
Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances [“traditions”; see KJV margin], as I delivered them to you.

[…]

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you… etc.
The early Christian “tradition” (so-called) was therefore (a) delivered by Christ himself, and (b) immutable, unlike the steadily-evolving “traditions of men” which were formulated in the first three centuries of the post-Apostolic era.
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#11 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:35 PM

  • Objection #9:

    It is only by virtue of Church tradition that the full teachings of Christ have been preserved. We know that mere Scripture alone does not contain everything that Jesus delivered to his followers.

    Thus:
  • John 20:30.
    Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.
  • John 21:25.
    There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.
Neither of these verses makes any reference to “tradition.” They merely refer to other things that Jesus did – not to other teachings that he delivered. Any appeal to these verses must necessarily include a detailed description of the alleged “traditions” contained within them. If the Church cannot tell us what they might be, her argument collapses immediately.
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#12 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:36 PM

Objection #10:

In the Catholic Church, Paul’s preaching (oral teachings) would fall under the designation of “oral tradition.” This confirms both the legitimacy of tradition per se, and oral tradition in particular.
But Paul’s oral teachings – unlike the oral teachings of the men who led the post-1st Century Church – were not originally his own; they were Christ’s! Furthermore, those same oral teachings were always committed to parchment, not simply passed down through word of mouth (a most subjective and unreliable mode of transmission.) They were also recorded by other writers, appearing in the four Gospels, the book of Acts, and the General Epistles.

The very concept of “tradition” (as defined by the Catholic Church) is unequivocally condemned by the apostles themselves. It is called “the tradition of men”; i.e. that which was instigated by uninspired members of the Christian community, who soon fell away from the original faith (the Gospel message as delivered by Christ and his disciples.)

With this in mind, the apostle Paul takes care to distinguish between that which he has been inspired to write (“I have received of the Lord that which I delivered unto you…”) and that which constitutes his own personal judgement (“I write this by permission, and not by commandment…”) He reassures his audience that his own personal views are not to be accepted on the same footing as (a) his Divinely inspired work, or (b) the authority of Jesus. (See I Corinthians 5:5-6, 35, 39-40 for an example.)

The apostles never place any weight on “oral tradition.” They draw their arguments from (a) the inspiration of God, and (b) the writings (as opposed to “oral traditions”) of other apostles.
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#13 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:36 PM

Objection #11:

The Canon of Scripture ceased to be disputed after the official declaration of Pope Damasus – in fact, no objections were raised until the Protestant Reformation. The Council of Trent (1,200 years later) did not establish the official Catholic Canon, but merely reaffirmed the original decision.
The declaration of Damasus was merely one of several declarations by various authorities before the Council of Trent. The Catholic Church claims that her leaders held three major Councils to determine the Canon of Scripture. (Council of Rome, AD 382; Council of Hippo, 393; Council of Carthage, 397.)

This assertion is problematic for several reasons:
  • The Council of Hippo disagreed with the Council of Carthage, varying in its definition of books of Esdras.
  • The legitimacy of the Council of Rome (at which Pope Gelasius is said to have delivered an official ruling on the Canon) is hotly debated by theologians and historians alike.
  • This same “official ruling” is occasionally attributed to Pope Damasus. (But why – if it was an official ruling – is there so little consensus with regard to its origin?)
  • There is evidence that the Council of Rome did not actually take place, but was merely “reconstructed” by the Catholic Church, following a sympathetic (one might say “anachronistic”) interpretation of Gelasius’ letters to his bishops. Indeed, the late F. F. Bruce (who, in his day, was internationally recognised as peerless expert in the field of textual criticism) presents a masterful synopsis:

    What is commonly called the Gelasian decree on books which are to be received and not received takes its name from Pope Gelasius (492-496). It gives a list of biblical books as they appeared in the Vulgate, with the Apocrypha interspersed among the others. In some manuscripts, indeed, it is attributed to Pope Damasus, as though it had been promulgated by him at the Council of Rome in 382. But actually it appears to have been a private compilation drawn up somewhere in Italy in the early sixth century. [18]

    (Emphasis mine.)
We must also remember that even before the Protestant Reformation, Cardinal Cajetan had acknowledged the widespread rejection of the Apocrypha as Divinely inspired. Thus, while it is true that the Reformation certainly widened the scope of the debate, it was by no means the original catalyst.
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#14 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:37 PM

With Regard to Papal Authority


Objection #1: (Part I)

Objection 1: Papal authority was established and accepted from the earliest days of the Church. According to Tertullian’s De Praescript (AD 199), Clement of Rome was ordained Bishop of Rome by St. Peter himself. This historical fact is confirmed by the Epistle of Clement to Corinth, dated to 96 AD (a date that rivals that of the Book of Revelation itself.)
Firstly, the “Letter of Clement” was merely attributed to him by tradition. There is no proof that it was ever written by Clement of Rome. It is unsigned; its author is unknown. There is nothing in it which even remotely hints that its writer was a “pope.” Secondly, the office of the pope (so-called) is nothing more than the bishopric of Rome. Since Rome is considered by Catholics to be the pre-eminent church, then the bishop of Rome is the pre-eminent bishop. Again, this does not give us a “pope.” Thirdly, Scripture says nothing whatsoever about a “bishop” who is also “head of the Church”, and early Christian history is utterly silent on the topic. Fourthly, there is nothing in Scripture which might indicate that the “Bishop of Rome” has primacy of authority.

Indeed, Paul uses the words “bishop” and “elder” interchangeably, such as in Acts 20, where he calls for the “elders” of the ecclesias in verse 17 but later calls them “bishops” (or “overseers”; the Greek word is episkopos) in verse 28. Peter does the same in the first four verses of I Peter 5.
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#15 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:38 PM

Objection #1: (Part II)

Objection 1: Papal authority was established and accepted from the earliest days of the Church. According to Tertullian’s De Praescript (AD 199), Clement of Rome was ordained Bishop of Rome by St. Peter himself. This historical fact is confirmed by the Epistle of Clement to Corinth, dated to 96 AD (a date that rivals that of the Book of Revelation itself.)
Moving past the Bible (which contains most of the 1st Century writings of the early Church) and getting into the 2nd Century, we see that confusion arises from the differing practices of the apostles Paul, Peter and John. In the churches where John had appointed elders, only one of the elders was known as the "bishop."ť In Paul and Peter's churches, all of the elders were "śbishops/overseers."ť No single elder was head over the others.

This can be further proved by reference to the New Testament writings, in which John addresses the issue of one man issuing decrees (III John 9-10), while Peter and Paul never mention any individual leader. Since the church in Rome was acknowledged (at least, by Church tradition) to have been formed by Peter and Paul, it should not surprise us that the author of 1 Clement speaks of plural leadership in the same way that Paul and Peter had done:And thus preaching through countries and cities, [the apostles appointed the first-fruits, having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus saith the Scripture in a certain place, I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.[19]
Notice that there is no mention of "elders"ť, while "bishops"ť are referred to in the plural. This is because the author views bishopric and eldership as one and the same office; it would therefore be redundant to mention them twice. He makes this even more obvious two paragraphs later:For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate office of the bishop those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters elders who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure; for they have no fear lest any one deprive them of the place now appointed them. [20]
Here he uses the terms "bishop"ť and "elder"ť interchangeably. Again, this is no surprise to the unbiased student of history, because Paul and Peter use the terms interchangeably, and Paul (if not Peter as well) laid the foundations of the ecclesia in Rome. It is only a surprise to the Roman Catholic, whose dogma requires that there be a singular bishop in Clement's time. There was in fact no single bishop who could be a pope in Clement's time, and the "Letter of Clement"ť (so-called) is not the only evidence that this was so. Ignatius (living around the same time) never mentions a bishop of Rome, and neither does Polycarp.

There are numerous other pieces of evidence that could be mentioned, most of them falling under the general topic of a universal second century silence on the matter of a pope. Justin Martyr, for example, wrote a long letter to the emperor of Rome seeking to inform him of the general nature of the Christian faith, so that Christians might be fairly tried in Roman courts. Justin goes into great detail about the faith, describing even Sunday meetings and baptism step by step, yet he never mentions a pope, who supposedly dwelled in the same city as both the emperor and Justin himself.

There is an even earlier anonymous letter (again, describing Christianity in a general way) from the region of Rome to a Roman official, but it, too, never mentions a pope, or even a "chief bishop"ť. It was Constantine who first introduced the concept of a mortal man as head of the Church, and for centuries afterwards, the Emperors who followed assumed this role as a matter of course.

Only much later was the seat of ecclesiastical power transferred to a bishop.
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#16 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:40 PM

Objection #2:

Ignatius (writing in the early 2nd Century AD) confirms that the Christian community already accepted the primacy of the Pope as the representative of Christ on Earth.

Thus:

"Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop or by one whom he ordains [i.e., a presbyter.] Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."

This merely refers to the role of bishops in general - not to a single bishop who exercised primacy of authority over the entire church. Notice also, that Ignatius makes no mention of a “head bishop.” He writes “wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church”, as opposed to the modern Catholic view: “Wherever the Pope is, there is the Catholic Church.” This reaffirms that Ignatius saw Christ as the head of the Church; he has no knowledge - or even conception - of a “pope.” In fact, no such office existed.

In the words of a leading Protestant apologist:First and foremost, there is tremendous confusion concerning the early ‘lists’ of the bishops of Rome, and for good reason. Different sources give different renderings. Why? As simple as it may sound, the reason is easily discovered: no one really cared for the first century of the history of the church at Rome.

All the lists come from at the earliest many decades later, and show a concern that did not arise until the Church as a whole began struggling with heresy and began formulating concepts of authority to use against heretics. But in those first decades, even into the middle of the second century, no one was particularly concerned about who the bishop of Rome was. Why? Because no one had the concepts that Rome now presents as ‘ancient.’ No one thought the bishop of any one church was above any other, or that the bishop of Rome was somehow invested with any particular authority.
[21]
(Emphasis mine.)
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#17 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:41 PM

Objection #3:

The evidence of history – when taken as a whole – confirms the primacy of the Pope as head of the Church, from the earliest days of the Apostolic succession.
The evidence of history – when taken as a whole – confirms no such thing.

Observe the following summary from a contemporary historian:On the point – the role of the Papacy in the conversion of Europe – we need some background for, in the early Church prior to Toleration in AD 313, there had been no suggestion that the Bishop of Rome exercised any significant influence, much less authority, outside his own domain. However, when Constantine’s Edict of Toleration (AD 313) granted freedom of belief and worship to Christians, a completely new situation developed which necessitated a radical change in Church policy. For, from that time on, the emperors were Christians; and increasingly, they tended to rule the Church as a kind of Department of State, as if they – rather than thee bishops – were the successors of St Peter and the Apostles.

So, when doctrinal disputes arose among Christians (for example the controversy over the divinity of Christ), it was the Emperor Constantine, not the Bishop of Rome, who called the first “Ecumenical” Council of Christian bishops (a kind of Christian Summit) at Nicaea in AD 325 – oikumene being the Greek word for the “household” of the Church. Among the two hundred bishops who attended, there were only two priests (not even a single bishop) from Rome or its environs, and they played only a minor part in the proceedings.

The same when a later Emperor, Theodosius, called a second Christian Summit (the First Council of Constantinople) in AD 381 – without reference to Rome at all! In effect, the Emperor was now behaving as if he were the Head of the Church – an emperor, moreover, who (as we have seen) had been forced to do public penance by St Ambrose after slaughtering 7,000 innocent people after one of his officers had been assassinated.

This was too much. The following year, Damasus, Bishop of Rome, called a rival Council in Rome; and his successor, Siricius, formulated the first public proclamation of the right and duty of the Bishop of Rome to rule over thee whole of Christendom: “We (the Successors of Peter) carry on our shoulders the burdens of all who are weighed down. Indeed, in Our person the blessed Apostle Peter himself carries these burdens – he who regards us as the heir to his administration… No priest of the Lord is free to ignore the decision of the Apostolic See.”

Gradually, over the next century or so, as the tension increased between the Caesar or Emperor in the East and the Pope or Bishop of Rome in the West, “the Successors of Peter” became ever more adamant in their insistence that they, rather than the eastern emperors, should be the arbiters of all Church affairs. So, in the mid 5th Century, we find Pope Leo I (440-461) calling himself “the Vicar of Peter” – that is, the one who acts in the place of Peter. Not the “Vicar of Christ” – the modern title which gained ascendancy only from the 11th Century onwards – but “the Vicar of Peter” and “the heir to his administration.”

By the end of the 5th Century, still under pressure from the Emperor in Constantinople, a further step was taken in this direction when Pope Gelasius (492-496) formulated the crucial concept of “separate Orders.” In the political or temporal order, he argued, the Emperor holds supreme and universal authority; but in the spiritual order – that is, in the administration of the Church – it is the Bishop of Rome who, as Vicar of St Peter, holds supreme and universal authority. The foundation of all future claims to the Papacy – and the basis of a good deal of the future politics of Church and State – is already inherent in this crucial distinction.

In passing, it is worth nothing that, in a sense, it was only natural that the Church should begin to think in such universal terms. For the Roman Empire into which Christianity had been born was a world-wide empire; and the Romans themselves had a gift for government far surpassing that of the more intellectual but more factious and self-destructive Greeks, whose small, independent City-States had fought interminably among themselves all through Greek history.

So, “not unnaturally, with Christianity spreading all through the Roman Empire, Christians began to think of the Church as a kind of spiritual Empire; and given the unique role of Peter, and the natural Roman gift for government, it was on the cards that the successors of Peter would eventually become the spiritual Emperors of the universal Church, which we call “Christendom” (literally, “the dominion of Christ.”)

Especially, in the persistent climate of controversy that marked those early centuries – notably, the continuing Arian assertion that, while Christ was adopted as Son of God at his baptism, he was not born God, nor was he identical with the Creator. So when, in the midst of one such controversy (in 451), with the Church split into two rival factions, the gifted Pope Leo I spoke out authoritatively saying, “this is the doctrine of the Church” – his words having the authoritative tone of a Roman decree, backed by his claim to be the Successor of St Peter – the Bishop of Rome became increasingly regarded as the guardian of orthodoxy throughout much of Christendom.

By this time – by force of circumstance, rather than choice or planning – the Bishop of Rome had also become a political ruler, not just head of the Church in Rome. For when the Emperor Constantine retired to Constantinople, leaving the city of Rome as a backwater, who else would now rule and defend the city, if not the Bishop of Rome? In the words of Professor Nilsson in his history of Imperial Rome; “as the Emperor (from the early 300’s) seldom visited Rome, the bishop had become the foremost man in the city.”

When, for example, Attila and his Huns stormed into Italy in 451, who would go out to negotiate with him? Who would – and did – save the city of Rome from the kind of rape and plunder that befell so many other cities throughout the Empire? Who, if not the Bishop of Rome, the leading citizen in the city? And, in fact, it was this same Pope Leo who confronted Attila – thereby (as the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church points out) “increasing… Papal prestige… in the political sphere… by persuading the Huns to withdraw beyond the Danube (451), and securing concessions when the Vandals took Rome in 452.” This political role of the bishops of Rome would increase tenfold a few centuries later when, in the mid-700’s, the Popes became political rulers of territories stretching north-east from Rome to the environs of Ravenna – these territories henceforth being known as the “Papal States.”

This development stemmed from a troublesome relationship between the Papacy and the Lombards – yet another Germanic tribe, who appear to have been Christians by the time of their arrival in 568, but remained Arians till the mid 7th Century. From the outset, they proceeded to occupy most of northern and central Italy, taking Ravenna, the capital of the Christian (though Arian), kingdom of the Ostrogoths in 571 and, after besieging Rome that same year, imposing a heavy tribute on the people of Rome and its environs in token of subjection. This new and hazardous situation eventually prompted the Pope to appeal for help – no longer to the Eastern emperor who was by then preoccupied with the expansion of Islam, but to Charlemagne’s father, Pippin II, ruler of the Franks.

Pippin agreed to intervene and agreed, moreover, to hand over extensive Lombard territories to the Pope – including the Ducy of Benevento, south of Rome, the Duchy of Spoleto (around Assisi) to the north-east, and even the former Byzantine and subsequently Gothic territories north and south of Ravenna. Two successive Frankish campaigns followed –the first in 754, and the second in 756 (after Rome had been besieged by the Lombards for eight weeks) – the outcome being the birth of the Papal States which would remain intact until the Unification of Italy in 1870. And, as Barraclough points out in The Medieval Papacy, this was a new and momentous development, for “at no time in the whole preceding history of the papacy had there been any suggestion that the bishop of Rome should exercise temporal power, or rule as a king over a territorial state.”

By the time of the Lombard campaigns in the mid 700’s, another political factor was adding further prestige to the Papacy – in spiritual rather than political terms. For, with the rapid expansion of Islam, all through the Middle East and right across North Africa in the century following Mohammed’s death in 634, all the other “Apostolic Sees” (Jerusalem, Antioch and Ephesus), which had originally evangelized by one or other of the apostles, were now in Islamic hands; and this meant that the only surviving Apostolic See in Christendom was Rome. Hence, Rome’s present claim to the title, “The Apostolic See.”

Almost by chance, therefore, from the late 700’s, not only did the popes claim spiritual authority over the whole of Christendom as “Successors of Peter” and bishop of the one and only surviving “Apostolic See”, but they were recognized as the political overlords of about one-fifth of Italy also – this new status of the Papacy being confirmed in the papal coronation of Charlemagne in the year 800.

[...]

One of the clearest indications of the new role of the Papacy can be seen in the fact that, before the early 1100’s, not a single General or “Ecumenical” Council of the Church had been summoned by a pope or even held in the capital West: from the early 12th Century onwards, however, there would be frequent Councils; all would be held in the West; and all would be summoned and directed by the pope.

R. W. Southern supplies the details in Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages, as follows: “Between the seventh century and the early twelfth the Councils are few and, from a western point of view, insignificant. They are all held in Byzantine territory (one at Nicaea, in 787, and two in Constantinople, in 680 and 869), and there were no representatives from the West except the papal legates, who played a minor role in the proceedings. The whole picture therefore is one of western inertia and papal impotence… [22]
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#18 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:49 PM

Questions which Catholics Must Answer


  • Catholics claim that Silvester I was the Pope of Constantine’s era. Why, then, did the Emperor preside over the Council of Nicaea? Does this not contradict the traditional dogma of Papal primacy?
  • Where is the principle of Papal succession taught in the NT? Even if we accept Peter as the “first Pope”, where do we go from here? Who was next in line, and where are we told that a succession would take place?
  • Catholics argue that the Church can deliver an infallible interpretation of the Scriptures by virtue of (a) the apostolic succession, and (b) the gift of the Holy Spirit, which has been transmitted to the Pope and Magisterium. However, this is merely a claim – it has yet to be proved. The questions which need to be asked are: “How might this claim be proved? How can the Church demonstrate that her interpretation is necessarily superior to all others? (It may be objected ‘But we [Catholics] can prove the apostolic succession, and therefore the infallibility of interpretation naturally follows.’ But this merely presents another claim, which must also be validated – else we are left with a circular argument, which proves nothing at all.)
  • Why did the Church take so long to determine the “official canon” of the Bible?
  • Why has the Church added new doctrines and practices over the centuries?
  • Why has the Church taken so long to add these new doctrines – and what function do they play within the scope of Catholic theology?
  • On what basis does the Church accept the teaching of “progressive revelation”?

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#19 Evangelion

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Posted 11 June 2003 - 05:51 PM

Bibliography


[1] Josephus (AD 90), Versus Apion.

[2] The passage is from Augustine’s De Consensus Evangelistarum (“The Harmony of the Gospels”) in which he analyses Matthew 27:9-10. ("Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one whose price had been set by the sons of Israel; and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord directed me.”

[3] Kenyon, Frederic (1940), The Bible and Archaeology.

[4] This is the “Golden Rule”, as spoken by Jesus on several occasions. Jesus himself was quoting the 10 Commandments.

[5] Two direct quotes from the Sermon on the Mount. (They appear in Matthew 5.)

[6] Taken from the Sermon on the Mount. (It appears in Matthew 5.)

[7] A quote from the book of Ecclesiastes. (See also John 9, where Jesus elaborates on this theme.)

[8] Taken from Romans 1 & I Timothy 1, confirming the authority of the Pauline epistles.

[9] Taken from I Corinthians 8, reaffirming the decision of the apostles at the Jerusalem Conference in Acts 15.

[10 A direct quote from the Sermon on the Mount. (It appears in Matthew 6.)

[11] A paraphrase of Paul’s warnings in (a) Galatians 1, and (b) the epistles to Timothy.

[12] Taken from II Thessalonians 3:9-13.

[13] Taken from I Timothy 3:1-10.

[14] Paraphrases from Matthew 17:15 & Matthew 24:23-24.

[15 A paraphrase of Matthew 5:23-24.

[16] Paraphrases from Matthew 24:23-24, II Timothy 3:1, 13, & II Thessalonians 2:3-10.

[17] Verses 6 & 8 consist of paraphrases from I Corinthians 15, Matthew 24:30-31, Mark 13:26-28, & I Thessalonians 4:15-16.

[18] Bruce, F.F. (1988), The Canon of Scripture.

[19] I Clement 42:4-5.

[20] I Clement 44:3-4.

[21] White, James (2002), How Reliable is Roman Catholic History?, an online article at White’s own Website. (See here.)

[22] Guthridge, Ian (1999), The Rise and Decline of the Christian Empire, pp. 77-80, 126.




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