(Aleteia) Philip Jenkins–Evangelicals are more Catholic than they think

Tradition matters.

As a statement about the making of church doctrine, that comment might not sound too startling, and it is quite obvious to Catholic and Orthodox believers. But it does point to a major paradox in the thinking of that numerous and influential section of the world’s Christians who are evangelicals. Surprised, and even shocked, as they might be to hear it, they are in fact far more Catholic than they might ever have thought.

Evangelicals pride themselves on their reliance on Scripture alone, the core Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura. If you look at evangelical debates, the question will soon arise: how do you ground this in scripture? Give me chapter and verse!

But here’s the problem. Evangelicals believe absolutely in core doctrines of faith that cannot be derived simply from scripture, but rather grow out of church tradition.

Read it all.


Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Ecclesiology, Evangelicals, Other Churches, Roman Catholic, Theology, Theology: Scripture

30 comments on “(Aleteia) Philip Jenkins–Evangelicals are more Catholic than they think

  1. CSeitz-ACI says:

    Prior to the firm retention of the term homoousia via Nicene confession, the debate of the fathers was entirely over how scripture confirmed this particular understanding and how it arose naturally from scripture. In Athanasius’ Against the Arians over 50 pages is devoted to Proverbs 8 and its sense-making in favor of “of one substance.” So I find this essay a bit simplistic. Fortunately most modern scholars of the early church stress the centrality of scripture for Christian doctrine (Wilken, Behr, Young).

  2. William Witt says:

    I find this article to be either disingenuous or confused. Historic Reformation Protestants do not reject tradition. They have differed historically on such issues as the “regulative” principle. Puritans disallowed such things as wedding rings and written liturgy because they were not specifically commanded in Scripture. Anglicans, to the contrary, insisted that any practices not explicitly forbidden in Scripture are permissible. Thus, Anglicans use a Prayer Book.

    This is entirely different from the issue raised by Jenkins. Contrary to Jenkins’ assertion, Reformation Christians believe absolutely in core doctrines of faith because they are derived (not simply) but necessarily from Scripture. Doctrines such as the incarnation and the Trinity grow out of church tradition only in the sense that, as the patristic church confronted understandings of faith that were at odds with the agreed faith of the church, they needed to think more carefully about how they understood Scripture and its implications.

    Jenkins mentions both the Trinity and the incarnation, but Reformation Christians have always insisted that Nicea, Chalcedon, and the ecumenical councils did not add something new. They rather articulated the teaching of Scripture. (And this was certainly the self-understanding of patristic theologians such as Irenaeus or Athanasius in their debates with heresies such as gnosticism or Arianism.)

    If we take seriously that the God who has revealed himself economically as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the history of redemption is in himself who he has revealed himself to be in the history of redemption, then God must be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in his own nature, i.e., Triune. If we take seriously passages such as John 1 and Philippians 2, then we necessarily affirm the incarnation.

    This understanding of how the patristic church came to affirm doctrines such as the Trinity and the incarnation as necessary implications of biblical revelation is not uniquely Protestant, but is affirmed in standard texts such as the Roman Catholic Giles Emery’s The Trinity: An Introduction to the Catholic Doctrine on the Triune God (Catholic University of America, 2011). Interestingly, Emery appeals to Protestant biblical scholars such as Ben Witherington to make the case that the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation are clear implications of the teaching of Scripture.

    The marian doctrines are a completely different issue. At Chalcedon, the patristic church affirmed that Mary is theotokos (“God bearer” or “Mother of God”); this is not, however, primarily a Marian affirmation, but a Christological one. If Jesus is God incarnate, then Mary (as his mother) is indeed theotokos. However, the other Marian dogmas (perpetual virginity, sinlessness, bodily assumption) are not derived from the plain teaching of Scripture in the same way, but are clearly products of later church tradition.

    The crucial question here is that of development of doctrine, as raised by John Henry Newman after his conversion to Rome. Newman acknowledged that dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church (such as the Marian dogmas and the primacy of the papacy) are neither clearly taught in Scripture, nor evident in the earliest tradition of the Church. His theory of development was his solution to the dilemma.

    The Anglican response was swift. The definitive answer in my opinion came from Newman’s brother-in-law, J.B. Mozley’s The Theory of Development. Mozley argued that Newman did not distinguish carefully enough between developments that were logical and necessary implications of the clear teaching of Scripture (incarnation, Trinity) and developments that were genuine additions (Marian dogmas, papacy).

    Jenkin seems to be operating with something like Newman’s theory of development. Fine for Roman Catholics, certainly not for Evangelicals or Anglicans.

  3. MichaelA says:

    Well said, Dr Seitz and Dr Witt. The author Philip Jenkins bases his article on a false premise and things just go downhill from there!

    [blockquote] “The obvious example is the Trinity itself … Yet it is not found in the Bible.” [/blockquote]

    Yes it is. The doctrine of the Trinity derives from nowhere else but scripture. Philip Jenkins clearly hasn’t read the Church Fathers or he would know that they did not see themselves as formulating a doctrine, but rather defending the doctrines found in scripture from those who tried to subvert them.

    [blockquote] “The only scriptural support it ever had was the so-called Johannine Comma, an explicitly Trinitarian line in 1 John 5: 7-8…” [/blockquote]

    This is where Philip really puts his lack of familiarity with his subject matter on display. Consider just a few of the relevant passages of scripture, e.g:
    • “I and the Father are one”
    • “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”
    • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”
    • “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”
    • “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made”
    • “before Abraham was, I am”
    • “But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever”
    • “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form”
    • “A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one”
    • “you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money … You have not lied just to human beings but to God”
    • “Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”.

    Two things should be apparent: (i) Philip Jenkins hasn’t read much scripture; and (ii) it is no surprise that the Church taught from earliest times that God is three persons but one God, nor that Church leaders opposed heretics who tried to twist or deny that doctrine.

    The same comments apply to Jenkins’ assertion that the doctrine of the incarnation is not taught in scripture. This would be news to the Church Fathers, who believed that they were defending doctrine taught in scripture, not creating their own.

  4. New Reformation Advocate says:

    With all due respect to the learned three contributors above (all of whom I respect highly), I would contend that Jenkins’ article has much more merit than they seem to allow. I grant, of course, that this extremely brief article oversimplifies some vastly complicated issues, but that is necessarily the case when trying to address those issues in such an extremely limited space. Furthermore, the tone of the article is plainly intended as provocative, in the sense of stimulating evangelical Protestants to rethink their knee-jerk negative reactions against granting the Tradition of the Church a necessary and indispensable role in the formulation of doctrine, including core doctrine central to the Christian faith. Furthermore, as the article’s ending makes clear, Jenkins’ intention is actually irenical, not polemical. He’s just adopting a sort of Socratic method, trying to spur conservative Protestants to reconsider their unquestioning devotion to the hallowed myth of the Sola Scriptura principle.

    For a carefully reasoned, and far more adequately argued, case making the same essential point, see the admirable essay by the late, great Richard John Neuhaus in the celebrated volume, [b]Evangelicals and Catholics Together[/b] (1994). As for myself, I find Neuhaus fully convincing. Among other things, Neuhaus argues quite persuasively that there is in fact a covert magisterium (or more accurately, a whole set of rival magisteria) that controls the interpretation of Scripture in the evangelical world. Some may look to John Stott say, or some to R. C. Sproul, or others to John Piper or James Packer, etc. etc. The point is that while no Protestant would ever explicitly grant any of those eminent and worthy men the status of infallible interpreters, in actual practice they seem to FUNCTION as nearly infallible guides to the interpretation of Holy Writ in the eyes of many.

    I’m not sure anyone is going to pay any real attention to this thread, but I’ll go ahead and venture a few audacious comments, in my wonted style, in the hope of stirring a little lively debate here.

    Thesis #1. The whole idea of Sola Scriptura is just plain wrong, demonstrably wrong beyond any reasonable doubt. At least, I myself categorically reject it, without qualification.

    Thesis #2. Historical Criticism and modern biblical scholarship in general has over the last 200 years or so FORCED us to undertake a serious and searching re-examination of the whole controversial matter of the relation of Holy Scripture and (less) Holy Tradition. Because we now know beyond all doubt that both the Protestant and Catholic apologists and theologians of the 16th century were working with unwarranted assumptions about the unique nature of Holy Scripture, as if its divine inspiration differed in KIND from that of Church Tradition, rather than in DEGREE. Both sides in the 16th century wrongly assumed that most of the biblical writings were produced by one author at one time and hence had little in common with the gradual evolution of Tradition. We now know, beyond the slightest doubt, that the vast bulk of Holy Scripture only slowly evolved into its final canonical form. The Pentateuch, major prophetic books like Isaiah and Jeremiah, the above all the four gospels, are prime illustrations of this crucial fact. Namely, Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition overlap significantly. They don’t exist in watertight compartments, wholly separate from each other.

    Thesis #3. Along with the fallacy of the Sola Scriptura principle, there is also the intractable and unpalatable reality that Holy Scripture is NOT, contrary to the Reformers and especially the Swiss Reformers, self-interpreting. In fact, the Bible has FAR less perspicuity than Protestants have ever been willing to admit. But many evangelicals, including evangelical Anglicans, seem reluctant to admit the strong irony of hundreds of warring Protestant groups all claiming that God’s Word is so crystal clear that there is no need for any earthly magisterium, while at the same time all vehenmently arguing that their type of Protestant interpretation is correct, and all others are wrong, or at least less correct.

    Thesis #4. It’s high time for us orthodox Anglicans to face facts and plainly confess that the Reformers, including the Englsih Reformers, were gravely mistaken in their whole approach to the complex and vital issue of the proper relationship of Scripture and Tradition. Now please don’t jump to conclusions and mistake my intentions. I firmly believe that the Council of Trent erred badly too. ALL sides in the 16th century erred badly, and both sides had legitimate concerns and made valid points. The Reformers were quite right in insisting loudly that the SUPREME and FINAL authority of Holy Scripture as God’s Word must be restored, for it had in fact been lost and gravely compromised in the medieval period. But their Catholic opponents were also quite right that the baby must not be thrown out with the dirty bathwater. Tradition has a necessary and indispensable role in the proper interpretation of Scripture, as great leaders from Irenaeus and Tertullian on had correctly emphasized.

    I’m tempted to say more about this pet theme of mine, but I’ll stop here. I hope other readers will feel free to jump in and enter the fray here. For the issues at stake here are truly momentous. And as far as I’m concerned, Anglicanism has never achieved a coherent, viable consensus on this cardinal issue. But that, of course, is itself a highly debatable claim.

    David Handy+
    Ever provocative

  5. CSeitz-ACI says:

    #4–you might broaden your intellectual horizon with a look at CF Burney’s classical study of ‘arche’ (cited in Seitz, Colossians); it surveys the long genealogy in the run up to Athanasius. Bauckham’s God Crucified is also a good place to catch up. Or David Yeago’s fine study ‘Nicene Dogma and NT’ (ProEccle 4).

    Don’t let the modernist instincts of your theological education limit you! Stretch your wings a bit. F. Young’s Biblical Exegesis and the Emergence of Christian Culture is also a good place to do some catch-up.

  6. New Reformation Advocate says:

    Dr. Seitz (#5),

    Many thanks for the tips about further reading. I’m always open to such suggestions. However, I must say that I find your tone rather condescending and patronizing. I am by no means unfamiliar, for example, with the important work of Frances Young, including her marvelous little study, [b]Virtuoso Theology[/b], etc.

    I stand by what I wrote. The real question comes down to this: are all Anglicans obliged to hold or defend the outdated and misguided, although well-intentioned, position of the English Reformers when it comes to the crucial and fundamental issue of the complex relationship between Holy Scripture and Tradition. I sure hope not!

    David Handy+

  7. Catholic Mom says:

    Interesting that the basis for Orthodox Judaism is that there *must* be a “tradition” (oral law before being codified in the Talmud, as well as on-going authority of the rabbis) that extends beyond the Torah since many elements of the Torah would be incomprehensible without it.

    Two examples:
    Deuteronomy 6:8 states that Jewish men are to put on “totafos” but this word is not defined and appears nowhere else in scripture. Therefore scripture cannot provide information about what this is.

    Deuteronomy 12:21), God says with reference to killing an animal for food consumption that Jews must: “slaughter it… in the way I have directed.” However there are no directions as to what way this is.

    To the Orthodox Jew it is obvious that God revealed the answers to these question outside of the written Torah and the answers cannot be derived from the Torah alone.

  8. CSeitz-ACI says:

    #7 And for Christians, this “oral law” is Jesus Christ, whose apprehension as Christ and Son of God is “in accordance with the scriptures” by gift of the Holy Spirit. “As it is written, ‘you will look on him whom you have pierced’ and “you search the scriptures and it is they which testify to me.” The arche of Genesis 1 is the Logos, as John 1 testifies in accordance with the scriptures. Last week’s Gospel reading from John speaks of Moses testifying to Christ and the example is the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man (the logos alive on Jacob’s ladder) for the Israelite in whom there is no guile/Jacob.

  9. Catholic Mom says:

    Well, Jesus Christ is certainly the end-point and the fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures, but this doesn’t avoid the simple fact that many statements in the OT (such as the two I mentioned) cannot be understood in the context of scripture alone. And Jews didn’t wait a thousand years for Jesus to tell them what “totafos” was or how to ritually slaughter an animal because he never did. God commanded them to do something but there were no written words explaining the commandment. How were they to obey God’s commandments? The assumption was that not all revelation had been written down in the Tanach (Torah, Prophets, and Writings) but was passed down orally from generation to generation. As indeed it must logically have been.

  10. William Witt says:

    David (NRA),

    I think you’re conflating a number of issues here. No one is denying that tradition both precedes and follows the canon. No one denies that all churches necessarily have some kind of magisterium. The crucial questions here are:

    1) Is God’s work in Jesus Christ complete, such that the church does not add to, but rather witnesses to it, receives it, and even participates in it, but always in a receptive fashion?
    2) Is the apostolic tradition normative in that the apostles as disciples and eyewitnesses are definitive for all subsequent understanding of and handing on the gospel of Christ?
    3) Is the canon as the collection of OT prophetic and NT apostolic witnesses to the mission of Christ normative for subsequent Christian faith?
    4) Does the post-apostolic church create the canon, or, rather, by recognizing the canon as normative apostolic witness, permanently place itself under the authority of the canon?
    5) Is the 2nd century “Rule of Faith” an imposition on the interpretation of Scripture, or rather a rule of thumb hermeneutic for guiding the church in correctly reading what is inherently in the canonical text?
    6) Are post-apostolic developments attempts at “faith seeking understanding” in submission to the apostolic witness, or, are they rather something new, additions to the apostolic tradition, as the Spirit leads the church in ever new directions?

    My own reading of the fathers and even of later figures such as Thomas Aquinas is that they would recognize the apostolic writings as uniquely authoritative tradition, and subsequent tradition as nothing more than an attempt to understand and pass on the apostolic tradition, never to add to it.

  11. MichaelA says:

    Hi Catholic Mom, at #9,

    The various conflicting Jewish traditions about the word “totafot” in Deuteronomy 6:8 don’t tell us anything useful. The verse is quite understandable on its own, and anyone who gets obsessed with the precise physical form of totafot is making precisely the mistake of legalism that Christ warned about.

    Your translation of Deuteronomy 12:21 is incorrect – I can’t think of any English translation of the Bible that reads it that way. Here it is in NIV, but every other version is essentially the same:

    “If the place where the Lord your God chooses to put his Name is too far away from you, you may slaughter animals from the herds and flocks the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and in your own towns you may eat as much of them as you want.”

    There simply is no reference in that verse to “in the way I have commanded you”. Rather, the intent is plain: he is telling them to carry out the sacrifices already commanded by God in the written law.

    Re Jewish oral tradition, the reason we don’t follow this is because Jesus made clear that it is not authoritative. So its just irrelevant what the Jews might teach about it.

  12. Catholic Mom says:

    Hi MichaelA,

    I was quoting from an Orthodox Jewish website so it’s their translation. I’m talking about what the Jews think about the law, not what I think about it. Of course it’s legalistic, because that’s pretty what Orthodox Judaism is.

    My point was not that WE should follow Jewish oral tradition. It’s that the Jews do not consider scripture to be sufficient to interpret scripture and haven’t for several thousands of years.

  13. CSeitz-ACI says:

    #12 Ponder the life of the modern, observant Jew. The scriptures (Tanak) assume priesthood, temple, land, sacrifice, and myriad other realties that no longer obtain. So how can scripture regulate things like use of the internet? The ‘insufficiency’ of scripture in this instance is remedied along traditional lines coming down from the rabbis, but the analogy to Christian appeal to a two-testament canon of scripture is faulty. You can see my recent study, The Character of Christian Scripture (2013). Or not…

  14. Catholic Mom says:

    The Jews do not assume that scripture can or could regulate use of the internet. They assume the rabbis do. The rabbis are considered to act in place of the Levitical priesthood of whom it was written:
    “You shall be careful to observe according to all that they teach you. According to the terms of the law which they teach you, and according to the verdict which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the word which they declare to you, to the right or the left.”
    This is why an Orthodox Jew will not make *any* decision regarding ritual or practice without consulting a rabbi. And in many sects that includes determining the exact time in the month when a husband and wife can have sex. The rabbi will be consulted each and every month. The concept “you can’t tell us we have to believe/do the following because it’s not in the scriptures” would be incomprehensible to an Orthodox Jew. Of course, lacking a magisterium of rabbis, the Jews are split into hundreds of sects.

  15. CSeitz-ACI says:

    I was once at a conference with the Chaplain at JTS and he told the group a lovely story about needing to provide a ‘ruling’ on whether someone at Jewish camp could use a Walkman (remember those). He had to work out the scriptural principles that could be extrapolated to apply to this case, as a form of halakah. The argument had to be derived in some way from scripture, and it had to meet wider consent. Yes, you could use a Walkman, but only when you were by yourself. Then followed the texts that demonstrated the ‘ruling’ was kosher.

  16. Catholic Mom says:

    Rulings cannot violate scripture, but there does not have to be a scriptural reference to make a ruling. It is sufficient to reference the precedents of other rabbis. Since Orthodox Jews believe that their salvation literally depends on how accurately they follow halachah (just having good intentions only leads to you-know-where) they would always rather err on the side of too-strict rather than too-lenient, just to be on the safe side). So there is a one-way ratchet whereby rulings only become ever stricter. Again, without a magisterium, there is no way to back up and say “we’re gong to rethink this.” This is why Orthodox Jews end up tearing little pieces of toilet paper on Friday so they won’t have to do it on the Sabbath. It’s also why they’re comfortable putting a string around their neighborhood and declaring the whole thing an enclosure (eruv) for purposes of the Sabbath.

    Full disclosure: I lived in Israel for a year. 🙂

  17. CSeitz-ACI says:

    “Full disclosure: I lived in Israel for a year.”
    Well that explains why you are so knowledgeable.

  18. MichaelA says:

    “I was quoting from an Orthodox Jewish website so it’s their translation.”

    Yes, and my point is that its clearly incorrect. That’s what tends to happen once any group assumes the mantle of being gatekeeper to the interpretation of scripture – they start to rule it, instead of it ruling them.

    “It’s that the Jews do not consider scripture to be sufficient to interpret scripture and haven’t for several thousands of years.”

    Well, for less than 2,000 years, would be more accurate. That concept was originated by Rabbi Akiva in the late 1st century AD, after the destruction of the Temple cut the ground from under most Jewish interpretations of scripture.

    Of course traditions existed well before then – Josephus refers to Pharisaic traditions existing at least as far back as Hyrcanus (2nd century BC), but he doesn’t suggest that they were considered necessary to interpret Scripture, and the fact that that idea is never brought up in Jesus’ numerous interactions with Pharisees and Sadducees indicates that it wasn’t taught in the early 1st century AD either.

    As for Christianity, the idea of an oral tradition having the same force as scripture or originating from the Apostles was present in gnostic heresies from the earliest church history, but it didn’t creep into orthodox Christian teaching until St Basil in the 4th century AD.

  19. Catholic Mom says:

    [blockquote] As for Christianity, the idea of an oral tradition having the same force as scripture or originating from the Apostles was present in gnostic heresies from the earliest church history, but it didn’t creep into orthodox Christian teaching until St Basil in the 4th century AD.[/blockquote]

    Well, obviously there *was* an “oral tradition” of stories about Jesus which then got written down as the Gospels. “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written”

    That is, in fact, parallel to what the Jews believe about the OT — God told Moses and the prophets many things, but not all things were written down, some were merely passed on orally. However, I don’t think Christians (except the Gnostics) believed a similar thing about their own core doctrines (that is, I don’t think anybody was saying “Jesus taught a whole bunch of other stuff that wasn’t written down, but we happen to be privy to it”) but I think the notion that not everything that is to be known *about* scripture can be found *in* scripture is certainly an important idea in Christianity, even if not all Christians subscribe to it.

    [blockquote] Well that explains why you are so knowledgeable. [/blockquote]

    Or not. 🙂 But I do have a fascination with how groups that do not have a magisterium make decisions/rulings — especially when, like the Jews or the Amish, they have a whole *bunch* of rulings to make. I’m always looking for some example of a successful religion that does not have a magisterium. The Muslims seem like they could really use a centralized teaching authority these days, the Jews seem stuck in reverse without one, and the recent events in the Anglican world also suggest a useful role for a final authority. But you cannot have a magisterium when you believe that the magisterium has to justify everything they teach to your satisfaction. Because somebody for sure isn’t going to be satisfied. So you have to have some belief in the divine authority of the magisterium or else it’s just going to fall apart very quickly.

  20. Catholic Mom says:

    BTW, here’s a famous Jewish story about oral tradition.

    A man asked Hillel to teach him only the written Torah, not the oral Torah. Hillel said, “Okay, but first you have to learn how to read Hebrew. This is an alef, this is a beit. Come back tomorrow and we’ll continue.” The next day, the man returned. Hillel said, “Let’s review what we covered yesterday: This is a beit, this is an alef.” The man objected, “Yesterday you said this was the alef and that was the beit!” “You see?” said Hillel, “You can’t even *read* the written law without relying on the oral law.”

  21. MichaelA says:

    “Well, obviously there *was* an “oral tradition” of stories about Jesus which then got written down as the Gospels.”

    Of course. That is the whole point – scripture has no authority just because it is old. Scripture is authoritative because it is the teaching of those men who were specifically commissioned by God to deliver his teachings to His church. Its authority is Apostolic authority. It stands in authority over the Church because the Apostles stand in authority over the church. And it predates the Church because the Apostles pre-dated the Church.

    The Apostles made clear that their written teaching was the same as their oral teaching (2 Thess 2:15), and that they left us in writing all of their teaching that we need to know:
    [blockquote] “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” [John 20:30-31] [/blockquote]

    Re the “teaching someone to read = oral tradition” story, it might have been Hillel the Elder who taught that. Which is interesting because even before he left this earth, the true Messiah and rightful King of the Jews was come into it, and he gave a different perspective. He warned that we will be condemned if we ignore the plain meaning of scripture to follow oral tradition:
    [blockquote] “And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” [Mark 7:9-13] [/blockquote]

  22. New Reformation Advocate says:

    Back to #10.

    Dr. Witt,

    Thanks for doing me the honor of interacting with me. You’re raised some important issues with your thoughtful response, and I’ll try to give an equally thoughtful and serious reply. I know that point-by-point rebuttals quickly get tedious for other readers, but I hope that you, at least, will find my detailed response helpful in clarifying where we agree and we don’t, and why.

    Alas, our initial exchange of views well illustrates how differently we are approaching the complex set of thorny issues connected with the whole Protestant notion of Sola Scriptura. Our differing assumptions and driving concerns make it difficult even to agree on what the main questions are, much less on how to best answer them. So let’s see if we can at least clarify what is at stake and what we are each trying to assert or argue.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think you’ve grasped what I was trying to say in my #4 above. Take your introductory lines in #10. You seem to have missed my main point in bringing up how Holy Scripture and (less holy but still Holy) Tradition overlap and can’t be thought of anymore as watertight compartments. I wasn’t merely claiming that Tradition both precedes and follows the development of the biblical canon, as you seem to suppose. Rather I was making the strong (and doubtless controversial) claim that the same divinely-guided process was at work in both cases, but at differing levels of inspiration and with consequent different levels of authority. I am contending that Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition are essentially similar in character and differ only in the degree of inspiration, finality, and authority they have, but they do not differ in kind. I know that’s a debatable and unsettling claim, and one that’s contrary to the assumptions of both Protestant and Catholic leaders in the 16th century, but I consider it an unassailable result of modern biblical scholarship.

    I can readily imagine Protestant-minded Anglicans immediately objecting here, that classical Anglicanism took it for granted that divine inspiration was an all or nothing affair, that religious writings were either inspired or not, just as a woman is either pregnant or not. The typical assumption was that Scripture is divinely inspired, Tradition is not. Scripture is infallible, but Tradition, being of merely human origin, is not. That whatever is clearly taught in Scripture is binding and obligatory, but Tradition is merely optional, etc.

    In classical Anglicanism there was thus a clear dichotomy between the two. And that’s precisely what I’m saying is no longer tenable today in the light of modern scholarship, not least because of how historical critical methods have blurred that nice and neat distinction. What I’m claiming is that Holy Scripture is best seen as a subset of Holy Tradition, albeit the normative core that has supreme value for the Church and our final authority in settling disputes among us. But the Reformation assumptions about the uniqueness of Holy Scripture as the only inspired and infallible authority are simply not credible or tenable anymore.

    Essentially, what I was trying to say above comes down to this: Do you have to be a Protestant to be an Anglican these days? Or more precisely, does the commitment of the GFCA movement to the Jerusalem Declaration and its attempt at rehabilitating the venerable old formularies mean that all “orthodox” Anglicans have to hold to the outdated and untenable assumptions of the English Reformers about the nature of biblical authority? IOW, while evangelical Anglicans seem to be willing to allow Anglo-Catholics to hold catholic vi3ews about ecclesiology and the sacraments, are they (or you) willing to extend the same latitude to us Catholic-minded Anglicans when it comes to the doctrine of Scripture?

    Please don’t get me wrong, Bill (and others). I agree with the foundational principle that all Anglican clergy have had to swear publicly at our ordination that we affirm, i.e., [i]”Holy Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation[/i],” i.e., it reveals all the truths necessary to know and believe to enter into eternal salvation. I have no trouble affirming that basic principle without reservation, and with no fingers crossed.

    However, that still leaves huge areas open for very divergent interpretations of what that foundational principle implies, and the main flashpoint for disagreement has to do with the so-called “sufficiency” and “perspicuity” or clarity of God’s Word. That’s where I suspect we differ, and differ radically. I myself would harken back to the famous “Vincentian canon” or rule of St. Vincent of Lerins as the decisive key to unlocking that mystery. Yes, Holy Scripture as God’s Word written does indeed “contain” all things we need to know to receive salvation through faith in Christ, but that does NOT by any means imply that the Scriptures can be safely read and understood without the guidance of Holy Tradition, i.e., what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all. the Reformers were simply wrong about that. Or so I firmly believe. To put it bluntly, Article VI is dangerously misleading in its stress on the putative “sufficiency” of Scripture, when it is, alas, all too easy to misinterpret God’s Word in all sorts of spiritually deadly ways.

    Enough for now. I’ll resume shortly.

    David Handy+
    Trying to generate more light than heat

  23. New Reformation Advocate says:

    Resuming a reply to Dr. Witt (#10) from my #22.

    OK, Bill. Now let me attempt a point-by-point response to your six questions above. Please be patient. I’ll try to be as irenic as I can, and to generate more light than heat.

    1. You asked in effect if I saw God’s salvific work in Christ as complete, such that the Church does not add to it, but merely receives it gratefully. To which I’d answer, why, of course I do. But that’s not the real point. Rather, the vital issue has to do with the [u]understanding[/u] of the completed work of Christ. The Reformers were right in stressing that we can’t add anything to the saving work of Christ, but that doesn’t mean that our understanding of that divine work is complete. It never has been, and never will be, this side of Christ’s return in glory. But has the Church gradually grown over the centuries toward a deeper and fuller understanding of that unfathomable mystery? Absolutely, and that process of Spirit-guided growth in understanding by no means stopped with the writing of the last NT book. I suppose the real question therefore is this: Are the Holy Scriptures as God’s Word “sufficient” by themselves for properly understanding such deep and wondrous things? I’d say a resounding NO. But at the same time, the Spirit-guided process that resulted in the classic early creeds only unpacks what is implicit in God’s Word written.

    2. You asked, Bill, how I understood the normative status of Holy Scripture as the embodiment of apostolic tradition. We agree, of course, on the supremely normative status of God’ Word, and that all aspects of the life and teaching of the Church must be placed under scrutiny in the light of the biblical witness. The Reformers were absolutely right about that. But where they missed the boat, or threw the baby out with the dirty bathwater, was in their unwarranted assumption that ONLY the Scriptures represented a reliable source of access to apostolic teaching. Just recall the long list of unwritten traditions that St. Basil attributes to the apostles in his classic work [b]On the Holy Spirit[/b]. Or take the famous line about the four Marks of the Church at the end of the Nicene Creed, i.e., that the Church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”

    IOW, yes, apostolic tradition is indeed normative. The difference is that you apparently hold, together with the Protestant world, that the only reliable access to that apostolic tradition is what is found in Holy Writ. I disagree. Just recall for a moment how all the early church orders make a claim to apostolic authority, the [i]Didache[/i] (or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) from the early 2nd century, the Syrian [i]Didascalia Apostolorum[/i] (or again, the Teaching of the Apostles, early 3rd century), the famous “[i]Apostolic Tradition[/i]” that was formerly attributed to Hippolytus in early 3rd century Rome, but which is now known to be a composite document, but still of early origins), and the late 4th century compilation (that includes parts of all three manuals above), the [i]Apostolic Constituions[/i]. Don’t get me wrong, Bill. I’m not by any means claiming that these four early church orders were wholly and purely apostolic. Of course not. But at the same time, their claim to be rooted in unwritten apostolic traditions must be taken seriously. At least I do.

    3. You asked about whether I (or others like me) acknowledge that the Scriptures are normative for all subsequent ages. Of course, I do. By definition, the biblical canon is THE standard, the measuring stick, that controls all subsequent Christian tradition. And the Reformers were quite right that many medieval traditions and practices failed to pass the test when measured by that rod. But the real issue, I submit, is again that of the putative “sufficiency” and clarity of the Scriptures. I think that the Protestant Reformers were over optimistic and greatly exaggerated how self-interpreting the Scriptures are. The internal squabbles and endless debates among Protestants seem to me to prove that beyond any reasonable doubt. Or to put it another way, the real issue, it seems to me is this: Is it a good and necessary thing, or a bad and dangerous thing, for the interpretation of the Scriptures to be controlled by the appointed leaders of the universal Church? Is it desirable or not for there to be a definitive magisterium that can authoritatively settle disputes over the proper interpretation of Holy Writ? Evangelicals like the great Alister McGrath in his magnificent manifesto, [b]Christianity’s Dangerous Idea[/b] see the wildly diverse readings of God’s Word among Protestants as more of a good thing than a bad thing, the glass as more than half full. As you can expect, I tend to be far more skeptical on that score.

    I’ll stop again for a breather, before resuming.

    David Handy+

  24. New Reformation Advocate says:

    Resuming from my #23 above, in reply still to Dr. Witt in #10.

    4. You asked, Bill, about my understanding of the role of the canon and how it came to be finalized, i.e., did the Church create the biblical canon, or as Protestants like to stress, merely acknowledge and confirm what was manifestly and self-evidently true, that certain writings had the ring of apostolic truth and authority, and others didn’t. That is, the 27 books of our NT bore that stamp of divine authority, and all others didn’t.

    Personally, I tend to think that this venerable old Protestant tactic is basically a distinction that makes little practical difference. In the end, the fact remains that the CHURCH determined what was in the canon. Unlike Protestants, however, I think the matter was much less than self-evident. Things could easily have turned out slightly differently, with say 2 and 3 John or Jude not making the list. However, I agree with you, of course, that the very act of setting those 27 books apart from all others did indeed set them above all other putative claims to apostolic authority.

    But while we’re on the topic of the limits of the biblical canon, I’ll just register here in passing that this is another place where Article 6 of the old 39 simply doesn’t adequately reflect what Anglicans believe today. As you know, Bill, I unshaamedly hold to the same 73 book canon as Trent made definitive for Roman Catholics in 1546. However, I agree with Article 6 that no doctrine should be based or justified on something taught or implied only in those extra books. I would put more emphasis on the Deutero in the Deutero-canonicals than a Romanist would, but I do agree with Augustine and the majority of the early Fathers, against Jerome and the Reformers, that the Greek Bible is fully inspired, and not just the Hebrew one, and that the Deutero-canonical books like Sirach, that we Anglicans have always tended to call, significantly, the Church’s Book, Ecclesiasticus, are indeed inspired, though at a lower level than the 39 books in the Protestant canon. Again, this goes with my fervent conviction that divine inspiration is not an all or nothing phenomenon.

    5. You posed the vital question about whether the famous “Rule of Faith” ([i]canon pistis[/i] in Greek or [i]regula fidei[/i] in Latin) that was so crucial in the minds of 2nd and 3rd century theologians like Irenaeus and Tertullian amounted to an “imposition” of an alien standard of interpretation upon the Scriptures or whether it instead was contained implicitly within the NT writings. And of course I fully agree with you on that score, i.e., the post-apostolic summary of the core doctrines regarding God’s saving work in Jesus Christ was no imposition of foreign and unwarranted ideas. But the real issue, it seems to me, is whether that Rule of Faith was and is necessary as a guide to proper understanding of salvation history and the redemption won for us by our Savior. The severe challenge the early Church faced from Gnostics like Valentinus or Marcion, or the opposite challenge from unbelieving Jews, shows once again that the authentic teaching of the NT or the apostolic testimony to what the gospel is and means was by no means “self-evident” and “plain” for all to see. Among other things, it was by no means obvious to everyone in what ways Jesus as the Christ fulfilled OT prophecies, so that his saving death and resurrection was “according to the Scriptures” (i.e., in this case, the OT). Once again, my point is that Protestants, including evangelical Anglicans, over-estimate how “sufficient” and “plain” the teaching of Holy Scriptures is on such deep and mysterious matters, that exceed human understanding.

    6. Finally, Bill, you posed the complex and crucial question whether or not the post-apostolic developments in the Church’s evolving understanding of what had happened in Christ added anything substantial to the biblical testimony, or merely amounted to, in Anselm’s celebrated phrase, just “[i]faith seeking understanding.[/i]” That, of course, raises the whole question about the nature of, in Newman’s language, “the development of doctrine.” Here, naturally, we tend to disagree quite profoundly. You are enthusiastic about J. B. Mozley’s critique of Newman’s revolutionary and seminal essay on that topic. I have my own qualms about this detail or that in Newman’s highly influential work, but on the whole I obviously see more merit in it than you do.

    Once again, however, I would submit that the real question, the practical one that matters most, comes down to one of authority. In the end, everything depends on who gets to have the last word and pronounce a definitive judgment on which post-biblical developments (including what recent proposals or contemporary developments) are valid ones that enrich and strengthen the Church’s understanding of the apostolic faith, given in germ once for all time (Jude 3), and which are illegitimate corruptions that distort or damage that faith once delivered. That is, we’re back to the practical question I keep harping on: Is it a good or even necessary thing for there to be a place where the buck stops and all disputes are definitely settled 9at least for the time being), or is that a dangerous and unwise thing that tends to lead to ecclesial tyranny? One’s instinctive choices about that show very clearly whether someone is a “liturgical Protestant” at heart, like yourself, Bill, or a “biblical catholic” at heart, like me.

    So there you have it. Thanks to all those who bravely persevered to the end through my long series of comments. I genuinely hope that it has helped to shed more light than heat, and at least to clarify where the faultlines are, or the watersheds are, that form the Continental Divide within Anglicanism between those (the vast majority historically and today as well) who are very much Protestants at heart, and the determined minority (“the loyal opposition”) like me who are more Catholic than Protestant, but who can’t go along 100% with Trent or Rome in general, and who therefore linger on this side of the Tiber.

    David Handy+

  25. CSeitz-ACI says:

    “I do agree with Augustine and the majority of the early Fathers, against Jerome and the Reformers, that the Greek Bible is fully inspired, and not just the Hebrew one…”.
    1. This is simply too confused. In the debate over the homoousia, virtually all the fathers acknowledged that part of the problem was that Proverbs 8 was being handled through a translation.
    2. You have misunderstood the debate between Jerome’s translational project (authorized by the Pope) and Augustine. The latter disputed any deviation from the Latin circulating at the time. Like many, he believed the Letter of Aristeas with its idea of a miraculous translation of the LXX (by Jews for Jews), and the Latin said to be a translation of it (he had neither Greek nor Hebrew). Jerome, like Origen before him, knew that the Greek was a translation and indeed not the only one circulating and that it was passing strange for Christians to be appealing to the Jewish tradition of a miraculous translation by 70 sequestered translators.
    So it wasn’t Jerome disputing the inspired character of Greek translations, but of Augustine worrying about a new translation that departed from the Latin version the faithful knew. He made peace with it, however. Even Bellarmine of the counter-reformation and successive Catholic interpreters (Douay) welcomed fresh and improved translations, based upon knowledge of Hebrew.
    3. One if the striking things in dogmatic exegesis and the debates in the Fathers is the rarity of appeal to a wider canon to resolve the matter.

  26. William Witt says:

    “You seem to have missed my main point in bringing up how Holy Scripture and (less holy but still Holy) Tradition overlap and can’t be thought of anymore as watertight compartments. I wasn’t merely claiming that Tradition both precedes and follows the development of the biblical canon, as you seem to suppose. Rather I was making the strong (and doubtless controversial) claim that the same divinely-guided process was at work in both cases, but at differing levels of inspiration and with consequent different levels of authority. I am contending that Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition are essentially similar in character and differ only in the degree of inspiration, finality, and authority they have, but they do not differ in kind.”

    Right. I think I quite understood your claim, which is what I was rejecting. Thus, there is a connection between my questions.

    I was not asking whether God’s work in Christ is complete, such that we do not add to it. Not even the most Tridentine Roman Catholic would object to that. I was focusing not on Christ’s objective work, but on the unique significance of the office of apostle.

    Thus, question 1 about Christ’s work: ” the church does not add to, but rather witnesses to it, receives it, and even participates in it, but always in a receptive fashion.” And, again, question 2 and especially question 6: Are post-apostolic developments attempts at “faith seeking understanding” in submission to the apostolic witness, or, are they rather something new, additions to the apostolic tradition, as the Spirit leads the church in ever new directions?

    Kevin Vanhoozer states the key issue well:

    “The real theological issue at stake in the debate over the relative authority of Scripture and tradition . . . is actually Christology. Are there postcanonical, Spirit-inspired or -illumined insights into the way of Christ that do not have the canonical testimony to Christ as their ultimate source and norm?”

    “[T]he response of faith enabled by the Spirit is constitutive neither of the Son nor of the Scriptures. It is important not to collapse the act of authoring (logos) into the church’s act of reception (pathos). To suggest that eh way the churh receives the word determines what God is saying and doing in the Bible is to wereatk havoc with the economy of divine discourse.” The Drama of Doctrine, 189, 193.

    When you state:

    “Rather I was making the strong (and doubtless controversial) claim that the same divinely-guided process was at work in both cases, but at differing levels of inspiration and with consequent different levels of authority. I am contending that Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition are essentially similar in character and differ only in the degree of inspiration, finality, and authority they have, but they do not differ in kind.”
    — you collapse the distinction between apostolic witness and post-apostolic reception. Both are tradition, but very different kinds of tradition. The distinction, as Kierkegaard notes is the “Difference between an apostle and a genius.”

    Your focus on the issue of “authority” and your concerns that gnosticism demonstrated that Scripture is not “sufficient” and “plain” does not make you a “biblical catholic” in contrast to a “liturgical Protestant.” These concerns about epistemology and certainty are not catholic concerns, but rather late modern concerns that Roman Catholic apologists first introduced at the time of the Reformation and anticipated Cartesian skepticism. They mark a shift from an epistemology that focused on what T.F. Torrance calls the “intrinsic intelligibility” of the know object to worries about the deception of the knowing subject. In the end, this leads to appeals not just to a “magisterium,” but to an infallible magisterium, with its own problems.

    Irenaeus did not appeal to the Rule of Faith and needed to be supplemented by post-apostolic tradition. Rather, in his famous analogy of the disassembled mosaic that gnostics resassembled to look like a dog rather than a king make clear that he believed that the gnostics had discarded a unity of Scripture that is found in an intelligible subject matter to impose an alien unity from outside the text.

    Both the Apostolic Tradition and the Against Heresies are largely exercises in exegesis, demonstrating the unity of Scripture from a careful reading of the text to show continuities between Old Testament and New Testament, creation and redemption over against gnostic readings that promoted disunity. Irenaeus had not doubt that the biblical text was clear and sufficient. The problem was not with the text, but that the gnostics imposed an alien perverse meaning on the text.

    As I noted above, this was the way that the Catholic tradition (both East and West) read Scripture: Irenaeus, Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, even (or especially) Thomas Aquinas. Claims that Scripture needs an authoritative interpreter because it is unclear and not sufficient do not appear until the late Medieval period.

  27. William Witt says:

    There are several typos above, but one in particular obscures my meaning and needs to be corrected:

    “They mark a shift from an epistemology that focused on what T.F. Torrance calls the ‘intrinsic intelligibility’ of the known object to worries about the deception of the knowing subject.”

    BTW, Torrance’s Divine Meaning: Exercises in Patristic Hermeneutics is an excellent study of how the early catholic church read Scripture. The fathers did not find the Scriptures “unclear” or less than “sufficient.”

  28. New Reformation Advocate says:

    Many thanks to both Dr. Seitz (#25) and Dr. Witt (#26-27), for their important responses to my long tirade in #22-24.

    Some very substantive and important issues have indeed been raised by them, but I’m not sure how helpful further discussion on this venue is going to be. Blogs just don’t lend themselves to serious theological debates. If either of you would like to continue the discussion privately via personal email, I’d be happy to do that.

    For example, while I happily confess that Dr. Seitz as a prolific, world-class OT scholar is far better equipped than I am (as an unpublished NT scholar with no academic position and no clout or reputation whatsoever in academia) to speak to the relative merits of the standard Hebrew text of the OT versus the LXX, I by no means concede that I was wrong above. I would appeal to a fascinating book that I just got for Christmas and have found very illuminating and stimulating in rethinking the whole matter of the essential place of the LXX in the formation of the Christian tradition, namely, Timothy Michael Law’s innovative introduction: [b]When God Spoke Greek[/b]: [i]the Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible[/i], which devotes a whole chapter to the famous debate between Augustine and Jerome. Timothy Law may not be 100% correct, but FWIW, my hunch is that he is definitely on the right track.

    However, in closing, I will simply bow out of this thread with an apology for being terribly verbose and perhaps seeming to hijack the thread with my long series of comments above. I take some slight satisfaction in succeeding in stimulating at least a bit of serious theological interaction here, even if I only elicited responses from a couple of leading North American Anglican theologians.

    David Handy+

  29. CSeitz-ACI says:

    Naturally I must keep up with scholarship on LXX as I teach PhD students for a living. Nothing I described above re: Augustine and Jerome is in any way controversial, so I wouldn’t want to implication of your reference to Law to be taken as somehow disputing what I have written. Obviously early Christians were Greek speaking and a translation was necessary for many, and then all of them, before Latin translations became the vernacular. Jerome, like Origen before him, was extremely learned and was able to accomplish what very few were able to in his day. His was not a dismissing of the Greek–in the Psalms he produced several iterations and the early ones relied on the LXX to correct Latin versions circulating, before he was competent enough to correct them with recourse to Hebrew. Augustine reports that a fist fight broke out in Tripoli when the fresh Latin rendering was read in the ecclesia. Think KJV and you will have a good feel for the status of the Latin, thought to be derived from the Greek Mater. But Augustine was unable to halt the fresh Latin rendering of Jerome and in time spoke of inspiration in Mater and translation both.

  30. MichaelA says:

    Dave Handy takes 20-30 paragraphs to say what could be said in 3. Many of his points have been answered by others. Here are a few more that are simply incorrect:
    [blockquote] “Tradition has a necessary and indispensable role in the proper interpretation of Scripture, as great leaders from Irenaeus and Tertullian on had correctly emphasized.” [/blockquote]
    Irenaeus and Tertullian taught the opposite of what you imply they did. Classical Anglicanism is in accord with their theology.
    [blockquote] “i.e., did the Church create the biblical canon, or as Protestants like to stress, merely acknowledge and confirm what was manifestly and self-evidently true, that certain writings had the ring of apostolic truth and authority, and others didn’t”. [/blockquote]
    That is not protestant teaching. How do you expect to critique something that you do not understand? Scriptural authority derives from Apostolic authorship, not from some unspecified person’s judgment that a book had a “a ring of truth and authority” (whatever that means).
    [blockquote] “Personally, I tend to think that this venerable old Protestant tactic is basically a distinction that makes little practical difference.” [/blockquote]
    Since it is not in fact a venerable old Protestant tactic, but rather an idea you have made up yourself, that is hardly surprising.
    [blockquote] “In the end, the fact remains that the CHURCH determined what was in the canon.” [/blockquote]
    Not only did the Church not do so, it didn’t even claim to do so. Nor did it have any authority to do so if it had claimed it. All the Church could do was witness to the truth of what had been handed down to it by the Apostles, and where false claims were made for or against apostolic authorship, to investigate them and proclaim the truth.
    [blockquote] “Don’t get me wrong, Bill. I’m not by any means claiming that these four early church orders [Didache etc] were wholly and purely apostolic.” [/blockquote]
    A document is either of apostolic authorship or it isn’t. The judgment of the church is that these documents were not. Therefore they were not acknowledged as scripture.
    [blockquote] “the famous “Rule of Faith” (canon pistis in Greek or regula fidei in Latin) that was so crucial in the minds of 2nd and 3rd century theologians like Irenaeus and Tertullian…” [/blockquote]
    When Tertullian referred to “the rule of faith” he meant a summary of the salient points of Christian doctrine, much like a creed. That didn’t contradict his other teachings about the origin and authority of Scripture. Irenaeus doesn’t refer to “the Rule of Faith” at all, to the best of my recollection.