Passages on Oral Tradition or the Written Law?

Madrid argues that the Old Testament provides evidence against Sola Scriptura. There are three main passages that he adduces to prove his point: Deuteronomy 17:8-12, 2 Chronicles 29:25, and 2 Chronicles 35:4. Let’s examine each of these in turn to see if they prove what Madrid says they prove.

Deuteronomy 17:8-12 says this:

8 If a case is too difficult for you—concerning bloodshed, lawsuits, or assaults —cases disputed at your gates, you must go up to the place the LORD your God chooses. 9 You are to go to the Levitical priests and to the judge who presides at that time. Ask, and they will give you a verdict in the case. 10 You must abide by the verdict they give you at the place the LORD chooses. Be careful to do exactly as they instruct you. 11 You must abide by the instruction they give you and the verdict they announce to you. Do not turn to the right or the left from the decision they declare to you. 12 The person who acts arrogantly, refusing to listen either to the priest who stands there serving the LORD your God or to the judge, must die. You must purge the evil from Israel. (HCSB)

It is difficult to see what Madrid is trying to prove by quoting this, but if I would make a guess, he is trying to say that God had given the Church an infallible teaching authority, both in the OT and in the NT. While he doesn’t specifically reference this text as providing it, he does say that there are “clear references to an authoritative body of teachers” (p. 15). My question is simple: how does this passage prove an authoritative (as in Roman Catholic authoritative!) body of teachers? It merely proves that the priests and magistrates of Israel had the authority to pronounce just sentences, and that, following the fifth commandment, those who received said verdict were to abide by it. Why does this passage speak of some kind of infallible magisterium? That would read into the text a fair bit.

The next passage is 2 Chronicles 29:25: “Hezekiah stationed the Levites in the LORD’s temple with cymbals, harps, and lyres according to the command of David, Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet. For the command was from the LORD through His prophets” (HCSB). Madrid argues that this passage, as well as 2 Chronicles 35:4 (“Organize your ancestral houses by your divisions according to the written instruction of David king of Israel and that of his son Solomon,” HCSB) offer “examples in which authoritative oral Tradition is at work alongside Scripture in the Old Testament” (p. 15). It is rather difficult to believe that Madrid has read these texts very carefully, if he gets oral tradition out of them. Take the second passage, for instance: the author explicitly mentions written instruction, not oral instruction. Wondering where this instruction originated? For the second passage, which explicitly mentions written instruction, we should look at 1 Chronicles 23:6- “Then David divided them into divisions according to Levi’s sons: Gershom, Kohath, and Merari” (HCSB). The written instructions regarding the first passage come in 1 Chronicles 15:16- “Then David told the leaders of the Levites to appoint their relatives as singers and to have them raise their voices with joy accompanied by musical instruments—harps, lyres, and cymbals” (HCSB). In both cases, what we find is that the specific instructions were given to the prophets, who then wrote them down. We have a record in both cases of those instructions. We are therefore not moving in the realm of oral tradition at all, but rather the written tradition of Scripture itself.

One final point must be made here: it is quite true that God revealed things to His prophets that were not written down. The question is this: how do we view such happenings? There is no record that we have such oral traditions today. What happened was that such revelation served its purpose at that time, was not recorded, and we therefore don’t have it. If Madrid is seriously seeking to argue that oral tradition from the Old Testament is around today, where is his proof?

Is Baruch in the Canon?

In chapters 7ff, Whitaker starts to treat each individual book of the Deutero-Canonical (DC) books, asking if they are canonical, and looking at the evidence for each one. First, he quotes Bellarmine’s arguments, and then refutes them.

Bellarmine’s arguments run as follows: 1. 2 Maccabees 2 quotes Baruch; 2. The councils of Florence and Trent place Baruch among the canonical books; 3. The church uses portions of this book in the lectionary; 4. The early church fathers quote Baruch as canonical (see Whitaker, p. 67).

Whitaker answers run as follows: to the first argument, Whitaker argues that 2 Maccabees is not canonical either, so how could one non-canonical book canonize another non-canonical book? To the second argument, he replies that these councils “were popish and altogether antichristian assemblies…we refuse to be pressed or bound by any such authority.” To the third argument, Whitaker replies that just because the church reads a book in the worship service does not mean that said book is canonical. We have already seen from Whitaker’s arguments from Jerome that Jerome says in several places that some books are read by the church but are not canonical. Therefore, that the church reads a book does not make it canonical. To the fourth argument, Whitaker acknowledges more weight, since some of the fathers thought that Jeremiah wrote Baruch (p. 68). However, the mere fact that some ECF believe a book to be canonical does not make that book canonical. He offers this counter-argument: Irenaeus quotes from the Shepherd of Hermas as Scripture (see Eusebius, 5.8.7, Loeb edition vol 1, p. 457). So the early church fathers could, just possibly, err on the matter of which books were in the canon, since the Roman Catholic Church does not acknowledge Shepherd to be canonical. We have already cited before the evidence of Gregory the Great, who believed that Maccabees was not canonical. Similarly, Athanasius and Cyprian believed that 3 Esdras was canonical, which the Romanists deny as well. The point is that we can disagree with the ECF without being heretical. We can disagree with tradition without being heretical. The diversity of the ECF works in Protestants’ favor on canonical issues.

Elders’ Meetings

I just finished reading (too long delayed, I know, I know) John Sittema’s wonderful book on the shepherd’s heart. One of the most interesting points he makes (and which convicted me no end) was his description of what elders’ meetings ought to model. He gave a description of a normal business-related model of session meetings (prayer, reading of minutes, old business, new business, reading of concept minutes, adjournment). He says that this should not be characteristic of most session meetings. Most session meetings should be about doing the ministry. His model involves training/study, pastoral consultation, and prayer (see pp. 233-234). Prayer, by the way, is not some adjunct to the ministry. Some people actually call prayer the work of ministry. Word and prayer constituted the work of the apostles (Acts 6). That’s why deacons became a reality. The elders did NOT want to do “business” of the church, if that meant administrative stuff. They wanted to devote themselves to word and prayer. Sittema argues that the session meetings should be a tool that helps equip the elders for the work of ministry. Most of the time, the meetings are seen AS the work of the ministry. Not so, according to Sittema! If some aspects of business are required to be examined, there should be a separate meeting for it. I was really excited, frankly, when I read this part. I am excited to start implementing this kind of idea.

What we need in churches today are elders that will be pastors, not business directors of the church that only define and govern the general direction of the church. There needs to be training in this area, and the session meetings are surely the place to do this.

The Bride of Christ

(Posted by Paige)

A friend and I were discussing this biblical metaphor this morning, and I thought to cast this question out to all of you as well: Do you think it is in keeping with biblical intent to speak of the marriage of God or Christ to individual believers as well as to the Church corporate?

In his preaching and writing, my friend will speak in terms of both individual and corporate marriage as rich expressions of God’s/Christ’s relationship of union with believers. I am not sure that he is wrong to do so, but I am personally less comfortable speaking of the individual’s “marriage relationship” with Christ (or calling the individual believer the “Bride” of Christ), simply because in both OT and NT usage God and Christ are never (as far as I can see) said to be “married” to individuals, but only to the corporate bodies of Israel or the Church (cf. Is. 62:3-5; Jer. 2; Eph. 5; Rev. 21). On the other hand, there are plenty of relational metaphors available in the Bible that express the individual’s relationship to God and Christ: child, sibling, friend, sheep, servant (even slave), soldier, citizen, etc.

Is the application to individuals of this “marriage” metaphor a fair implication of the corporate picture of Christ’s Bride, or do you think it is beyond the intent of the scriptural witness? If the latter, do you perceive any harmful or misleading influence in speaking this way?

If, on the other hand, you think it is a fair way to picture Christ’s union with the believer, how can it be framed in teaching and preaching so that the individual does not lose sight of the corporate nature of being the Bride of Christ?

Thanks for your thoughts!

So Many Straw Men, It’s Flammable

Madrid commits so many distortions of the Protestant position on pp. 11ff, that it should be embarrassing. Let’s examine a few of these:

Distortion 1: “The Protestant mistakenly assumes that every time the phrase ‘Word of God’ appears in scripture, it refer to the Bible” (p. 11). Really? And which Protestants does he have in mind? It’s news to me that every Protestant believes this. The Word of God is a broader category than the Bible. There are things God has said to His people that are not recorded in the pages of Scripture. John 1:1 proves this, as well. There we learn that the Word of God existed long before anything started being written down. And, of course, there is the whole Christology question that comes into play here as well. Ultimately, the Word of God as encapsulated in the Second Person of the Trinity is eternal. Of course, there is a distinction between the Word of God as Person, and the Word of God as inscripturated, and we must not confuse the two. But this distinction only proves the point: Madrid erected quite the straw man here. In fact, I know of NO Protestant who makes this simplistic assumption. Madrid should apologize for getting Protestants this badly wrong.

Distortion 2: “There exists among Protestants a pervasive suspicion of and hostility to the Catholic belief that ‘The Church’ is far more than a mere ‘collection of like-minded believers from each denomination,’ but is, in fact, a unified supernatural organism-a unity directed by Christ, created and sustained by Christ, and operating with Christ’s own authority” (p. 12). Now, this is not as bad a distortion as number 1 above. However, there are a number of problems with this assessment of Protestantism. Firstly, even if Protestants believe that the church is a “collection of like-minded believers from each denomination,” that would hardly constitute a good description of the Protestant position on the church. The Church is the body of Christ. She is the bride of Christ. She is created by the Word of God. In this aspect, she is of supernatural origin. She is directed by Christ, created and sustained by Christ (note the language of Madrid himself here!). In fact, the only thing I might quibble with in Madrid’s own description of the Church here is the phrase “operating with Christ’s own authority.” That is a bit ambiguous. Christ has given the Holy Spirit to the church. So the church does have the authority of the Holy Spirit underlying everything. But I suspect that Madrid also wants to include the infallible authority of the Pope in this definition, and obviously, we would have to part company there. Now, it is true that many mainline Evangelicals have a much lower view of the church, but most Reformed folk I know have a much higher view of the Church than Madrid would credit.

Distortion 3: “The ‘All Tradition Is Bad’ Fallacy” (p. 13). The heading of this section itself shows how badly Madrid has distorted the Protestant tradition. All Madrid would have to do would be to read how many times confessional guys like me get accused of treating the Westminster Standards the same way that Catholics treat tradition, and he could have avoided this ridiculousness. Protestants don’t reject tradition. Calvin quoted the ECF incessantly, for instance, and had vast swaths of the ECF completely memorized. Just because Protestants don’t put tradition on the same level as Scripture doesn’t mean that we believe “all tradition is bad,” or that we reject tradition. Now, there are sectors of evangelicalism for which this description would not be a distortion. But these are not the sectors of evangelicalism which would even engage Romanists. The real problem here is that Madrid seems to be assuming that if Protestants don’t put tradition on the same level as Scripture, then by that very fact they are rejecting tradition. Protestants put tradition above individual interpretation, but below Scripture. Tradition, thus has a middle position (but not a priestly position!) Romanists define the middle position out of existence. For Romanists, there is no room for something that has more authority than an individual’s interpretation, but simultaneously has less authority than the Scripture. Hence Madrid’s distortion.

When Was the Canon Fixed?

Whitaker deals with the following objection from the Romanists: any early church fathers who did not acknowledge the Deutero-canonical books (hereafter DC books) did so before the canon was fixed. After the canon was fixed, we do not have such liberty. Whitaker then asks this simple question: when was the canon of the Romanists fixed? The councils of Florence and Trent are modern (Whitaker, 63), and the council of Carthage was not a general council. If it is the Trullan council, Whitaker objects that “those canons are censurable in many respects, even in the opinion of the papists themselves” (63). The upshot is this: “Except this Trullan council, they have absolutely none at all. And this Trullan does not precisely affirm these books to be canonical, but only confirms the council of Carthage; which is of no consequence, since it also confirms the council of Laodicea, and the papists themselves deny all credit to the Trullan canons” (p. 63). Furthermore, and even more importantly, there were significant testimonies after the Trullan council rejecting the canonicity of the DC books. John of Damascus says that there are only 22 books. He explicitly excludes Wisdom and Sirach. Rabanus Maurus says also that there are only twenty-two books, and that Tobit, Judith, and the Maccabees do not have authority, though they can be read for instruction (see De institutione clericorum, chapter 54). Hugo of St. Victor also says that these books are read, but are not in the canon (Prolog. Lib. I. de Sacram. c. 7 and again in Didascalia, bk. 4, c. 8). Richard of St. Victor says the exact same thing (Exception. bk. 2, c. 9). So, even though the Romanist canon was supposedly fixed at the Trullan Council, there were several church fathers who rejected that canon even afterwards, and yet were never disciplined for it. So why would it be problematic to do so today? See Whitaker, pp. 63-66 for fuller argumentation.

Preachers To Whom I Listen

I thought this might be a helpful post telling people about some good preachers, and where to find their sermons. These are listed in alphabetical order by last name. Now, I’m sure that there are many great Reformed and Presbyterian preachers that I don’t have listed here. If there are names that are not listed here that you think should be, list them in the comments. I am only looking for Reformed confessional preachers, or Reformed Baptist confessional (as in, London Baptist Confession) preachers. It would be great to have a relatively complete listing, along with the link to where you can find their sermons. It is my goal to listen to one or two sermons from every one of these men through the course of the next year.

Logan Almy, Thabiti Anyabwile, Andrew Barnes, Nick Batzig, Joel Beeke, Alistair Begg, Michael Brown, Iain Campbell, Brian Carpenter, Kevin Carr, Stafford Carson, Jim Cassidy, Andrew Compton, Iain Duguid, Reed DePace, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Sinclair Ferguson, Ron Gleason, Liam Goligher, Fred Greco, Martin Hedman, Michael Horton, Chris Hutchinson, Danny Hyde, Gary Johnson, Lee Johnson, Matthew Judd, Daniel Kok, Steven Lawson, Sean Lucas, Ryan McGraw, Joe Morecraft, Danny Patterson, Jon Payne, Rick Phillips, Tim Phillips, Ken Pierce, John Piper, Guy Richard, Kim Riddlebarger, Art Sartorius, R.C. Sproul, Jason Stellman, Derek Thomas, John Tweeddale, Andy Webb, Wes White

Madrid’s Fallacy of Irrelevance

Patrick Madrid, in the book edited by Robert Sungenis entitled Not By Scripture Alone, makes a whopper of a fallacy on pages 9-10 in describing Cyril of Jerusalem. The quote he is dealing with is a very helpful quotation that supports the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura:

In regard to the divine and holy mysteries of the faith, not the least part may be handed on without the Holy Scriptures. Do not be led astray by winning words and clever arguments. Even to me, who tell you these things, do not give ready belief, unless you receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of the things which I announce. The salvation which we believe is not proved from clever reasoning, but from the Holy Scriptures (Catechetical Lectures 4.17).

Madrid admits right off the bat that this language is “perhaps more rigorous than modern Catholics are used to” (p. 9). And yet he still claims that this “conveys an accurate sense of Catholic teaching on the necessity and material sufficiency of Scripture.” Remember, material sufficiency is the doctrine that all the major doctrines of the church are contained in Scripture. On this principle (though not in how it works out), Protestants and Catholics agree. Where they do not agree is in the formal sufficiency principle, which states that the Scriptures are clear on the central truths of the Christian faith. Madrid goes on to say this:

If Cyril really held to the notion of sola scriptura, then it must be true that he believed he had found those Catholic doctrines in Scripture (Madrid is referring to the Mass, the efficacy of expiatory prayers for the dead, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, holy orders, baptismal regeneration, and other Catholic doctrines. Whether Cyril actually taught those things is, of course, another question, LK). Consequently, the Protestant would have to posit that Cyril was badly mistaken in his exegesis of Scripture. Of course, this tack leads nowhere for Protestants, for it would of necessity impugn Cyril’s exegetical credibility, not to mention his claim to find sola scriptura in Scripture (p. 9).

Watch the argument. It seems to go like this: A. If Cyril argues for sola scriptura, then Cyril also believes that his Roman Catholic teaching is found in the Bible. B. This constitutes a double-or-nothing problem for Protestants, since if Cyril was right about sola scriptura, then he was right about all these other doctrines as well. But if Cyril was wrong about these other doctrines, then he wasn’t teaching sola scriptura after all. The holes in this argument should be apparent by now. Why would Cyril’s views on baptismal regeneration, say, be relevant to his argument on sola scriptura? If he is right or wrong on one of those issues, why would that affect his rightness or wrongness on the other issue? Even granting that Cyril teaches what Madrid says he teaches, that does not mean that he has to be right on everything if he is right on sola scriptura. Lots of Protestants are right on sola scriptura and wrong on lots of other things. Similarly, Roman Catholics can be wrong on sola scriptura and be right on the Trinity. Furthermore, suggesting that Cyril is wrong on those doctrines (even if that is what he teaches) is hardly the same thing as impugning Cyril’s exegetical integrity. That simply does not follow.

What is noticeably lacking in Madrid’s treatment of Cyril is any actual exegesis of what Cyril said. Notice again what he says: “Even to me, who tell you these things, do not give ready belief, unless you receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of the things which I announce.” What constitutes the basis for ready belief? It is not the church. It is not even the church’s interpretation of Scripture (Cyril expressly forbids this by saying that a person should not even give ready belief to Cyril, unless Cyril is proven by Scripture). It is Scripture. The sole basis of authority in the church is the Scripture. This is directly opposed to Roman Catholic teaching, which places the church on a par with Scripture.

Josephus and Jerome on the Canon

Whitaker adduces the evidence of Josephus (as evidence for the Jewish church before Christ, even though he lived after Christ), and Jerome, as another church father after Christ, who both rejected all the deutero-canonical books (pp. 60-61 of Whitaker). Jerome, as is well-known, denied the canonicity of the deutero-canonical books. By the way, Jerome is listed not only as a saint of the Roman Catholic church, but also as one of its doctors. Apparently, one of the doctors of the church denies that the church should receive Maccabees, Baruch, Sirach, etc. These are his actual words:

As, then, there are twenty-two elementary characters by means of which we write in Hebrew all we say, and the human voice is comprehended within their limits, so we reckon twenty-two books, by which, as by the alphabet of the doctrine of God, a righteous man is instructed in tender infancy, and, as it were, while still at the breast.

The translation is from this website, and the words come from his preface to the book of Samuel in the Vulgate (in the now-standard Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft edition, the words occur on p. 364). Lest anyone doubt his meaning, he goes on to list with exactitude the books of the canon, and he explicitly says that Wisdom, Sirach, Judith, Tobit, and Shepherd are not canonical (non sunt in canone, see p. 365). Although stating that 1 Maccabees can be found in Hebrew, he does not translate it, and his mention of it occurs in the paragraph discussing books that are not in the canon.

So, once again, we have the problem of which tradition to believe. Even the fountain of the Vulgate, Jerome himself, did not believe that the deutero-canonical books were canonical. So why would it be heretical to believe Jerome today?

Josephus is a strong testimony to the Jewish church’s rejection of the deutero-canonical books. In his Against Apion, book 1, chapter 8, he says this (quoting from the Loeb translation, p. 179):

We do not possess myriads of inconsistent books, conflicting with each other. Our books, those which are justly accredited, are but two and twenty, and contain the record of all time. Of these, five are the books of Moses, comprising the laws and the traditional history from the birth of man down to the death of the lawgiver. This period falls only a little short of three thousand years. From the death of Moses until Artaxerxes, who succeeded Xerxes as king of Persia, the prophets subsequent to Moses wrote the history of the events of their own times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life.

Now, why would a Jew’s testimony be helpful here? Because, and simply, if the Jews rejected the deutero-canonical books, then the Roman Catholic church does not have fundamental continuity with the Old Testament church on the matter of canon, whereas the Protestant position most certainly does. The Protestants are the traditional church here!

My Review of Iain Duguid’s Commentary on Esther/Ruth

This is a wonderful commentary, and I have reviewed it here.

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