Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mockery of Spirit's Testimony a Red Herring

O: “Francis, your consistent approach thus far has been that the Holy Spirit witnesses to individuals what God's word is.”

It is gratifying to see my consistency on the issue recognized.

O: “You were given the opportunity to provide something more objective, but you quite reasonably recognised that whether a book is God-breathed is not the kind of question that lends itself to say, historical investigation.”

Actually, I provided a number of objective considerations. Perhaps they were overlooked:

Sometimes the testimony is explicit.

For example, sometimes Scriptures attest to their own Scripture status:

1 Corinthians 14:37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.

Or to the Scripture status of other Scriptures:

Nehemiah 8:14 And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month:

The testimony is self-consistent, for it has a single author: God.

The testimony has been providentially preserved.

O: “Thus you didn't have any kind of real argument why Esther or the Johannine epistles are God-breathed, or 1 Clement is not God-breathed beyond the witness of the Spirit.”

Actually, the reason for the presentation being short was “Orthodox” own request that: “Obviously we don't want a long essay, but just the brief facts on how you know they are scripture.” Thus, the question was for me to explain how I know, not to try to prove the authenticity of the canonical books and the non-authenticity of the non-canonical book.

Any proof would have to start from some common epistemological common ground. Unfortunately, however, “Orthodox” is apparently unwilling to consider the testimony of the Spirit as a valid epistemology. Accordingly, “Orthodox” is left with selecting among various non-revelatory epistemologies. The form of the contentious assertion that the present author did not provide “any kind of real argument” suggests the “Orthodox” would like to adopt some form of empiricism. On the other hand, “Orthodox” comment above that: “but you quite reasonably recognised that whether a book is God-breathed is not the kind of question that lends itself to say, historical investigation,” suggests that “Orthodox” recognizes that empiricism cannot provide answers, because the Spirit is supernatural, and empiricism is not equipped to deal with the supernatural.

Thus, of course, the previous presentation was not an “argument” aimed at “proof” of the canonical status of Esther and non-canonical status of 1 Clement.

With regard to the presentations above, Esther is self-consistent with the other Scriptures, as are 1st-3rd John. Esther and 1st-3rd John were providentially preserved, 1 Clement was not (whether or not 1 Clement is self-consistent with Scripture). Furthermore, correcting the numerous factual errors in the citation of an extraordinarily questionable source like any of the Anchor publications would require a treatise.

But all such disputations miss the point. Whether the investigation is over a book of the whole or the whole book, the question of whether the book is to be received is a question of faith, not a question of evidentiary proof.

O: “Orthodox [sic] on the other hand would say that there is an objectively discoverable reality of where God's people are.”

This assertion is somewhat ambiguous. We know the people of God by their fruits, but even true believers stumble, and God alone knows the heart. Whether people are elect or not is an objective reality, and it is discoverable. And, of course, determine WHO God’s people are is arguably a predicate to discovering WHERE God’s people are. We could also point out that God’s people will be in the churches of God, but to judge a church without reference to its members would be an odd sort of investigation. The term “objectively discoverable” makes little sense. Subjects discover objects. That something is an objective reality may be discoverable, but it is discoverable subjectively, because it is subjects that do discovering.

Of course, perhaps by “objectively” “Orthodox” just means empirically. As noted above, however, while we can try (and should try) to judge empirically, only God knows the heart. There are certainly definable attributes of true churches, but those attributes are few not many.

O: “God gives his revelation to his people.”

Indeed he does, but not only to them. The gospel is preached everywhere and to everyone.

O: “His people preserve it.”

Some do, some don’t, and some preserve it better than others. Scripture has been preserved, but not all revelation ever given has been preserved. Furthermore, sometimes those who are not God’s people preserve God’s word.

O: “Thus where his Word is, is objectively stated by where his people are, which is an historical, continuous, objectively tracable [sic] entity.”

This, of course, does not follow for several reasons. First, where God’s people are is a location, not an “entity.” Second, God’s people are everywhere, throughout the whole world. Third, the Word must be known before the people who believe the Word can be identified as the people of God using the Biblical criteria.

There is another option: trust an entity, and then take the entity’s word for it that what they say God’s word is, is. This is how one can be led into Mormonism or Islam, to take two examples. Their radical, rapid departure from Scripture is less obvious than the gradual departure from Scripture in Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Nevertheless, the “trust the institution” mindset is the same.

O: “You on the other hand say that God gave his revelation, but who might be preserving it cannot be stated as a prior principle.”

The Holy Spirit preserves the Scriptures providentially: sometimes by Christians, sometimes by infidels. We find heretics preserving Scriptures (with some attempting to manipulate Scriptures) as well as orthodox Christians preserving Scripture. Even with some deliberate mistranslations, the New World Translation (of the so-called Jehovah’s Witnesses) generally preserves the Scriptures, and the Mormons (though they add unreasonably marginal notes and extraneous, uninspired works) preserve Scriptures as well.

O: “You hope or assume that God has preserved it, hopefully somewhere reasonably accessable to you, but where one might look to find its authoritative form, one can't say.”

I don’t have to hope or assume those things. I know that God has preserved it, because I have heard it and read it. That’s how preaching works. If I were an heathen informed only by the light of nature, I might have that hope that God has revealed himself in written form. As a Christian who has believed the preached Word, I don’t have that problem.

O: “You just have to look, and wait for the Holy Spirit to inform whenever and whereever you happen to find it.”

Actually, no, God sends preachers who preach the gospel. That’s how I heard the Word, and that’s how most Christians have heard the Word. In some, the Holy Spirit persuades us that it is the Word of God, and not just the fables of men.

O: “This means you've cut yourself off from any way of knowing what God's word is that is rooted in space/time and the physical universe.”

Now, this seems to swing back to empiricism. Plenty more could be written on this topic, but empiricism is inherently fruitless. Facts require interpretation: interpretation requires presuppositions. Empiricisms usual presupposition (naturalism) would prevent any demonstration of what God’s word is, because God’s word is a supernatural phenomenon.

O: “Your first principle is what the Spirit witnesses to you, as an individual.”

Everyone is an individual, and everyone’s epistemology is individual or nonsensical. The question “How do you know?” is answered individually. On the other hand, I’m not the only one who uses the epistemology that I do.

O: “Questions:”

It’s worth pointing out that this presentation of numerous questions seems to abuse the alternating question format, but surely no abuse was intended. Hopefully with this nudge, we can return to the alternating question format.

O: “1) What does this witnessing feel like?”

It feels like persuasion, conviction of fact. Asking someone to describe a feeling is a challenging task (ask yourself how persuasion or conviction of fact feels, and you’ll see what I mean). Asking someone to describe the operation of the Spirit is asking for trouble. As Jesus put it:

John 3:8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

The action of the Spirit can be hard to describe, but the result is enormous and real.

O: “2) How do you know the feeling from (1) is the Holy Spirit and not your corrupt heart, a demon or other phenomenon?”

By faith.

O: “3) How does it differ to Mormon burning in the bosom (other than presumably yours is real and theirs isn't), and how do you know it differs? How does it differ to the Islamic idea that you read the book and it is obvious that there is no book ever written like the Koran?”

I’d hate to suggest that I’m an expert in either Mormon or Muslim views. There are many imitations, but only one God. Only the grace of God, and the operation of the Holy Spirit prevents me from being deluded like a Muslim or Mormon.

O: “4) Isn't the idea that the Spirit witnesses to every Christian a 66 book canon, objectively and empirically a lot of nonsense, given the number of better Christians than you or I who have held a smaller or larger canon?”

Obviously it is not “a lot of nonsense.” What makes it seem like nonsense is confusing the details with the big picture. Some things are more clear and some things are less clear. The canonicity of some books is more clear than others, not because a different spirit testifies to each, but because the Spirit testifies more clearly in some “Thus saith the Lord” and less clearly in others.

O: “5) How can you guard against a false witness of what the Spirit testifies to, given there have been so many false claims?”

Scripture provides the answer:

1 John 4:1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

It is essential to Christianity that we believe the preached Gospel, but faith in the true gospel is not the result of human achievement. The Holy Spirit regenerates man, opening his eyes to knowledge of the truth, so that he can see that God has revealed Himself in Scripture.

O: “6) How do you explain someone like John Chrysostom, who memorised the scriptures (at least his canon of scripture) from Genesis on forward, who tirelessly dedicated himself to the Church and to God, who wrote a commentary on nearly the whole bible, and yet he held to the shorter New Testament canon of the Syrians, despite the fact he was aware of the other books? Didn't the Spirit witness to him?”

The answers above should suffice. I would not take for granted the various accounts of Chrysostom, and we don’t really have the space to get into all the details of his life story here. Whatever the answer to the first question, the second question can modified to “Didn’t the Church witness to him?” or “Didn’t empiricism witness to him?” or whatever explanation one wishes to give for the way in which we come to know the canon. Or, if you believe Chrysostom got it right, then simply apply the same question to some other godly man who erred in thinking something was Scripture that was not, or thought something wasn’t Scripture that was. In other words, the examples prove nothing except that Christians have differed.

O: “7) How come the Spirit witnesses a 66 long list to every Christian, but he doesn't witness the 5 points of Calvinism, the correct understanding of infant/believer baptism, the correct understanding of the eucharist, or any of many more significant points? Isn't your theory rather arbitrary?”

The Spirit does testify to those truths. The primary way the Spirit does so is through Scripture, but again: some things more clearly and some things less clearly.

O: “8) Gnosticism has been defined as religious groups that believe in "an inferior material world, one needs gnosis, or esoteric spiritual knowledge available only to a learned elite." Isn't this yet more evidence (as if we needed any more) that protestants are gnostics, abandoning the idea that God provides all knowledge through revelation in the material world, whereas you believe in esoteric internal revelation?”

Gnosticism is the name of an early heresy. It has much more in common with a church predominated by “mystery” and which claims to have knowledge unavailable to the outside world. Sola Scriptura has a rather opposite claim: the important things are plain in Scripture for all to see: the Gospel is preached everywhere, and God’s word is disseminated and explained as much as possible to outsiders.

On the other hand, the truth of the Gospel is only recognized as truth and received with joy by those whom the Spirit of God prepares. It’s not a question of esoteric internal revelation of secret knowledge: it’s an issue of the Spirit enlightening men’s eyes, as Scripture says.

O: “9) If the Spirit witnesses that 14 verses of 3 John is scripture, what does that tell us about our approach to Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11, which are a similar size? Is it scripture if I believe the Spirit tells me it is scripture? Is that more than enough reason? When protestants come to discuss these passages, why is "what the Spirit witnesses", never on the agenda? What does the existance of Mark 16:9-20 in virtually every manuscript tell us about the Spirit's witness, and what does a consensus that is building in protestantism to exclude this passage on grounds other than the Spirit's witness tell us about what protestants really believe?”

The answer to (4) should resolve the five questions posed here. The God-breathed status of the Gospels of Mark and John are clearly revealed. The God-breathed status of particular words, phrases, or passages is less clearly revealed. Scripture’s scripture-status is an objective reality. Whether we recognize the truth of that reality is a different (though important) question.

We recognize that God uses means to preserve the Scriptures. Textual criticism is one of the tools that the Spirit uses to persuade us of the originality of the readings in those places. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the passage is the easier it is to apply textual criticism to determine whether the passage (in general) is original or not.

The Spirit could have left us without a reason for believing that the Scripture is Scripture. However, the Spirit did not do so.

The reason that “what the Spirit witnesses” is not on the agenda is that it is not a transitive measure.

O: “10) Does this mean you can't enforce church discipline if the relevant passage is denied by the person in question to be scripture? So if for example, someone agrees with the Syrian church or is sympathetic to the disparaging things that Martin Luther said about Revelation, are they entitled to just say in the Church "that doesn't apply to me, leave me alone"? Or conversely, can a leader as an individual decide that an extra book is scripture and enforce discipline on its basis? If not, what principle or authority stands in the way?”

As noted above, Scripture is an objective reality: if it is God-breathed it is Scripture. Persuasion of the truth of Scripture is a subjective reality. It appears that a confusion between those two things is the basis of this question. You have to work with what you have.

O: “11) Doesn't your epistemology make this entire debate futile? You have your "truth" that you think the Spirit witnesses to you, and I have my truth that I think the Spirit witnesses to the Church and to me, and that's really the end of the discussion?”

I don’t have to “think” that the Spirit testifies to Scripture: I can and do know it. That is not open for debate, and debate on that would be futile if the arguer’s object were to persuade me to deny a truth that I know. It might be helpful for such a person to re-read the resolution, which takes for granted that I know what the Bible is.

Furthermore, Orthodox himself does not deny that the Spirit witnesses to the Scripture, he simply (apparently) disagrees with me as to how the Spirit does so. In other words, the epistemological issue is a red herring. The canon of Scripture is a non-issue in the debate, and has been a non-issue since the resolution. The Bible may have fuzzy edges (and Orthodox may spend a lot of time, space, and questions on the fuzz) but everyone reading this has a pretty clear concept generally of what the Bible is, whether or not they can prove that the Bible is what they think it is.

We could spend our time demonstrating the absurdity of Orthodox’s attack: but it demonstrates its own absurdity. He attacks on issues where we agree! Furthermore, he attacks on issues that are not germane to the debate. His attack on how we know the Bible is a moot issue. We do know the Bible, and he knows that we know the Bible, and everyone in the world knows that we know the Bible.

It doesn’t really matter whether we know it by the way that the present author has explained it, or by stealing from the “Orthodox” monasteries. How we came by it is not the issue under debate it. We have it, and we can use and do use it: and using Scriptures rather than man’s tradition is a more workable rule of faith.

O: “12) Since Luther is on record as saying that Revelation is "neither apostolic nor prophetic" and stated that "Christ is neither taught nor known in it", and since you are on record as saying that the Holy Spirit dictates to Christians the 66 book canon, what does this say about Luther being a Christian, or alternatively, what does it say about your theory?”

It says nothing either way, as can be seen from the answers to (4) and (9) above.


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