Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Silence of the Creeds on Sola Scriptura

[A certain well know Catholic Apologetics group refuses to reply back to my email regarding the possibility of running this show essay, so I post it for your review and comments.  I for one have not heard Sola Scripture argued from the point of the Creeds of the Catholic Church.]

If sola scriptura, in any form whether it is the strict fundamentalist Christians-must-only-believe-what-is-found-in-the-Bible or the more liberal all-Christian-traditions-and-beliefs-must-be-biblically-based, is true and has been the belief of the Christian faith since the beginning one would expect to find early Christian theology and writing to be saturated with it.  However, this is not the case.

One place a Christian would expect to find the crucial and key tenants to being a Christian is in what the Church believes.  In this case: the Creed.  Through the early church there have been several different, but remarkably similar, statements of belief found amongst the early Christians, and all are silent on the issue of Sola Scripture.

The earliest known example of a creed is the creed by St. Irenaeus (c. 180 A.D.), which is found in his writing Against Heresies.  The creed, summarizing what a Christian believes, is as follows:

. . . believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendour, shall come in glory, the Saviour of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent.

One would think that if St. Irenaeus truly was a descendent of the apostles in office who was instructed in faith by St. Polycarp who was instructed by St. John the Apostle that what St. John handed on would be well preserved and that St. John himself would have at least instructed his disciples on the importance of scripture alone as the foundation for Christianity.  However, Irenaeus’ creed is silent on the role of scripture. 

A 4th century Christian writer and historian, Rufinus (c.307-309) writes to a Bishop Laurentius in which he gives not only an exposition of the Creed but also a brief history of the Creed of Rome, known as the creed of Aquileia.  In the course of his commentary, Rufinus draws out the differences between the creeds from the Eastern Churches and the Western Churches.  Though there are differences, the core content is similar in expression indicating a common source.  This common source, according to Rufinus, is the 12 apostles themselves.   Thereby, making this creed the same Creed of the Apostles.

Rufinus states that the apostles formulated the Creed in order to help distinguish the true Christians from the false Christians who sought only fame and fortune by speaking in the name of Christ while ignoring the teaching of Christ and the traditions of the Apsotles.    Drawing on a military analogy Rufinus explains the need for the Creed as follows:

Finally, they say that in civil wars, since the armour of both sides is alike, and the language the same, and the custom and mode of warfare the same, each general, to guard against treachery, is wont to deliver to his soldiers a distinct symbol or watchword . . . so that if one is met with, of whom it is doubtful to which side he belongs, being asked the symbol, he discloses whether he is friend or foe.

Rufinus even adds that the Creed was guarded from the false Christians.  He writes:the Creed is not written on paper or parchment, but is retained in the hearts of the faithful, that it may be certain that no one has learned it by reading, as is sometimes the case with unbelievers, but by tradition from the Apostles.”  Yet, in the Creed about which Rufinus writes and connects to the 12 apostles themselves, there is no mention to scripture or the role of scripture in the life of the Christian.  His creed is a follows:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, invisible and impassible
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord
Who was born from the Holy Ghost, of the Virgin Mary
Was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and buried
He descended to hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead
He ascended to the heavens; he sits at the right hand of the Father
Thence he is to come to judge the living and the dead
And in the Holy Ghost
The Holy Church
The Remission of sins
The resurrection of this flesh.

Also in the 4th century (325 A.D.), an ecumenical council was held in the city of Nicea.  One, and perhaps the most famous, of writings to emerge from the council is the Nicene Creed.  This creed was the universal creed of all Christians for many centuries and is still used in the Catholic Church.  In the current formulation, the Nicene Creed makes mention to scripture in passing and only in reference to Christ rising from the dead after three days.  That is, it uses scripture to support one line of the text.  Other than that, the Nicene Creed is silent on the role scripture is to play in the life of a Christian and fails to make any kind of allusion or mention of sola scriptura.

Therefore, if sola scriptura was the rule of faith for Christians since the beginning of Christianity, the question remains, “Why are ALL the creeds silent on the subject?”   History tells us, via St. Cyril of Jerusalem, that the Creed was taught to all those preparing to receive the sacrament of baptism.  If sola scriptura was the foundation of Christianity and the crucial teaching of Christianity from the beginning, one would expect sola-scripture to be the very first thing expressed in the Creeds, or at least mentioned someplace in the Symbol of Faith.  Yet, this is not the case.  The Creeds are silent on the subject of sola scriptura because sola scripture was not and never was a teaching of the early Church.

Lastly, what history reveals is that Scripture was interpreted according to the Rule of Faith (the Creed).  That is, the Creed served as a guide to interpreting scripture.  By using the creed to interpret scripture it safeguarded the interpretation against heresies.  Those who abandoned the creed or did not have the creed fell into heresy.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Jewish Council of Jamnia and the Christian Canon: Fail

Some non-Catholics, in an attempt to disprove the canonical nature of the Catholic old testament and specifically the deutroconical books, will commonly appeal to the Jewish council of Jamnia, which is said to have happen in the year 90 A.D.  Rabbis met at the council of Jamnia, so the story goes, to set the canon for their book of scriptures.  However, there are several problems when appealing to this council in an attempt to discredit the Catholic Old Testament canon: historical, theological, and canonical.


The idea that a Jewish council was held in 90 A.D. that set the Jewish canon of scripture did not surface till the 19th century and was promoted by two German scholars – one being Heinrich Graetz.  There is virtually no scholarly evidence, beyond a few scant rabbinical texts, that supports the historicity of this council.  It is still discussed among some scholarly circles but mostly predicated with “myth” or “legend.”

Marc Zvi Brettler writes that the meager evidence from rabbinic texts informing us of this supposed council where the canon of scripture for the Jews was actually set is based largely on a misunderstanding of those rabbinic texts.  Instead, the council was attempting to justify certain texts already considered canonical.  One such book that was debated was the Song of Songs [1].  Moreover Brettler also indicates that the Jewish cannon was not stabilized until sometime in the second century CE and the process of canonization was a gradual process and not a definitive act at the Council of Jamnia[2].

If this council did occur, then a big question arises as to “Why weren’t all the Jews invited?”  The records show a heavy leaning towards the pharisaic understanding of the books.  It appears that several groups were ignored, even the African Jews who considered the entire Septuagint as canonical.


Supposing the council of Jamnia set the canon for the Jewish scriptures in 90 A.D. and thereby Christians, as well as Jews, must follow the same canon raises serious theological questions about the nature of authority.  First what gave this council of Rabbis, sans-Temple and possibly sans-priesthood, the authority to make a binding set of books for the entire Jewish faith?  This is even more so when one wonders if the Sanhedrin and Scribes were present.

A second theological problem arises based upon the date of the council.  Jamnia is said to have happened in about the year 90 A.D.  What kind of authority can or does a Jewish Council, post-resurrection, have on the body of Christianity?  To appeal to this council in an attempt to discredit the Catholic Old Testament canon is to essentially shoot ones self in the proverbial foot, for by discrediting the Canon with appeal to Jamnia is to give a group of Jewish rabbis authority over all of Christianity.  This is a belief that is far from Christian.  For Christ, from the Christian perspective, came to fulfill Judaism thereby rendering parts of Judaism nonbinding, or binding in a new way, to Christians. 


If the Council of Jamnia occurred, as once thought, what it does tell us is that the Jewish Canon was not a unified, settled, definitive work before the year 90 A.D.  Examples of this can easily be found through history. The Ethiopian Jews had a different Canon by accepting all of the Septuagint.  The Sadducees only accepted the books of Moses and authoritative scriptures, while the Pharisees accepted more. More recently, the Dead Sea Scrolls have been shedding light on the history of the Jewish canon to a further degree with a now incomplete book of Psalms, which appears to have been used in a fashion similar to modern prayer books.  The Dead Sea Scrolls also have a canon more akin to the Septuagint except written in Hebrew instead of Greek.

Therefore, for a non-Catholic to appeal to the Council of Jamnia as proof that the Catholic canon is not the Old Testament for Christians is to hang one’s coat on a broken hook.  It ignores history, promotes bad theology, and disregards Jewish culture and the multiplicity of Jewish canons in existence at the time of at the time of the Apostles and the very early church.

[1] Berlin, Adele, Marc Zvi. Brettler, and Michael A. Fishbane. "The Canonization of the Bible." The Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. 2072-077. Print.

[2] ibid

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

You Hate Chick-Fil-A? You Must Be Anti-Christian

The article ran in the Baptist press initially on July 7 and was rerun by the Baptist press on July 17.  The article itself covered a number of topics including the sunday closure.  What I don't get is how does this . . .

"We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. 
"We operate as a family business ... our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that," Cathy emphasized.

And this . . .
"I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,'" Cathy said. "I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about." [A personal opinion expressed on a media show.] 
 get interpreted as "Chick-Fil-A hates gays" or "Chick-Fil-A is anti-gay"? Using the same logic . . . well, I'll just let Wonka speak for me.

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