Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
The Unofficial Catholic Apologist Commentary #13
07/29/2010 - James SwanRoman Catholic apologists often let us know how crucial it is to have an infallible magisterium and church Tradition in order to interpret the Bible correctly. With so many Catholic apologists now commenting on sacred scripture, I thought it would be interesting to provide their commentary on the Bible.
Let's see how they've been able to rightly divide the word of truth, in this instance, Galatians 2:11-16.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.
According to Pope Benedict, this text shows the perspectives of the two apostles were different, not contradictory. Both Peter and Paul were trying to protect the faith of those in either the Jewish or gentile groups. The Pope stated, "For [Peter], the separation of the pagans represented a way to teach and avoid scandalizing the believers coming from Judaism. For Paul, it constituted, on the other hand, the danger of a misunderstanding of the universal salvation in Christ offered as much to the pagans as to the Jews." Peter and Paul didn't contradict each other: "For [Peter], not losing the Jews who had embraced the Gospel, for [Paul], not diminishing the salvific value of the death of Christ for all believers." In other words, it appears Peter and Paul misunderstood each other. Benedict holds this confrontation "showed itself to be a lesson both for Peter and for Paul. Only sincere dialogue, open to the truth of the Gospel, could guide the path of the Church."
Dr. Robert Sungenis, the director of Catholic Apologetics International, strongly disagrees with this interpretation: Pope's Exegetical Blunder on Peter/Paul Conflict in Galatians 2 (pdf). Dr. Sungenis took the opportunity to correct Pope Benedict's interpretation of Galatians 2:11-16. Here are some choice excerpts:
"Although I admire Pope Benedict XVI, to be very honest, I believe he is quite incorrect in his analysis of the conflict between Peter and Paul in Galatians 2:11-16. I don't know anyone in the history of the church who has taken his side on this passage. Previous exegesis has taken the thesis-antithesis approach wherein Paul presents a thesis, and Peter's antithesis is not only wrong but it is akin to perverting the Gospel."
"I'm afraid to say that the pope's understanding of this passage falls right in line with the liberal hermeneutic that we have seen so often in the last forty years. It is the theological version of the Hegelian synthesis. Not surprisingly, the pope's interpretation of Galatians 2 is the precise way Protestant liberals,following Hegel, had interpreted the passage."
"Why is it, also, that Pope Benedict seems to have no qualms about scandalizing faithful Catholics by having an unconverted Jewish rabbi speak to the hundreds of bishops at the current Synod on Scripture, yet he allows for Peter to claim that the Jews would be scandalized by seeing Peter eat with Gentiles? I submit there is a double standard working here. It seems that the pope's criterion in both cases is how the scene affects the Jews, not how it affects Gentiles."
"Unfortunately, here the pope makes another exegetical blunder, for he is mixing very different contexts, Romans 14 and Galatians 2."
Now in case you're confused as to which personal interpretation to follow, here's an interesting related comment from Thomas Aquinas on the same passage. Note his description of Jerome's fourth argument, that Paul only pretended to rebuke Peter. This certainly is not an example of the "previous exegesis" that has "taken the thesis-antithesis approach."
Thomas Aquinas commenting on the Disagreement between Augustine and Jerome with respect to Paul's rebuke of Peter:
Thirdly, they disagree on the sin of Peter. For Jerome says that in the dissimulation previously mentioned, Peter did not sin, because he did this from charity and, as has been said, not from mundane fear. Augustine, on the other hand, says, that he did sin-venially, however-on account of the lack of discretion he had by adhering overmuch to one side, namely to the Jews, in order to avoid scandalizing them. But the stronger of Augustine's arguments against Jerome is that Jerome adduces on his own behalf seven doctors, four of whom, namely, Laudicens, Alexander, Origen, and Didymus, Augustine rejects as known heretics. To the other three he opposes three of his own, who held with him and his opinion, namely, Ambrose, Cyprian, and Paul himself, who plainly teaches that Peter was deserving of rebuke. Therefore, if it is unlawful to say that anything false is contained in Sacred Scripture, it will not be lawful to say that Peter was not deserving of rebuke. For this reason the opinion and statement of Augustine is the truer, because it is more in accord with the words of the Apostle.
"Fourthly, they disagree on Paul's rebuke. For Jerome says that Paul did not really rebuke Peter but pretended to do so, just as Peter pretended to observe the legal justifications, i.e. just as Peter in his unwillingness to scandalize the Jews pretended to observe the justifications, so Paul, in order not to scandalize the Gentiles, feigned displeasure at Peter's action and pretended to rebuke him. This was done, as it were, by mutual consent, so that each might exercise his care over the believers subject to them. Augustine, however, just as he says that Peter really did observe the justifications, says that Paul truly rebuked him without pretense. Furthermore, Peter really sinned by observing them, because his action was a source of scandal to the Gentiles from whom he separated himself. But Paul did not sin in rebuking him, because no scandal followed from his rebuke [St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Saint Paul?s Epistle to the Galatians, trans. F. R. Larcher, O.P. (Albany: Magi Books, Inc.1966), Chapter 2, Lecture 3, pp. 51-52].
A faithful Roman Catholic can choose either the interpretation of the pope, Sungenis or neither. There probably isn't anything infallible as to who is right, so the text can be interpreted as one sees fit. For all the talk about having an infallible authority, a Roman Catholic can still read this text however he wants to, even coming up with something similar to Jerome's interpretation.
As David King points out in Holy Scripture, The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith Volume 1:
Let us be clear. In exercising private interpretation, Sungenis is not exempt from the charge of uncertainty to which he strongly objects. He leaves his reader with the mistaken impression that his own exegesis of Scripture is an accurate reflection of official Roman Catholic teaching on the passages he adduces. But where are these official interpretations? In reality, the communion of Rome condemns and thus precludes any certainty in the exercise of private exegesis. In contrast to Sungenis, Roman Catholic scholar, Raymond Brown, informs us that: "Roman Catholics who appeal explicitly to Spirit-guided church teaching are often unaware that their church has seldom if ever definitively pronounced on the literal meaning of a passage of Scripture, i.e., what the author meant when he wrote it. Most often the church has commented on the on-going meaning of Scripture by resisting the claims of those who would reject established practices or beliefs as unbiblical [pp. 90-91].
Rome's Apologists and Trinitarian Accuracy
07/16/2010 - James WhiteThis morning I was directed to a new feature of the Catholic Answers website, their video wall, found here. And what to my wondering eyes should appear right at the top of the "wall" but a video I reviewed over two years ago when Steve Ray linked to it by one Russ Rentler. At the time I produced the video below pointing out that not only was it historically inaccurate in many places, but it is simply not orthodox. It presents a modalistic view of the Trinity, with the Father becoming incarnate! But, as a further example of how rarely Rome's apologists even bother to see what is being said in response to their tired old arguments, here is the same unorthodox video posted on the Catholic Answers website. It really does make you wonder why Rome's apologists find Trinitarian accuracy so irrelevant. I wonder---if the performer had presented an understanding of, say, one of the Marian dogmas, that was clearly unorthodox, would they be posting his video? I doubt it. Tells you a little something about the priorities on the far side of the Tiber River. Here's that video, and the easy refutation of its claims, from March of 2008:
Three Upcoming Roman Catholic Debates
07/05/2010 - James WhiteUnless something changes, my next debates will be in September/October, all in the area of Roman Catholicism. I have shifted my studies over to that area on my rides. For example, while climbing some 15% grades this morning I was listening to Bill Webster lecturing on penance (an interesting conjunction, in that Bill and I have ridden together in the past). In any case, I refuse to just repeat what I've said in the past on these topics, I need to do new studying, new research, improve my arguments and presentations. The Lord, and the audience, deserves nothing less. So I have put some resources I would like to try to incorporate in my preparation on the Ministry Resource List. If you would like to help me prepare for these debates, this is always a very encouraging way to do so.
Reformed Tiber Swimmers
07/01/2010 - James SwanHere's yet another converts tale. A Reformed person swimming the Tiber has made a fallible decision to submit to a self-proclaimed infallible authority. He set out four possible authority options to submit to now that he's decided to leave his Reformed church. The one that appealed to him is the following:
Submit to a form of Christianity that does not subscribe to Sola Scriptura and which has a interpretive authority which can plausibly claim to be led by the Holy Spirit, so as to remove myself as the authority.The submission to that authority still rests on private judgment, the very thing scorned throughout this conversion story (read it for yourself). Other infallible authorities make claims that their authority rests on plausibility. Who decides which infallible authority is plausible? Why it's none other than our potential convert. Rather than removing himself as the authority, he makes himself his own authority in choosing the correct infallible interpreter. He continues:
This makes the most sense. Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology takes into account the fact that people will disagree about the content of Divine revelation. Not that disagreement implies errancy or fallibility, but without a magisterium that is supernaturally protected from error, there is no way for me to be sure I am getting the interpretation that is the right one.It may make sense in theory, but in practice our convert is still left with a Bible to interpret. Neither of these alleged authorities has done a good job in infallibly interpreting the content of divine revelation. A while back I mentioned how Roman Catholic apologist Tim Staples stated "There is a lot of freedom with regard to the interpretation of Scripture." Tim affirmed that even the verses infallibly defined by the Roman Catholic Church "are left open to other interpretations as long as you don't deny that which has been infallibly interpreted." How many verses has Rome defined? Some say only a small handful of verses have an infallible interpretation, others deny the Church has defined the literal sense of any single passage. Roman Catholics aren't even united on a basic issue like the inerrancy of Scripture.
The problem for Roman Catholics is compounded even more, because the church also says that a doctrine can be defined, but the scriptural proofs used to support it utilized by the church's theologians might not actually support it. In other words, one can have certainty for a doctrine, but not have certainty in the scriptural proof texts for that doctrine. The infallibility is in the decree, not in the reasoning to that decree. The Catholic Encyclopedia states, ''the validity of the Divine guarantee is independent of the fallible arguments upon which a definitive decision may be based, and of the possibly unworthy human motives that in cases of strife may appear to have influenced the result. It is the definitive result itself, and it alone, that is guaranteed to be infallible, not the preliminary stages by which it is reached." Note the words of Roman Catholic theologian, Johann Mohler: "Catholic theologians teach with general concurrence, and quite in the spirit of the Church, that even a Scriptural proof in favour of a decree held to be infallible, is not itself infallible, but only the dogma as defined." [Source: Johann Adam Mohler, Symbolism: Exposition of the doctrinal Differences between Catholics and Protestants as evidenced by their Symbolic Writings, trans James Burton Robertson (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1997), p.296].
As to a "a magisterium that is supernaturally protected from error" our Tiber swimmer needs to answer fundamental questions. Isn't this simply a presuppositional claim? On what basis does one determine a church is infallible? It is merely assumed. All sola ecclesia groups assume their authority. In regards to Romanism, when asked how the Roman Catholic Church can establish her authority, notice it's most often proved by the testimony of the Scriptures. That is, they will rarely admit to simply assuming it. Rather they quote a handful of Biblical proof-texts. This is a circular argument. Roman Catholics prove the authority of the Scriptures by the Church, and the authority of the Church by the Scriptures.
In regard to being sure he's got the right interpretation once he joins Romanism, once again he ignores the simple fact that it's his decision to trust in Romanism. He'll never be able to escape himself and his own fallible decisions. His certainty will always be a fallible certainty because he's fallible. He continues:
If I am able to toss out the 7th ecumenical council (as nearly all Protestants do) because it doesn't match my interpretation, where will the tossing out stop? If church councils themselves are to be judged by a 21st century layman, theologically untrained, and unordained Christian like me, what is the point then of church councils other than to provide some really good advise from some really great men from the history of our faith? If they were not being guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit in these councils, with the expectation that all believers should submit to their decisions, then what use are they other than to help me form my own interpretation to submit to? The ecclesiologies that claim to have living, breathing successors of the apostles which are Divinely gifted with the ability to define doctrine in certain situations are the only ecclesiologies that make sense.I have nothing against the church meeting in council, but this type of argument assumes more than some of the early councils did. Did they think they were infallible? This is pure anachronism. The Fathers did not profess to be the standard of truth, either in or out of council.
This paradigm also suffers from ignoring the church of the Old Testament. God's people were able to discern God's voice and work, this without an infallible magisterium. They knew which books were Scripture (Romans 3:2) without the aid of any infallible authoritative conciliar declaration. Christ and the apostles held the Jews responsible for knowing and properly interpreting the Scriptures. Never once is it recorded in Scripture that the Jews complained that they didn't have an infallible magisterium. It was assumed by the New Testament writers that God's truth was clear.
As conversion stories go, this one was a typical example of someone who bought the claims of Roman Catholicism without applying the same scrutiny to Romanism. It's one thing to tear down sola scriptura, it's quite another to apply the same scrutiny to Romanism. If one is going to argue against the sole infallible authority of Scripture, they should at least work just as hard to apply the same standards of scrutiny to their new infallible authority. Let's try to point this Reformed Tiber swimmer back to the right shore. I'm fairly confident he'll be reading this, so he can begin with this Primer On Roman Catholic Epistemology. He can follow this up with a positive defense of sola scriptura.