About 43 minutes into episode #6838 of Catholic Answers Live, Patrick Coffin, the host of the show, stated: “Jesus never wrote a book, didn’t ask anybody to write a book, or you know – put on kind of memo on the fridges of Nazareth, but he did found a church.”
I’ve previously addressed this “Jesus Didn’t Write a Book” Objection (link to previous treatment). While I stand by that response, let me provide some further response Mr. Coffin’s assertions here, since Mr. Coffin is guilty of a redemptive history error, a trinitarian error, and a simple factual error (not even to get into his ecclesiastical error).
1. Redemption History Error
Mr. Coffin’s characterization, by focusing on the form of the revelation of Jesus Christ misses the place of revelation in the history of redemption. It is by revelation that the church was founded. The revelation of Jesus Christ is the foundation of the church that Jesus founded. That’s why Jesus said to Peter:
And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Jesus focuses on the fact that Peter’s confession was something revealed to him by the Father. It is on that confession of faith – revealed by God – that the church was to be founded.
That’s why Irenaeus says: “For we learned the plan of our salvation from no others than from those through whom the gospel came to us. They first preached it abroad, and then later by the will of God handed it down to us in Writings, to be the foundation and pillar of our faith” and again a little later on “the pillar and foundation of the Church is the gospel” (Against Heresies, Book 3, Sections 1 and 8).
And Irenaeus is being Scriptural:
Hebrews 1:1-2, 2:1-4, 4:2
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; … Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? …
For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
You see the foundation of the church is the revelation of Jesus Christ – not the other way around. Even if the assembly of Jesus’ followers (i.e. the church) can be said to have begun before the writing of the New Testament Scriptures – still they are a record of the revelation that preceded and founded the church. They are the cause of the church – not the effect of the church.
2. Trinitarian Error
Mr. Coffin’s comments invite the listener to divide Jesus from the person of the Spirit, to the extent that one considers the plain and inescapable fact that the Spirit did command people to write a book. Even assuming it were true that Jesus didn’t personally command the writing of Scripture, the Spirit did, and that’s not any more or less authoritative than if Jesus himself did it. The Spirit is not a lesser deity.
Moreover, the Spirit was united in Jesus’ revelatory mission:
John 14:17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
John 15:26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:
John 16:13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.
That leads us to a third category of error:
3. Factual Error
Mr. Coffin has forgotten about the fact that the Bible itself tells us that Jesus commanded John to write a book:
Revelation 1:1-3, 11, 19 and 21:5
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand. … Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. … Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; … And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
I understand that the book of Revelation is excluded from the readings of Scripture in the Roman liturgy, but even Trent had to admit that it is canonical and authoritative Scripture.
I suppose I could add to the above that Mr. Coffin’s conception of Christ founding a church is way off. Mr. Coffin has in mind a hierarchical structure of authority, whereas when Christ talked about founding his church on the rock of Peter’s confession, he was talking about followers united by faith. While God did appoint a structure of authority within the church, that was not the primary sense in which he founded a church. Perhaps we can get into that more in another post.