Did you know that Terminal 7 at JFK Airport is closed if you arrive at 2:25am? Yes indeedy. The things you learn when you travel. And did you know you have to get on that train thing and go to Terminal 4 to hang around at that time in the morning? And that they had Attila the Hun design the chairs you are forced to utilize in Terminal 4? But worse is the feeling of getting in line before 5AM and seeing the monitor saying your 7AM flight is canceled, calling the airline and having them confirm that you will not be able to get home before your son’s graduation. Thankfully, they “un-cancelled” the flight ten minutes later, and I made it back in time. Note to self: bring more Advil for that dull, aching headache that comes when you skip sleeping for long periods of time.
If Dave Armstrong had managed to catch a ride, it would have been a veritable congress of Roman Catholic apologists at the Huntington Townhouse Thursday evening for the Great Debate IX. As it was, Gary Michuta was joined by Steve Ray and David Palm. The topic was not one of those “magnet” types that really gets folks excited and brings them out to the debate. But it is obvious we have been trying to hit the key issues regarding Roman Catholicism in the series of debates, and this is an important topic. Mr. Michuta was very well prepared and had obviously done his homework. Just a few observations:
First, it seemed his audience was pretty defined: Roman Catholics. That is, his arguments assumed a pre-existing belief in the canonicity of the Apocryphal books, and very little was offered to convince the unconvinced of the reality of that view. Instead, it was very clear that study had been done of previous debates touching upon the topic, and hence the presentation was focused upon offering other possible interpretations of the data presented by such sources as Roger Beckwith or William Webster rather than providing a robust, positive foundation for actually believing a book like Judith is inspired Scripture. But then again, given the functional reality of sola ecclesia in Roman Catholic apologetics, how else could it be?
I wondered, even during the debate itself, whether the Roman Catholics in the audience were noting how very different his approach is than that seen on the web. That is, the argumentation being presented lacked the standard “Luther rejected these books because of purgatory” style simplicity that seems so compelling to most. I am hoping that the tremendous difference in presentation will, itself, indicate that popular level RC apologetics are very substandard.
I was unable to understand a number of replies that were offered to my questions during cross-examination, and upon speaking with others after the debate, they could not follow the replies, either, and viewed them either as capitulations or chalked them up to obfuscation. When faced with Romans 3:2 and the fact that the oracles of God had been entrusted to the Jews, we were told “oracles” does not mean “written.” OK, but at the time of Paul’s writing, what did he mean by the phrase? I could not find out. Likewise, I heard no response to the fact that the Glossa Ordinaria, the equivalent of the NIV Study Bible of the Middle Ages, specifically rejected the Apocryphal books as canonical. I should have inquired concerning this during the cross-examination, but failed to do so.
In talking with folks afterward the key issue that seemed to stick with them was the fact that given Michuta’s position, we would have to conclude that the Assumption of Moses and the book of Enoch are likewise canonical works due to their citation by Jude. Outside of embracing the final authority of Trent, the arguments presented, including the bold assertion that the Lord Jesus and the Apostles used the Apocrypha in their teachings, would lead inevitably to this conclusion. It was interesting that when I asked Gary Michuta if the Apostles or the Lord ever cited the Apocryphal books with the key phrases “it is written” or “thus says the Lord,” his reply was to spend at least two minutes enumerating the way in which those key phrases are used and how few of the Old Testament books are cited in that fashion, even though he himself had referred to those key phrases as important in evaluating the use of the early Fathers. I finally had to stop him and get back to the question, at which time he said that no, they did not do so. Evidently, the idea was to create as much doubt as possible about the canon of the Old Testament at the time of the writing of the New Testament so that the Apocryphal books could be sort of “grandfathered in” so to speak.
As always, the cross-examination was when the issue was most clearly addressed. For some reason Michuta asked me some questions that really did not help his case, such as asking me to relate the history of the Mishnah and Talmud. I am not sure if there was an assumption on the part of the Roman Catholic side that I am personally unfamiliar with ancient Judaism or just what, but while I could understand the thrust of the questions, they were not designed with a debate audience in mind, to be sure. On the other hand, his replies regarding Judith, his assertion that Trent “passed over in silence” the difference between the LXX and the Vulgate (and hence ended up promulgating a different canon than Carthage and Hippo), and his refusal to see that Leo X approved the publication of a viewpoint that would bring the anathema of God only three decades later, all left many in the audience unconvinced, to say the least.
Again it was an honor to have the opportunity to speak to important issues, and I thank Chris Arnzen and Brian McLaughlin especially for all their hard work in organizing the debates. Of course, Rich Pierce and Warren Smith labored diligently and beyond the call of duty once again to record the debate so that all of you not in the New York area will be able to enjoy it, and many others joined in to make it all happen.