Thursday, March 20, 2014

Did Athanasius Say Tradition Plus Scripture?

One oft-quoted passage of Athanaisus comes from his second festal letter:
Festal Letter 2, section 6:
For not only in outward form did those wicked men dissemble, putting on as the Lord says sheep’s clothing, and appearing like unto whited sepulchres; but they took those divine words in their mouth, while they inwardly cherished evil intentions. And the first to put on this appearance was the serpent, the inventor of wickedness from the beginning—the devil,—who, in disguise, conversed with Eve, and forthwith deceived her. But after him and with him are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power. Therefore Paul justly praises the Corinthians, because their opinions were in accordance with his traditions. And the Lord most righteously reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Wherefore do ye also transgress the commandments of God on account of your traditions.’ For they changed the commandments they received from God after their own understanding, preferring to observe the traditions of men. And about these, a little after, the blessed Paul again gave directions to the Galatians who were in danger thereof, writing to them, ‘If any man preach to you aught else than that ye have received, let him be accursed.’
Usually the way this is cited is to quote merely the following portion: "But after him and with him are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power."  It is stated or implied by the people providing this quotation that when Athanasius says "opinions as the saints have handed down" he means "oral tradition" or something of that kind.  That's not correct.

Instead, the "opinions" Athanasius has in mind is simply the Scriptures themselves taken in their correct meaning.  Likewise the "them" that the heretics receive as "traditions of men" are the Scriptures, not oral traditions.

Athanasius is saying that the heretics do not know the Scriptures nor the power of the Scriptures.  Therefore, instead of following the text and meaning of the Scriptures they prefer to follow the traditions of men.

This can be seen from an examination of the context preceding as well as the context following.  In the context preceding:
Festal Letter 2, section 5:
Oh! my brethren, how shall we admire the loving-kindness of the Saviour? With what power, and with what a trumpet should a man cry out, exalting these His benefits! That not only should we bear His image, but should receive from Him an example and pattern of heavenly conversation; that as He hath begun, we should go on, that suffering, we should not threaten, being reviled, we should not revile again, but should bless them that curse, and in everything commit ourselves to God who judgeth righteously. For those who are thus disposed, and fashion themselves according to the Gospel, will be partakers of Christ, and imitators of apostolic conversation, on account of which they shall be deemed worthy of that praise from him, with which he praised the Corinthians, when he said, ‘I praise you that in everything ye are mindful of me.’ Afterwards, because there were men who used his words, but chose to hear them as suited their lusts, and dared to pervert them, as the followers of Hymenæus and Alexander, and before them the Sadducees, who as he said, ‘having made shipwreck of faith,’ scoffed at the mystery of the resurrection, he immediately proceeded to say, ‘And as I have delivered to you traditions, hold them fast.’ That means, indeed, that we should think not otherwise than as the teacher has delivered.
Notice that "the teacher delivered" refers to Paul as "the teacher."  It is what Paul handed down, namely the Scriptures, that Athanasius has in mind.  The heretics are those who "were men who used his words, but chose to hear them as suited their lusts, and dared to pervert them."  In other words, they did not consider the words as they were written, but as they wished they were written.  To put it in modern terms, they eisegeted rather than exegeting.

Again, in the context following:
Festal Letter 2, section 7:
For there is no fellowship whatever between the words of the saints and the fancies of human invention; for the saints are the ministers of the truth, preaching the kingdom of heaven, but those who are borne in the opposite direction have nothing better than to eat, and think their end is that they shall cease to be, and they say, ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.’ Therefore blessed Luke reproves the inventions of men, and hands down the narrations of the saints, saying in the beginning of the Gospel, ‘Since many have presumed to write narrations of those events of which we are assured, as those who from the beginning were witnesses and ministers of the Word have delivered to us; it hath seemed good to me also, who have adhered to them all from the first, to write correctly in order to thee, O excellent Theophilus, that thou mayest know the truth concerning the things in which thou hast been instructed.’ For as each of the saints has received, that they impart without alteration, for the confirmation of the doctrine of the mysteries. Of these the (divine) word would have us disciples, and these should of right be our teachers, and to them only is it necessary to give heed, for of them only is ‘the word faithful and worthy of all acceptation;’ these not being disciples because they heard from others, but being eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word, that which they had heard from Him have they handed down.
Notice that Athanasius here clarifies what opinions of the saints he has in mind - the testimony found in Scripture, such as Luke's Gospel.

Notice as well that Athanasius says "to them only" it is necessary to give heed.  Notice as well that he clarifies "these not being disciples because they heard from others, but being eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word".  And Athanasius has hit the nail on the head.  The purpose of Luke's gospel was to memorialize the preceding oral tradition and to provide certainty to the readers.

In short, Athanasius was affirming that Scripture is not merely a human tradition, but rather the testimony of eye-witnesses and has apostolic authority, having been handed down from "the teacher."

- TurretinFan

Olive Baptist - September 13, 2009

On September 13, 2009, Drs. Emir and Ergun Caner apparently delivered four messages (two each - there was a third speaker who delivered two messages, Paige Patterson) at Olive Baptist:

  • "Contend Earnestly for the Faith" 9:30 AM Service Message Jude 3-4 Dr.Emir Caner (link to mp3)

Emir begins by pointing out that he and Ergun were baptized in the same church (as one another) and called to preach in the same church (as one another).  He then goes on to note that the difference is that Ergun was not born in the U.S., joking that Ergun is an "undocumented worker."

Emir tells the story of an annoying kid who kept after him until he went to church.

  • "Preachers in the Hands of an Angry God" 11 AM Service Message Jeremiah 28 Dr.Ergun Caner (link to mp3)

0:15 "I'm not real good at fakin' it."

I am not sure whether to agree or disagree with this.

1:50 "The only reason that you can understand me, is because God has to constantly break me down. When our family came to this country - Turkish, Immigrant, Yankee, Sunni Muslim, our father raised us with the constant admonition, find a woman, marry a woman who is submissive, who will obey you - and I married a southern belle - that don't work."

The only reason you can understand him is because he came to America from Sweden as a toddler and was raised in Ohio.

2:55 "Her father is from Possum Kill, NC"

We have yet to see any evidence that there is such a place.

3:20 "With a name like Ergun Mehmet Caner, Butch"

His real name is Ergun Michael Caner.  His "Butch" nickname apparently goes back to his college days, before he met his wife.

  • "Global Apologetics" 5 PM Service Message [none] Dr.Ergun Caner (link to mp3)

17:10 "When I debate - and all of our debates are free, got to iTunes or whatever and you type in - and you can download all of our debates, they're all free - but when we debate we have two rules number 1 - nobody gets paid, because what do they say about Christians all the time? it's always about money - so we do our debates - they sign the contract, I sign the contract and it says nobody gets paid - and the second part of it is, no Christians are allowed to ask me questions, because if a Christian asks me a question, it sometimes smells like a setup."

We've previously discussed (here) the items Dr. Caner had up on iTunes.  They weren't debates.  Furthermore, as far as I can tell - these were for classes Caner taught at Liberty.  The description, therefore, doesn't seem to match what we find.

20:30 "I was reached because one kid in high school, loved me for four years the way Christ loved him."

This suggests Caner was saved as a high school senior, which does not match other accounts of his alleged conversion date, or that of his brother.

20:45 "After I became a Christian, I lost my family - I lost everything I loved and owned - I lost everything in one fell swoop."

This doesn't seem very accurate - he seems to have lost only his relationship with his non-custodial father.

21:30 "Jerry came after me for four years. When I finally saw that wall, my name was the last one on his list. And every year he put up a new list, and all of his friends had become Christians except for me."

Again, notice the "four years."  Also, compare with Emir's comments regarding the "annoying kid" which apparently refers to the same Jerry.  Why wasn't Emir on the list if he was always annoying Emir and if Ergun was saved before Emir?  This doesn't seem to make much sense.

22:50 "So, I go into places where they hate me, we sign a contract that says nobody gets paid, no Christians can ask me questions ..." 

Where are any of these contracts?

47:14 "Here's a little encouragement for you middle-schoolers and high-schoolers. I was a straight C, graduated with a 2.0, I graduated number 207 out of 404 people. I was in the random middle of my high school class." 

I question this for a variety of reasons, such as that he seems to have made a similar claim about his undergrad (see here) and because it would be surprising to me if about half the graduating class averaged below a C.

  • "An Audience of One" 6 PM Service Message 1 Kings Dr.Emir Caner (link to mp3)

25:15 "I realize I need to baptize her in Swedish, that's our native tongue. That's what she only spoke. She never spoke English in 30 years, living in this country."

I appreciate that Emir was forthright about the fact that his grandma was Swedish and that his native tongue was Swedish, not "Arabic" or "Turkish" or anything like that.  Still, wouldn't it be good for Emir to come out and say, "Yes, when Ergun pretended that he speaks Arabic or claimed it was his language before English, he was lying."


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

One of the Challenges to Extreme Pro-Life Rhetoric

The Bible is not explicit about when exactly human life begins. Don't misunderstand me - the Bible is clear that human life begins in the womb, prior to birth. However, the Bible does not explicitly say "life begins at the instant of fertilization." Moreover, such a view encounters some problems. One of those problems is the case of identical twins and - in rare cases - identical triplets (see this cute example).

These identical siblings come from the same fertilized egg. Which of the triplets then began life at fertilization? And did the others begin life at all, since they only had a separate existence after fertilization? Or all of the triplets one person? The first question seems inscrutable, and the other questions seem to suggest that life does not have to begin at fertilization.

Of course, God knows the future and knows whether the egg will ultimately split and form two or more babies. So, God could give a single fertilized egg several souls at once. The problem with this ad hoc response is that if God can give multiple souls, then God also could give zero souls to a fertilized egg that he knows will not implant or will otherwise die. Neither of those ad hoc explanations is from the Bible.

I recognize that for "conservative" Roman Catholics, the view today is that life begins at the moment of fertilization (this differs from earlier views that life begins at a quickening time during the pregnancy). I don't think that Roman Catholics, however, have a compelling response to the problem of identical twins/triplets.

None of the above necessarily implies a particular way of handling the abortion question. It does suggest that we might want to be cautious about being dogmatic about the very earliest stages of pregnancy, namely the time during which it is possible for a single egg to become multiple children.

Likewise, by the same token, it makes sense for us to cautiously over-protect unborn children - perhaps even attempting to legally protect fertilized human eggs prior to any division.  Since we are not sure when exactly God gives a human soul, it makes sense conservatively to protect from the fertilized egg onward.

One may object that the Bible speaks of "conception" and people possessing various qualities from the time they were "conceived" in the womb.  This itself does argue for a relatively early time of human life within the pregnancy.  Nevertheless, remember that we should not read back our understandings of human biology anachronistically onto the text.  Thus, we should not assume that "conception" in these texts refers to the moment of fertilization.

In any event, I post this not to throw cold water on the pro-life movement, nor to discourage people from protecting the unborn. Rather, I post this to encourage pro-lifers to be more cautious and circumspect in their rhetoric - focusing on what we know (that unborn children are human beings with souls) rather than on what we do not know (namely the precise moment of ensoulment).