Sunday, April 15, 2012

There's nothing quite like watching an Anti-Catholic Apologist saw off the branch he's sitting on.

On Facebook, someone asked the following:

This seems like definitive scriptural proof that we cannot necessarily have confidence in even the earliest oral traditions. How would a Catholic respond to this

The link is to this Triablogue post:

21 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together...20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (Jn 21:1-2,20-23).

One argument which Catholic epologists commonly deploy is the claim that you can’t find Protestant distinctives in the early church. Protestant distinctives are theological innovations.

This argument takes two forms: (a) the claim that a Protestant distinctive (e.g. sola fide) isn’t mentioned in the church fathers, or (b) the claim that Protestant theology contradicts the church fathers (e.g. the real presence). (a) is an argument from silence (i.e. absence of evidence), whereas (b) appeals to (alleged) counterevidence.

This argument is generally bolstered by the attendant claim that patristic testimony, especially from the apostolic fathers, is presumptively apostolic. The apostolic fathers reputedly knew the apostles. Hence, they are transmitting apostolic doctrine.

There are several steps to this argument. Key assumptions. For instance, how many of the apostolic fathers actually knew the apostles? If so, which apostles did they know? How old were the apostolic fathers when they allegedly heard the apostles? How often did they hear them?

In addition, the appeal to patristic attestation is double-edged. Newman introduced the theory of development to account for innovations in Catholic dogma.

But let’s address the argument head-on. In Jn 21:23 we have an agraphon: an oral tradition of something Jesus said.

We can also narrow down the source to one of the seven disciples present when Jesus spoke. This was then handed down by word-of-mouth.

[BTW, this is a mark of authenticity. If John’s Gospel was fictitious, why would the narrator invent 7 disciples for this post-Easter scene, rather than the 11 remaining disciples (prescinding Judas)? This is the sort of incidental detail that we’d expect from the narrator if he were an eyewitness, reporting what he saw.]

Yet what Jesus originally said quickly became garbled in transmission. It became a false rumor about the Parousia.

That doesn’t necessarily mean one of the seven disciples misreported what Jesus said. Rather, that what he reported was misinterpreted.

John therefore adds this editorial postscript to correct that distortion. John quotes Jesus, then carefully parses his statement.

But if we didn’t have that canonical corrective, if we were at the mercy of oral tradition, then the rumor would assume the status of venerable apostolic tradition. An erroneous tradition.

And not a mistake about some side issue, but something as fundamental as the return of Christ.

This doesn’t mean testimonial evidence is inherently suspect. We generally remember events better than words. And we generally remember the gist of what was said better than the verbatim wording.

The fourth Gospel itself doesn’t rely on the vicissitudes of unaided memory. Inspiration is necessary to refresh fading memories (Jn 14:26).

My response - on Facebook:

The Triablogue argument is confusing oral tradition with inerrancy. It also ignores the fact that John 21 offers an example of the Church’s teaching authority in action.

First, there is nothing in John 21 that says that anyone misquoted or misremembered anything. Jesus actually said, ““If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” in reference to the Beloved Disciple. “Brothers” actually speculated that John was not to die until the Second Coming.

Where in that is there anything involving “faded” memories or erroneous memories of events?

There simply isn’t.

Second, the Triablogue account engages in a bad bit of historical anachronism. Namely, because we now know that the speculation about John remaining alive until the Parousia is now known to be false, the writer retrojects our present knowledge to the past when John was alive and no one knew that the speculation was wrong! The speculation could have been correct, after all. So, the Triablogue critique that seems to assume that the speculation was lame or insipid or clearly wrong is nonsense.

We can compare the speculation about the Beloved Disciple to the various rumors that whip up excitement among certain sects of Protestants. For example, will there be a “rapture”? No one thought there would be until around 1850. Does that mean that speculation about the rapture is “wrong”? Probably, but we really won’t know until it doesn’t happen. Is that an example of the “failing of oral tradition”? Not hardly.

Third, John died without the return of Christ. That left the question of how to explain Jesus’ accurately remembered statement with the reasonable bit of theological speculation. When similar things happen with Protestants, entire new churches are started. (See e.g., the Seventh Day Adventists.)

In Catholicism, in contrast, there is a teaching magisterium aided by the Holy Spirit to…you know…teach! That means that the Church can explain authoritatively that Jesus hadn’t meant that John would live to the Parousia. Of course, if it was a modern Protestant church, there would have been a dozen different interpretations leading to a dozen different new churches.

Finally, consider how silly this argument is. All of this occurred before the Gospel of John was written!

And, yet, they got it right!

Without a written text!

We know that this happened before the writing of the Gospel of John, by the way, because the Gospel of John is talking about how the Beloved Disciple didn’t live to see the Second Coming and how this misunderstood but accurately remembered oral saying of Jesus – an oral tradition that would not have been recorded in writing but for the fact that the Beloved Disciple had inconveniently died before the Gospel of John was written – was floating around “Christendom.”

My big objection with this article is obviously its anachronism. It somehow assumes that there was a written Gospel of John to act as some kind of check on things – as if everyone was confused until some author wrote down the Gospel of John and then – poof! – all doubt was cleared up.

As if for the first 60 years of Christian history, Christians were just sitting on their thumbs waiting for a inspired writing because if it’s written it must be true, but if it’s just an oral statement it can’t be trusted.

Think about that last, and you see “chronological snobbery.” Protestantism develops after the printing press and so incorporates a human tradition that could only have developed after the invention of the printing press – namely that writing is trustworthy and oral tradition is not. That, however, is a perspective that the First Century Christians would never had recognized. See Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.

The Facebook guy apparently relayed it to Triablogue:

Thanks Peter; unfortunately that response fails pretty badly as Steve points out here:

Here's the Triablogue response:

Here’s a Catholic response to my recent post:

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2012/04/agrapha.html


Peter Sean Bradley The Triablogue argument is confusing oral tradition with inerrancy.


No, I didn’t confuse them. Rather, I demonstrated how an oral tradition of the highest pedigree turned out to be unreliable.

It also ignores the fact that John 21 offers an example of the Church’s teaching authority in action.


Actually, it offers an example of the Bible’s teaching authority in action.

First, there is nothing in John 21 that says that anyone misquoted or misremembered anything. Jesus actually said, ““If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” in reference to the Beloved Disciple.


Jesus made a statement (21:22) that gave rise to a false rumor (21:23). How did his true statement give rise to a false rumor? I can only think of two possibilities: it was misreported or it was misinterpreted.

“Brothers” actually speculated that John was not to die until the Second Coming.


That’s the false rumor. They attributed to Jesus something he didn’t say. They misquoted him. So John corrects the rumor:

“22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?””


Note the relationship between v22 & v23.


Where in that is there anything involving “faded” memories or erroneous memories of events? There simply isn’t.


I already explained that. Why is Bradley unable to follow a simple lucid argument. I drew attention to Jn 14:26 (“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you”).

Why would Jesus send the Holy Spirit to bring to remind them of everything he said if unaided memory was sufficient? Why can’t Bradley draw an elementary inference like that?

Second, the Triablogue account engages in a bad bit of historical anachronism. Namely, because we now know that the speculation about John remaining alive until the Parousia is now known to be false, the writer retrojects our present knowledge to the past when John was alive and no one knew that the speculation was wrong! The speculation could have been correct, after all. So, the Triablogue critique that seems to assume that the speculation was lame or insipid or clearly wrong is nonsense.


i) It’s not clear what Bradley is alluding to. Is he saying the narrator retrojects our present knowledge into the past? Is he saying the narrator is guilty of a historical anachronism?

In the nature of the case, John is writing after the rumor spread, to dispel a false rumor that was circulating in the early church. But that’s not anachronistic.

Is Bradley saying the Johannine account is unhistorical? That this is an etiological fable, a just-so story? If so, attacking the credibility of the Bible is an odd way to defend the credibility of oral tradition, or the church of Rome. For one thing, Jn 21 is the source of a standard papal prooftext (vv15-17). But even if (arguendo) we grant the Catholic interpretation, if Jn 21 is a fictitious backstory, if Jesus never said that, then so much for the traditional Petrine text.

ii) Or by “the writer,” does he mean me? But I’m not adding anything to Jn 21. I’m merely drawing some obvious logical inferences. My arguing is only “anachronistic” if Jn 21 is anachronistic.

We can compare the speculation about the Beloved Disciple to the various rumors that whip up excitement among certain sects of Protestants. For example, will there be a “rapture”? No one thought there would be until around 1850. Does that mean that speculation about the rapture is “wrong”? Probably, but we really won’t know until it doesn’t happen. Is that an example of the “failing of oral tradition”? Not hardly.


i) Actually, the notion of a rapture goes back to 1 Thes 4:17. Of course, how that event should be understood is a different question.

ii) Apropos (i), that’s not based on oral tradition. That’s a misinterpretation of Scripture.

Third, John died without the return of Christ. That left the question of how to explain Jesus’ accurately remembered statement with the reasonable bit of theological speculation. When similar things happen with Protestants, entire new churches are started. (See e.g., the Seventh Day Adventists.)


That’s one explanation for Jn 21. Another explanation is that Peter’s death, rather than John’s death, occasioned this postscript.

Moreover, even if John's impending death were in view, that doesn't mean John can't correct the rumor before he dies.


In Catholicism, in contrast, there is a teaching magisterium aided by the Holy Spirit to…you know…teach!


That assumes what he needs to prove.

That means that the Church can explain authoritatively that Jesus hadn’t meant that John would live to the Parousia.


We didn’t get that from “the Church” or the Magisterium. Rather, we got that from the text of Scripture (i.e. Jn 21).

Of course, if it was a modern Protestant church, there would have been a dozen different interpretations leading to a dozen different new churches.


One erroneous interpretation isn’t preferable to several erroneous interpretations. Contrasting an erroneous Catholic interpretation to one or more erroneous Protestant interpretations is not an argument for Catholicism.

Finally, consider how silly this argument is. All of this occurred before the Gospel of John was written!
And, yet, they got it right!
Without a written text!


i) Who got what right? The “brothers’ didn’t get it right. They got it wrong.

The narrator got it right. And the narrator wrote it down.

ii) What does Bradley mean when he says “all this occurred before the Gospel of John was written?” The event recorded in Jn 21 took place before the Gospel was written. And the rumor took place before the Gospel was written.

But “getting it right” didn’t take place without a written text. For the text is the medium by which John corrects the erroneous rumor. John doesn’t first correct the rumor by word-of-mouth, then later write down what he said. No, this is the occasion when he corrects the rumor. Through this very chapter.

We know that this happened before the writing of the Gospel of John, by the way, because the Gospel of John is talking about how the Beloved Disciple didn’t live to see the Second Coming…


Notice how Bradley is turning the prospective viewpoint of the narrative description into a retrospective viewpoint. But the text never says the Beloved Disciple didn’t live to see the Second Coming. The text isn’t cast in the past tense. It transcribes a conversation about the future, not the past. About what will or won’t happen, not what has already taken place.

…and how this misunderstood but accurately remembered oral saying of Jesus…


It’s just the opposite of an “accurately remembered oral saying of Jesus.” Rather, it corrects an inaccurately rumored statement.

…an oral tradition that would not have been recorded in writing but for the fact that the Beloved Disciple had inconveniently died before the Gospel of John was written – was floating around “Christendom.”


i) Bradley is systematically confusing the dominical statement in v22 with the rumored statement in v23. V23 is a distortion of v22.

ii) Bradley is also assuming that Jn 21 is a posthumous addition by a different hand than the narrator of Jn 1-20. That’s hardly the traditional Roman Catholic position. Rather, that’s the modernist position.

iii) He also ignores arguments to the contrary.

My big objection with this article is obviously its anachronism. It somehow assumes that there was a written Gospel of John to act as some kind of check on things – as if everyone was confused until some author wrote down the Gospel of John and then – poof! – all doubt was cleared up.


And why do I assume that? Because that’s right there in the text of Jn 21! That’s one of the functions of Jn 21.

It’s striking to see how Bradley’s unconditional allegiance to his denomination blinds him to what’s staring him right in the face. Jn 21 is a text. I’m quoting from a text. Jn 21 explicitly “acts as a check on” the false rumor in question. It’s written, in part, to “clear up” that misconception. This isn’t something I made up. This isn’t something I’m projecting onto the text. You can see it for yourself.

As if for the first 60 years of Christian history, Christians were just sitting on their thumbs waiting for a inspired writing because if it’s written it must be true, but if it’s just an oral statement it can’t be trusted.


Notice how Bradley is utterly impervious to the explicit counterevidence.

Incidentally, I’m inclined to date John’s Gospel to the 60s, not the 90s. But however we date it, we can’t disregard the data in Jn 21 because it doesn’t comport with our preconceived theory of “the Church.

Think about that last, and you see “chronological snobbery.” Protestantism develops after the printing press and so incorporates a human tradition that could only have developed after the invention of the printing press – namely that writing is trustworthy and oral tradition is not.


Notice how he disregards my qualified statement about testimonial evidence.

That, however, is a perspective that the First Century Christians would never had recognized. See Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Eyewitnesses-Gospels-Eyewitness-Testimony/dp/0802831621


Several problems:

i) Catholic culture is not an oral culture. Catholic culture is profoundly textual. Catholic teaching is disseminated through the written word as well as the spoken word. Patristic writings. Conciliar documents. Lectionaries. Catechisms. The Vulgate. Canon law. Papal bulls, encyclicals, &. Monks transcribing texts. All this antedates the printing press by many centuries.

Catholicism doesn’t operate like Alex Haley’s Roots, where bards pass along oral lore from one generation to the next by telling stories. So Protestant textuality is no more anachronistic than Catholic textuality.

ii) Why does Bradley think (or rather, not think) we have a New Testament–or an Old Testament? Why does he think (or rather, not think) we have Bible writers who committing things to writing for posterity? Why does he think (or rather, not think) we have Scripture in the first place? A written record? A documentary account?

Interesting how apart from picking nits and mischaracterizing what I wrote, Steve Hays of Triablogue doesn't address my actual points.

My response back to Facebook guy:

Bnonn Tennant. If you think that a response filled with begging the question, non sequiturs, ad hominem and strawmen arguments is persuasive, there is not much I can do.

Let's deal with a few of Triablogue’s question begging approaches to the issue - Where is there evidence that Jesus’ statement was misreported? Answer: There is no evidence for that. Triablogue insinuates that Jesus’ statement was misreported, but that is not what the text says. The text says that people were basing their speculation on what Jesus said.

First, is there evidence that the statement was misunderstood? Not necessarily. What Jesus actually said could be answered “Yes, the Beloved Disciple will see the Second Coming” or “No, the Beloved Disciple will not see the Second Coming.” The error – which people to this day fall into, including Protestants with “Rapture Hysteria” and huge arguments about “pre-mill” and “post-mill” – is ascribing too much certainty to texts that are not all that certain.

Second, would the statement have been any less misunderstood if it had been in writing between circa 33 AD and circa 90 AD? There's no evidence that it would have been. In fact, again, looking at Protestantism – as much as it may shock – shock! – Triablogue to do so, we see all kinds of errors of this kind even though Protestantism claims to have a definite text. Baptists, Calvinists and Lutherans damn each other to Hell based on their different positions on the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. Why so much dispute if Triablogue is right that the problem arises only when there is an oral tradition?

Third, with respect to strawmen arguments, Triablogue’s approach to oral tradition is …what’s the word…ah, yes.. “moronic.” Is Triablogue really asserting that any speculation by anyone constitutes “oral tradition”? Is he claiming that Catholics teach that the magisterial teaching authority steps in immediately whenever anyone says something wrong somewhere?

If Triablogue does, then he should never read or listen to Bart Ehrman who believes that the Holy Spirit should have prevented copying errors when the scriptures were being copied.

Bart Ehrman’s position is lame, but for the same reason so is Triablogue’s position.

Fourth, his ahistorical position that the Gospel of John corrected the misinformation among those who believed that the Beloved Disciple was going to live to see the Second Coming is knee-slappingly funny in its polemical approach. How does he know this? Obviously, he cannot. Clearly, however, since the Beloved Disciple died before the Gospel of John was written – because the Gospel of John mentions the conundrum – the church had worked out the true meaning of Jesus’ accurately reported words before the Gospel of John was written.

But let’s say that the Gospel of John had been written before the Beloved Disciple had died, does Triablogue really believe that the statement “if he tarries till I come what is it to you?” would never have been interpreted as possibly meaning that the Beloved Disciple was to live until the Second Coming?

Incidentally, many religious faiths have traditions of secret or hidden witnesses tarrying until the return of the founder – the Mormons have the “Three Nephilim” and the Shi’ites have the “hidden Imam.” For that matter, English folklore has Arthur hidden away to return at the right hour. Consider also the “Wandering Jew.”

Christianity does not have a tradition about how the Beloved Disciple is still living to this day in hiding waiting for the parousia. Why not? Answer: because there was a teaching authority that taught rightly. That teaching authority has to be a living teaching authority – go back to my question about what would have happened if the Gospel of John had been written before the Beloved Disciple had died. If Protestantism had existed at that point, what would it have said that wasn’t a “development of doctrine” or was an authoritative statement from “scripture alone.”

Fifth, the most blindingly stunning problem in the Triablogue post is that it doesn’t seem to understand that for the first three generations of Christianity, apart from some letters of Paul, all of Christianity was Oral Tradition. The gospels were chosen because they fit that oral tradition; if they hadn’t they would have been gospels. That’s why the “gospels” that weren’t chosen aren’t canonical.

Like a lot of Protestants, Triablogue wants to ignore everything that doesn’t look like a Baptist church meeting – “Protestant Blinders” we might call it. Christians didn’t have the Bible until the Second Century! Yet, apparently, they were sufficiently competent to pick the right books without having a written text to turn to!

Like evolutionists, who have to bob and weave about how life transitioned from non-life to life capable of evolution, scripture-reading Protestants have to bob and weave about where the Bible came from. This is, of course, a key problem of Protestant epistemology and ontology and they generally just assume the canon into existence. That’s what Triablogue is doing.

A real problem is that Triablogue is sawing the branch he’s sitting on. By arguing that oral tradition is incompetent and wrong, how do we know that the Bible is right or that we have the right Bible? Because Triablogue says so? Good luck with that. Because the Bible says so? Well, the Koran makes the same claim.

The answer is that we trust the Bible because we trust the Church that saw the Resurrected Jesus. (See Augustine, Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus 5:6 “For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.”)

Again, I recommend that you read the Bauckham book. It’s written by an Evangelical, so it is “ritually clean.” Spend more time on honest scholarship, and less reading polemical anti-Catholics – in other words, keep an open mind – would be my suggestion.

I will not respond to a “fisking.” I will respond to a coherent argument that sets forth evidence and arguments.

6 comments:

Mike Burgess said...

Bravo, Peter. Well done!

Mike Burgess said...

Bravo, Peter. Well done!

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Beware the black hole abyss of dog pooh that is the 'Triablogue.' Somewhere online somebody once posted a diagram of what is it is like arguing with the ‘Triablogue.’ I’ll see if I can find it.

Peter Sean Bradley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Sean Bradley said...

Thanks.

Judging from Stat Counter, it looks like Triablogue posted something. I'd warrant that it generally calls me an idiot and mischaracteris my arguments and continus the Quixotic argument that Only Things In Writing Can Be Infallible, while cursing me for my "papist" blindness.

I've seen them spin tighter and tighter into their epistemic closure and I've got no interest in getting involved.

 
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