Where’s That in the Bible?

OpenBibleHow many times have you heard someone respond to a specific Catholic teaching, say on Mary or on the papacy, with the question, “Where’s that in the Bible?” So often the intent of this question is to imply that these Catholic teachings are in fact not found in Scripture, and are therefore not to be believed.

But where’s that in the Bible? Where does the Bible teach that what Christians should believe must be found in Scripture? The theological assumption here is often called by its technical Latin name, sola Scriptura, or Scripture alone, and amounts to something like, “the Bible is the only authority on matters of Christian doctrine.”

Certainly 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (NIV). That all Scripture is God-breathed, or inspired, is of course true and is not something only taught by Protestants; the Catholic Church equally affirms this teaching, and in fact cites this passage, e.g. in the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 dogmatic constitution on divine revelation, Dei Verbum (no. 11; see also the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ftnt 70 to no. 105).

What is at issue here is the divine authority inherent in Apostolic Tradition, of which the Bible itself is a part. In 1 Timothy 3:15 we also discover that the Church is the “pillar and foundation of truth” (NIV). Moreover, 2 Thessalonians 2:15 exhorts its audience (including us) to, “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us” (NASB).

Such Apostolic Tradition is important for many reasons, one of which is that Scripture is difficult to understand. Acts 8:26-40 attests to this when Philip meets with the Ethiopian eunuch who was reading from the suffering servant passage in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Philip asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?” to which the Ethiopian eunuch responds, “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” (30-31, NIV). The Apostle Peter also highlights the difficulty of interpreting Scripture. Peter mentions Paul’s Letters, “in which are some things hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16, NASB).

What we have in Scripture is indeed sacred, but Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1). Jesus embodies the fullness of God’s communication to humanity. What Jesus taught was passed down in Scripture, but was also faithfully handed on by His greatest of students, the Apostles, some of whom wrote portions of Scripture. Jesus never wrote a Gospel, nor did He ask others to do so, rather He built a Church (Matthew 16:18), and promised to remain with it forever (Matthew 28:20). Indeed, it was this very Church that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit determined which books belonged in Scripture and which ones did not.

“Where’s that in the Bible?” is an important question, and I think that Catholic teachings can indeed be found in Scripture. But, a more biblical question might be, “Where does the Church teach that?”

62 thoughts on “Where’s That in the Bible?”

  1. After all of this time I can still not discern whether you think that “Apostolic tradition” is actual information that has been transmitted from person to person throughout history. If so, I can only say, “Really?” Does anyone really know what it is until it emerges from the sea of views represented Christian writers throughout history? I know you will say that you can trace certain views to early times, or that it was so accepted as to be implicit and not worth talking about, but I think you could prove almost anything this way. The collected works of the Greek and Latin fathers comes to something like 400 volumes. You can do anything with that, especially with loose, imaginative readings eager to prove a point.
    (I’ve thought that for fun sometime I might “prove” from scripture and the fathers that John had the true primacy and that the true church is First Presbyerian in Ephesus or some such thing. I’ll bet I could do it. I can see it now, “Son of Thunder, the beloved disciple, who leaned upon the breast of Christ and to whom Christ committed his mother, alone unmartyred, rumored to live until Christ returned – this, a clear figure for in an office with successors, of course)
    I’ll tell you, this whole apostolic tradition thing is too slippery and suspicious. Suspicious, I say! It is one of those things that is so non-defined and pliable that it is immune from any kind of meaningful critique. It’s like silly-putty, fun to play with but nowhere near strong enoug the entire edifice of modern Rome.
    I am always suspicious of things like this. It is like me saying, “There is a gnome in the closet, but he disappears every time you open the door.” Impossible to prove because there is no real evidence for it, but impossible to disprove because of the way the concept is structured.

    1. If I understand correctly, one of your major problems with Apostolic Tradition is that it can be used as a straw man to argue any point that the Catholic Magisterium wishes to argue, however, is not this very thing done with the Bible among varying Christian denominations? How can one denomination Biblically demonstrate that the Catholic Church is the whore of Babylon while another denomination can argue that it is the one true Church? How can one denomination argue that simple faith is all that is needed for salvation while other denominations argue the need for acts either alone or supplementary to faith? How can one denomination argue that John 6 is figurative while others argue that it is literal? Now, I’m not saying that you hold any of the above stated views, but it’s an apt analogy to your argument supposedly refuting the place of Tradition. It seems to be summed as thus: Tradition is vast and vague, sometimes contradictory. Something that is vague and contradictory cannot be used as legitimate evidence to support any claim. Therefore, Tradition cannot be used as legitimate evidence to support a claim. If so, one could easily replace “Tradition” in the above argument with “the Bible”. Now, if the Bible, thus, cannot be guaranteed to have a right meaning that can be discerned, then we must ask the question “Why would God give us something so important as His word, to be used to teach, without guaranteeing that there will be someone to rightly interpret it?” Don’t you think God would have seen through this design flaw? That is where we believe that He continues to interpret Scripture through the Holy Spirit. Now, it is obvious that the Spirit does not act through every individual, but we can see through John 20 and Acts 2 (to name a couple places) that the Spirit was given to the Apostles with the command to teach. If the Apostles were given the Spirit by which they can teach, then we must presume one of a couple things in light of moral controversies that crop up in the present: 1) the Apostles are no longer here, so we can no longer aptly apply Scripture, which implies other questions aimed at debunking Christianity or 2) there is some way that we know that the same authority granted to the Apostles is still at work in select individuals to make Scripture apply to all times. This is the light in which we believe that the Church is the “pillar and foundation of Truth”. Wouldn’t it make sense that the God who is Truth (John 14:6) would guarantee that this Truth can be known as Truth and not left to the whim and folly of men?

  2. Cameron, you hit the nail on the head. Any argument that can be used to counter Apostolic authority can also be used to counter Scriptural authority.

    However, I want to look at your last line, Josh:
    “Impossible to prove because there is no real evidence for it, but impossible to disprove because of the way the concept is structured.”

    Using this argument, you’ve just nullified every meta-physical, spiritual, philosophical, and theological argument ever presented by anyone, anywhere. If I had not read your previous comments and seen how strong your belief is, that line would cause me to think you’re a nihilist posing as a Christian.

    But then again, isn’t this what faith is all about? I cannot prove that Scripture is God-breathed. I cannot prove that Jesus was the merging of divinity and humanity. Heck, I cannot even prove that existence exists. But I have faith in all 3, and that’s what the idea of following a Faith Tradition (be it Catholic, Baptist, or whatever) is all about. Having faith in this God you purport to believe in. Having faith that he does in fact exist and that his son came to unite humanity and divinity. And having faith that he left a shepherd to tend his flock (John 21:15-17) as opposed to letting us be pulled apart by any wind of doctrine (Eph 4:11-16).

    I asked it before, but which is easier to believe: that God partially inspired men to both write and collect all of the appropriate books of the Bible but not to understand and believe the teachings, as well as infused everyone with an equal chance of getting their own personal interpretation right; or that God gave His people a steward, to shepherd His flock and who could and would preserve His teachings and be the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Tim 3:15).

    Josh, you say you’re suspicious, but you only seem suspicious b/c our Faith Tradition is not yours. Your own Faith Tradition – whatever it may be – has the same underlying principles, but you are your own pope. I believe it was Archbishop Fulton Sheen who once said “there is a shortage of vocations to the priesthood in the United States, but no shortage of vocations to the Papacy.” If you cite suspicion of the Catholics following a Tradition that is 2000 years old, how much more suspicious should you be of one that is only 500 years old, or 200, or 10?

  3. Dear Josh,

    Thanks for your engaging comment! And thanks as well for your precision and for focusing your response so tightly; it really helps, since I’m swamped with grading and packing as I head off for our break. I do want to respond, however inadequately, in the brief moment that I have.

    Your questions concerning apostolic tradition are so important. Your comments concerning the immense diversity of teachings found in the early church fathers, which can be extremely confusing, really resonates with me and with my own reading of the fathers. Part of the confusion I think is that we often want things down in writing, when we have to remember that the earliest Christians lived their Christianity long before anything was written. St. Paul was celebrating the Lord’s Supper long before he wrote anything about it in First Corinthians. St. John was celebrating the Lord’s Supper long before he wrote the Bread of Life discourse in the sixth chapter of his Gospel—which is NOT to say that he fictionalized the account, but I do think he was selective and his lived Christian experience affected how he told and shaped the account, as was his later reflection on Jesus’ teachings after Jesus had finished His ministry. This is all to say that what might appear to us to be confusion over what really is part of apostolic tradition is, to at least some degree, more of a modern problem than an ancient one. That is not to say that everything was clear back then either, so please don’t misunderstand me. And I’m not sure you could just “prove” anything you wanted. Certain things seem to go counter to the tradition, even as it develops. The idea, for example, of following the tradition of the apostles (both oral and written) seems to be a consistent teaching, found implicitly and explicitly in the pages of the NT, and in virtually every subsequent century, through the 21st. Of course this idea develops and becomes more precise with (what we believe to be) the Holy Spirit-guided Church’s reflection on its relationship with God. On the other hand, certain teachings pop-up within the Church’s history that don’t seem to have a place in the tradition, for example, sola Scriptura. Something like sola Scriptura emerges only slightly before the Protestant Reformation, but appears to be a complete novum, a new tradition of men that does not have roots in the NT, nor in the early centuries. Faith alone—depending upon how it is defined—is another apparent novum, wherein its occurrence (as a phrase) in the NT only appears when it is in fact negated (James 2:24), it was never used by the orthodox theologians against Pelagius, nor was it accepted by Trent when its implications were put forth by magisterial Reformers (although, even Luther and Calvin who adhered to faith alone, had a more Catholic sacramental view of this which included the necessity of baptism)—–[although, such phraseology can be acceptable when it conforms to the living obedient faith of James which is not alone, as the Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification explains]. I don’t think just anything could be proved to be legitimately a part of the apostolic tradition. Gnostics tried this, and I don’t think their cases were very persuasive. Keep in mind that adherence to apostolic tradition is not, and never has been opposed to use of Scripture (even before any formal canon was agreed upon). Thus, I think it would be difficult indeed to support, as you jest, a primacy of John in the tradition. No church father, to my knowledge, asserted such primacy. Moreover, John was the most popular Gospel among the Gnostics, which was likely one of many reasons that there was more hesitancy in including the Johannine texts in the NT (especially the Book of Revelation, 2 and 3 John). I am also unaware of any early evidence for a primacy of Ephesus. What’s more, as you know from all of your fine work in apologetics (from which I myself have learned a lot and am indebted to you), when people concede certain points about positions which tend not to favor their arguments, those points of concession speak volumes. For example, if William Lane Craig is right about the tradition (and I think on this point that he is), the early polemic against Jesus’ resurrection conceded His burial and missing body, hence it developed like this:

    Christians—Jesus is risen! His tomb is empty!

    Non-Christians—No he isn’t, the disciples stole the body!

    Christians—The disciples could not have stolen the body because of the Roman guard at the tomb.

    Non-Christians—The guard fell asleep, and that’s when the disciples stole the body.


    Craig concludes that had Jesus’ tomb not been emptied, the earliest polemic against Christians would have been, “Jesus isn’t risen, his body is still in the tomb, see.”

    How does this relate? Well, Eastern Orthodox do not accept Catholic claims about the papacy. They do, however, accept that the apostolic tradition has a primacy of St. Peter and a primacy of the See of Rome, in the office of the bishop of Rome. The caveat for the East is that this primacy is only ceremonial and has no jurisdiction. The fact that there is a primacy of Rome is not contested seriously outside of the West, but what is contested is the nature of that primacy. There’s nothing even remotely like this regarding a primacy of St. John. In Craig-like fashion, we could make the argument like this:

    Catholics—the bishop of Rome has primacy because his office descended from St. Peter’s, who had primacy in NT

    Orthodox—the bishop of Rome only has primacy of honor not of jurisdiction since St. Peter only had one of honor

    Just to be clear, I’m in no way intending with this analogy to be comparing the Orthodox with non-Christians…what the example I use hinges on is the idea upon which Craig seizes so firmly (correctly I think), that what differing parties agree on, especially when it doesn’t seem to help one party’s position (even if it doesn’t hurt that position), often speaks volumes. What is interesting is that few Protestant scholars now seriously contest that Peter was the rock of Matthew 16 (a few do still contest this…we’ll address this in a soon-to-be-forthcoming post). From Bruce Metzger, to F.F. Bruce, to Walter Kaiser, to D.A. Carson, to W.F. Albright, to Edwin Yamauchi, to Dale Allison (and the list goes on and on), Peter is the one that is the focus of Matthew 16 regarding the rock. They usually concede that Protestant protestations against such a primacy of Peter as spokesperson of the apostles and as the rock upon whom Jesus would build the church, is an overreaction to Catholic claims about the papacy. Where they tend to have a problem is in the idea that such an authority passed down through generations in some form of historical apostolic succession. This is precisely the opposite problem Eastern Orthodox scholars tend to have. In the East, they don’t have a problem with historical apostolic succession, nor with a ceremonial primacy of St. Peter or of the Roman See, but rather with a NT primacy of St. Peter that makes him the rock upon whom Jesus builds the church. I’ll discuss this in much more detail in a forthcoming post.

    The point is that there’s nothing like this for a primacy of St. John. Yes, John is the “Son of Thunder,” and yes I agree that he’s the “beloved disciple,” who was entrusted with Jesus’ mother (and was of course the only male disciple we know of who was at the cross), and who rested on Jesus’ breast. Of course, the not being martyred thing seems not to be a mark in his favor regarding primacy, since martyrdom in that time would be completely appropriate, perhaps even expected, for a primate. Moreover, it’s interesting that it’s not St. John writing to Corinth in the East where he is, but instead St. Clement of Rome (even if he’s not bishop at the time) all the way off in the West (if indeed St. John was still alive…..St. Ignatius of Antioch almost certainly was, why would the see of Rome have had such authority in the East?) Moreover, if St. John’s primacy was so firm, why didn’t St. Ignatius of Antioch, who tradition has it was St. John’s disciple, speak uniquely to the church at Rome as that church which, among a whole list of positive and laudatory attributes, he includes, is “worthy of honor,” etc. Moreover, compare what he says to the church at Rome (the only one he does not have rebuke for) with what he writes to the Ephesians. Although he is polite with the Ephesians, he still rebukes them. For the Church of Rome, he says, “Never have you envied anyone, others you taught. And I desire that those things may stand fast which you enjoin in your instructions” (slightly modified translation of Kirsopp Lake’s from the early Loeb edition).

    Moreover, notice that while all of these things you mention are true of St. John, it was that same St. John who highlights that Peter is Rock, and he does so by having Jesus tell him, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas,” which is the Aramaic word for “rock,” and then St. John explains, “which is translated Peter),” which is Greek for “rock” (John 1:42, NASB). Again, although St. John is surely among the three disciples Jesus singles out in the four Gospels, even in St. John’s Gospel St. Peter is singled out further, as the spokesman on behalf of the apostles (e.g., John 6:68), and St. John alone has St. Peter’s special martyrdom highlighted (John 13:36 and 21:18-19)….in fact, the whole denial scene with St. Peter in the Gospels, when compared to the high priest, coupled with St. Peter’s reinstatement, seems to evoke a kind of antitype of the high priest (more on this in a later post). Notice too, that although St. John came to the tomb first in his Gospel account, he waited for St. Peter to enter first (John 20:3-8) and in fact, it was in following St. Peter’s lead that St. John (who was at the crucifixion when even St. Peter was not) believed on account of what he saw (20:8). Then of course we have the famous scene (to which I will devote an entire upcoming post, and which the First Vatican Council cited in support of its teaching on the papacy, and which Michael alluded to in his response) where Jesus reinstates St. Peter into his position of authority for service in His Church, as its shepherd in Jesus’ place, John 21:15-17). Just as Jesus is the True Eternal Shepherd who shepherds from heaven, so St. Peter will take His place as shepherd on earth participating in a mystical way in Jesus’ heavenly shepherding, emphasized by 21:18-19 that just as Jesus died by crucifixion, so St. Peter too will be crucified. I could say a lot more, but my only point is that no such tradition of primacy is associated with St. John. You can’t just support anything from apostolic tradition, the tradition has guards and factors which limit what it contains.

    You think the idea of apostolic tradition is slippery. I don’t think I can add anything at this point to the fine responses of Cameron and Michael. All I can say is that the Church continues to do what the Church in Acts did. The issue of circumcision came up: do you have to be circumcised to be saved. The NT was not written (let alone canonized) yet. The Scriptures (OT) seemed to indicate that circumcision should continue (of course there are texts that might be used to mitigate against this, as St. Paul correctly uses them in Romans, etc.), but the weight of the OT would seem to indicate that yes Christians should be circumcised. And so what did the early Church do? They gathered the apostles together to figure this out, guided by the Holy Spirit we believe. They certainly utilized the Scriptures (Acts 15:16) and Peter spoke (Acts 15:7-11) and other leaders spoke (Acts 15:12-13). The Church continues to do the same. It’s not as simple as you seem to make it: that we have a mess of divergent traditions and then one gets declared apostolic tradition and that’s how we know it’s apostolic tradition. It’s not quite that simple. The tradition develops and what comes from the apostles is fairly universally agreed upon (with exceptions), but then what happens is questions arise, usually very serious questions, and challenges arise. Often, if not always, these challenges and questions arise out of the same apostolic traditions. So, we know Jesus is rightly called the Son of God, and that we baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, but Scripture is pretty explicit that God is only One, there is only one God and no other. Thus Arius’ challenge arose from the same apostolic tradition that St. Athanasius’ response came from. Notice too that Nicaea’s response made use of phrases that were themselves not a part of the apostolic tradition in order to preserve the content and meaning of the message that was part of the apostolic tradition (so, Greek Homoousios, and of course the Latin Trinitas). In all these things, they simply return to the model of Acts 15. They hold a council. It was the same with the issue of the nature of Jesus in relation to God the Father’s nature (Nicaea I) as it was with the issue of the divinity of the Holy Spirit (Constantinople I), as it was with the unity of Jesus (Ephesus) as it was with the fully human and fully divine natures of Christ (Chalcedon), etc., as it was with the question of the role of the papacy (Vatican I), etc. Sometimes it’s necessary for Peter to speak, as in St. Augustine’s famous phrase regarding the papacy, “Peter has spoken,” echoed throughout history. Interestingly, when James finally speaks in Acts 15, he cites two authorities for his local conciliar decision: Scripture and Peter (Simeon or Simon].

    Such apostolic tradition lived especially in the Liturgy. You have to keep in mind that the earliest Christians celebrated the Eucharist weekly. They did not read Scripture, they heard portions read to them at the Liturgy, and each reading of the Scriptures oriented them to the Liturgy’s highpoint, the Eucharist, where they were quite literally brought to the foot of the cross, and even more literally, brought to heaven. Arius was not simply criticized because he knew not the Scriptures (he actually cited Scripture…both sides cited Scripture), but he was taken to task for not being consistent with the apostolic traditions which he too had inherited. It was pointed out that Arius too baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Why would you baptize in the name of anyone other than God? Baptizing in the name of the Holy Trinity should imply that you think the Father, the Son and the Spirit are equally God. Arius too celebrated Eucharists where he spoke of Jesus as the Son of God. If Jesus is the Son of God, does it really make sense to speak of Him as anything other than divine? In light of the apostolic traditions which even Arius shared in common, in the Church’s communal prayer life, does it really make sense that Jesus began to exist? Of course we can point to John 1:1, case dismissed. The point is that he too used John’s Gospel, and he too presided over Liturgies with sufficient intrinsic warrants for the orthodox claims. His theology was inconsistent with the apostolic tradition (written and oral).

    Part of the problem I think here is that we too often think of the Christian faith in terms of propositions (and I’m NOT denying that there are propositional elements to the faith). The problem is that the Christian faith is about participating in the very life of God. We receive grace, but this is nothing other than the gift of God’s own life. It’s more than propositions, it’s about being immersed in the Sacred Mysteries through which we became partakers in the inner life of the Most Holy Trinity. Apostolic Tradition is not simply ideas like “the Eucharist really is the body and blood of Jesus”; it’s about mystagogy, the life-long plunge into the love of God poured out for us. It’s about moving from the signs (water, bread and wine, etc.) to the things signified (Holy Spirit, body and blood of Christ, the very Grace which is the Divine Life of God, etc.).

    Throughout the life of this blog, I hope to show how the Church’s teachings which are a part of Apostolic Tradition, are found in the Scriptures. I think they are there, and I think they can be shown in the early centuries as well. But it’s one thing to understand that Mary is our mother because Scripture teaches that, and because Christians of all times across the globe have believed it….it’s something else to experience her maternal love, to be drawn closer and closer to Jesus through her example and assistance. I would imagine few Christians (of all that have existed) could explain the Church’s rich and beautiful teachings on Mary (which we include as Apostolic Tradition) with the theological depth they deserve (I don’t think I can do this), nor show the biblical roots of such concepts (I do hope to do this). But one thing is crystal clear from reading the lives of the Saints, and even from more banal sociological discussions about lived Christian experience————-the motherhood of Mary is lived by Christians throughout history and across the globe. She has been responsible (of course God has primary responsibility) for conversions to Christ far outweighing anyone else I know of. It pains many of my evangelical friends that I rely upon Jesus’ Mother for help (though not on her alone), and that I view what they think as simple bread and wine as God incarnate under the appearance of natural food of this earth (Bethlehem—bread basket—all over again). It pains me as well that so many of my brothers and sisters in the Lord have not relied upon the abundant mercies and graces which, if Catholicism is correct, the Lord provides for us through these and so many more ways. The abundant life is Sacramental and is lived in the Communion of Saints, with the assistance of the shepherds, to help feed and guide us.

    Well, there I go. You’ve done a fantastic job keeping your post short, and I’ve still responded with such inexcusable length.

    Oh, and before I go, I ditto Cameron’s and Michael’s fine responses. Would that I could have written as concisely and persuasively.

    All the best,


  4. Cameron, Michael and Jeff, I appreciate the feedback. I wish I had more time to interact with what you said, but we are taking off for vacation soon and will be gone for 3 weeks. (Incidentally, I posted a response to Michael’s comments on the “Give us a King Like the Nations” thread. There I address some issues relevant to our discussion here, so I would encourage you all to read that post and give me your thoughts.)

    To comment briefly, I will say that the statements made above were very off the cuff and involved a measure of hyperbole. Nevertheless, I think there is a core of truth there. The main problem is that I still have only the vaguest idea of what this “Apostolic tradition” is. Sometimes when I think I know what you are getting at, I seem to lose the signal again.
    Is it actual information that someone could, say, write down or put into words? Is it a defined body of teaching that is transmitted from person to person down the line? Or are you claiming something with borders that are less sharp, like general consensus? I guess I’m having trouble nailing this down. It may just be me, but I see a terrific amount of very convenient ambiguity here. I’m being told that there is this tradition that connects modern Rome with an apostolic mainspring, but when I ask what exactly this is I get an answer that seems fuzzy and light on the specifics (I am not talking about any of you in particular, but the claims of the Roman church as a whole)

    In that connection, I must say Cameron, I reject any equivalence between what we are dealing with when it comes to scripture and what Rome claims vis-à-vis tradition. There simply is no parallel. As for “tradition”, as you define it, I am disputing that it even exists! With the text of scripture we have a defined corpus that we can all examine and interact with. Yes it is large, but it is, we all agree, inspired. As such, it must necessarily be internally consistent and coherent because it finds its ultimate origin in a single mind, the mind of God. Yes, it can be hard to understand. And yes it can be handled poorly and be misused to support all kinds of wacky notions. Certainly, you could use scripture to “prove” almost any kind of doctrine if you handle it in an unsound way. Peter tells us the words of Paul can be difficult to understand and that “ignorant and unstable people distort them, as they do the other scriptures.” But this statement itself presupposes that there are responsible ways of handling and interpreting scripture and “rightly dividing the word of truth” as scripture itself says.

    But with tradition we are dealing with an entirely different species of claim. You say that there is this thing out there that I can’t see called tradition. It contains data vital to the gospel and true faith which is ostensibly not recorded in scripture. And, if it is what it claims to be, it connects lately declared dogmas with the apostles. I say, “Ok, show me some evidence of this that is more than mere assertion. I know that you have the dogmas and I know there were apostles, but connect the dots.” However, because this hypothetical thing is by definition extra-scriptural, you must turn to other sources to demonstrate that anything like this exists. And so what you must per force turn to is a vast ocean of writings produced by men who, we all agree, were uninspired and can and do have substantial conflicts and contradictions in their views. With this kind of scenario you can’t prove anything you want to (I agree Jeff, there are limits), but you have terrific latitude. And (don’t miss this point) this is not because you are handling it in an unsound manner (as in the case of scripture), but because of the very nature of the disparate and varied “evidence” which you can select or reject as needed. I hope you followed that somewhat lengthy argument. But the fact is, there is a tremendous fundamental difference between the two claims. My critique does not in fact equally apply to scripture.

    Now as I have said before, the problem is not just with the nature of the evidence used to support such vast claims, but with the selective use and perhaps misuse of the data. (Often this is done innocently, I am sure.) Nevertheless, Rome is perpetually guilty of the most unbelievable anachronism when it deals with both scripture and the fathers. Every time Peter is mentioned in a positive light it is seen as an evidence of a papacy (even if an examination of the full body of the author’s work demonstrates that he had nothing like a modern view of such an office). Every time a liturgy or belief in a real presence of Christ is mentioned (which I also hold) we are to assume that they had a sacramental view of grace, worshiped the host, and believed in a doctrine of transubstantiation (which, with its full-blown scheme of Aristotelian accidents and substances, did not develop until a thousand years later). Examples could be multiplied. I have very often read Catholics using quotes from the fathers, only to say to myself “If only you would keep reading, you would find that the man you are quoting had nothing like the view you are claiming he supports.” In fact, very often the same author will flatly contradict the view he is being pressed into supporting.

    In other words, there is a great deal of reading back into terms an ancient writer uses a much later concept that is quite foreign to the original use. The very term “tradition” is an excellent case in point. A Roman Catholic assumes that every time an ancient writer uses the term “tradition” we are to understand that they mean exactly what you are claiming it means. (Which I am still uncertain of.) However, I would argue this is far from certain. Jeff, I am certain you are familiar with the work of J.N.D. Kelley, universally recognized as one of the greatest patristics scholars in recent years and quoted by many Catholic scholars. Kelly writes of tradition:

    “Indeed, all the instances of unwritten tradition lacking Scriptural support which the early theologians mention will be found, on examination to refer to matters of observance and practice (e.g. triple immersion in baptism; turning East for prayer) rather than of doctrine as such, although sometimes they are matters (e.g. infant baptism; prayers for the dead) in which doctrine is involved” [J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (New York: HarperSan Francisco, 1960), p. 47].

    If he is right, then the tradition they are speaking of is hardly an all-purpose container for whatever novel doctrines Rome needs to explain and which God did not see fit to give us in inspired scripture.
    And Michael, I have to address this claim you are making – You talk about following a Catholic tradition that is more than 2000 years old, while claiming that I follow one that is much younger. Oh, if only that were true! Don’t you see that this is exactly what I am disputing? You can’t prove your point by simply making an assertion! My contention is that the church of, say, AD 209 and the Roman Church of 2009 are very, very different. It’s like me claiming that, because I was born in Ohio I am a “Native American” in perfect continuity with the Indians. You claim continuity, I claim that the Roman church is an amalgamation of untold numbers of innovations of which the apostles and earliest church knew nothing. Don’t you see that if I am right, and I have a better grasp of what the apostles actually taught and believed, then it is I who have a 2000 year old tradition and you who have a mass of confused medieval aberrations that have their origin in men?

    And Jeff, I seriously don’t know how you can think that ideas like sola fide and sola scriptura (properly defined and not some kind of caricature) are innovations. I could list many quotations from early Christian writers that so very closely resemble these two views that I challenge you to distinguish them. (I’ll give you a list sometime when I have a moment, but now I must get to packing or my wife is going to kill me). Are you telling me that you have not come across statements in the early church that are not virtually identical to the protestant Solas? For the moment, consider this one quote from Clement of Rome’s letter to the Corinthians and you tell me if he sounds more like me or the parish priest next door.

    So, we also, having been called by His will in Christ, are not justified by ourselves,
    nor through our own wisdom or intelligence or godliness or works which we have produced
    in holiness of heart, but rather through the faith by which since the world began the
    Almighty God has justified all things, to whom be glory to the ages of ages, Amen.
    What, then, should we do, brethren? Become idle in doing good, and abandon
    love? May the Master never permit this to happen with us. Rather let us hurry with
    earnestness and eagerness to accomplish every good work. (32.4-33.1)

    This is exactly what Paul teaches in scripture. We are justified by faith in Christ, but this should not be an excuse for doing evil or abandoning good works. Rather it is the ground and motive of all works. No informed protestant teaches that saving-faith that lays hold of the righteousness of Christ will fail to manifest itself in good works. But we do vehemently repudiate the Roman scheme of infused grace resulting in meritorious works. (It is well said, “faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.” I couldn’t agree more.) Clement, (purportedly your Pope, despite the fact that it’s pretty clear that there was not even a monarchical episcopate in Rome in those days…but I’ll let it slide), would have rejected the modern scheme of man-centered, grace-fueled self-justification too. I’d wager he was about as much of a Roman Catholic as I am.

    Well, on a less rigorous and more joyful note, Merry Christmas! May God bless you and your families during the holidays. I’m going to miss this while I’m gone. How am I going to stay sharp if I don’t have you guys to keep me on my toes?

    1. Josh,

      I would call into question your working assumption that if a doctrine is not explicitly stated in Scripture, then Christians do not need to believe it. The complexities of Scripture and Tradition need more detailed attention in future articles, but in the mean time, I recommend listening to the first lecture in this lecture series by Professor Feingold, Apostolic Tradition and the Oral Torah. Then I would recommend reading John Henry Newman’s An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, if you have not already done so. The fact of development should lead us to be very cautious about inferring from apparent early silence about a doctrine to the conclusion that the doctrine is a heretical accretion.

      Have a great trip and Merry Christmas!

      1. Ryan, thanks for the food for thought. I really do carefully consider everything you guys send my way. I know that we will deal with these things more fully later, but I hope you will consider a brief response to these specific sources you referenced now while they are fresh in my mind.

        First, I just listened to the Feingold talk. Before wading into the specifics, let me make a general statement: Assertion does not equal argument. Roman Catholic apologists would do well to learn this. Saying something is true is not the same as demonstrating that it is true. And saying something again and again doesn’t equate to evidence for a position, much less proof.

        Just listen closely to what Feingold is doing, and you be the judge. It looks for all the world like a kind of exegetical bait and switch. What he is doing, at least for the better part of the talk, can be boiled down to this: “When you see x, y or z in scripture, read Tradition.” That’s it. No more, no less. The old switcheroo. If he has his way, every time you read in the scripture about the preaching of the gospel (or equivalent concepts like the bearing witness to Christ or the word going forth) you will read into that phrase the full-blown concept of Roman Tradition. But the Emperor has no clothes. This is not exegesis (letting the text speak for itself), but eisegesis (reading into the text) masquerading as the former.

        Why is he doing this? This is what he must do if he is to sell you his bill of goods. I’m not saying that he is trying to be deceptive, but this is what he must necessarily resort to. The New Testament texts are not Roman Catholic documents and so, if you are to make them appear to support your view, you must simply import and distort. All you can do is read your ideas into the text, because there are no unequivocal, plain statements that support anything like the Romanist view of Tradition. (But if this and other RC claims are so vital, don’t you think it would be a bit more plain?)

        I don’t want to be uncharitable, but some of the arguments are so thin and vacuous as to be almost silly and insulting. The speaker takes the charge to the apostles to preach the gospel and bear witness to Christ and then transmutes that by some kind of inscrutable alchemy into a kind of warrant for believing that there is a separate thing called Tradition, a source of revelation at parity with the sacred texts. Enter all of the extra-biblical accretions of modern Rome. Enter indulgences, enter praying to other human beings, enter the virtual deification of Mary, enter making satisfaction for your sins through acts of penance and so forth. This is the kind of thing that is only convincing if you really want to be convinced.

        It sounds so innocuous at first: Jesus said go and preach the gospel to all the nations. Preach the gospel = Roman Catholic Tradition. The prophets speaking about the law going out from Jerusalem = R.C. Tradition. Ezekiel’s river flowing forth from the temple = R.C. Tradition. Right, right. Show the man a Rorschach ink-blot image and he sees Roman Tradition. It’s like theological “Where’s Waldo.” He is simply taking the barest scraps, seizing upon anything at all that could possibly be construed as non-written communication, and seeks to turn it into a kind of blank check. With this Rome can create whatever dogmas she needs out of whole-cloth to justify her current and historical behavior and beliefs.

        And the thing is, if this methodology stood alone you might recognize what was happening. However, what he does is set his “evidences” for Tradition alongside many other genuine truths. When you do this it begins to sound so biblical. Yes, if you blend it in with other things that are true and scriptural, however unrelated to the key issue, maybe it will go down smoothly. And for many, it does.

        It’s easy, really. Jesus said preach the gospel; He sent out the apostles to do this; They taught their disciples the truths we have in scripture and a lot of other things we must believe (things that seem to be of an entirely different flavor from what we find in scripture, but no matter); these things were to be passed from person to person down the line; The apostles had to have successors; Their successor is the Roman Pontiff. A perfect syllogism. Easy as pie.

        It’s maddening really. No informed person would quibble with many of Feingold’s points, considered as mere observations. For example, nobody in their right mind would dispute that there is a real sense in which the faith is propagated down the ages through the human medium, that is, from person to person. The human, life on life factor is real. And certainly, no one denies that the apostles taught people orally and in person. And yes, the preached gospel or word of God is truly the word of God insofar as it reflects the genuine gospel. Of course. But this does not equate to saying that there is some unwritten body of real, definable information that differs materially from what is in scripture that is transmitted down the ages. Yet this is the rational behind Rome’s binding upon men’s consciences teachings that none of the apostles would have owned or recognized.

        Let it be said, this goes far beyond wishful thinking. It is a colossal and tragic leap, a non sequitur of the greatest and most unfortunate proportions imaginable. So while I do not dispute the data, I cannot embrace the wild conclusions that are wholly incommensurate with the “evidence” offered. I mean, do you really think it is legitimate to take a statement where Paul tells others to remember all the things that he taught them in person and present that as evidence for Tradition and an infallible magisterium? For something as significant as identifying a final and infallible authority you will have to do better than that.

        With the whole matter of the development of doctrine, it seems to me that the Roman Catholic wants to have his cake and eat it too. They say, our traditions go back to Christ and the apostles. But if I can demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that no one writing before, say, 500 believed dogma x, they will play the development of doctrine card. Very slippery.

        In principal I agree that there is a kind of development and a deepening of understanding that takes place throughout history. This is, I believe, noncontroversial. But to use this as a way to explain some of the real gems that Rome has brought forth over the years strains credibility. To say, it took us a while to think through the precise relationship between the human and divine natures of Christ is one thing. To say that it took us a while to arrive at Papal infallibility and the bodily assumption of Mary is quite another. Those are not things you arrive at after sustained contemplation of what the apostles actually gave us.

        As for Cardinal Newman’s hypothesis, I can only say that, where you may see a helpful explanation, I see a kind of admission. Newman was a smart guy, to be sure. But if you really look at what he has given us in this work, it is an almost strikingly frank admission that the early church is not the modern Roman Church. To put it more pointedly, if you look at the historical data you will see that a great deal of what defines modern Rome was not at all espoused by the church of the first several centuries. Newman knew this and knew that there had to be some kind explanation for the apparent discontinuity. He saw clearly that even concepts which appear to be utterly vital to Rome, (like the papacy, which Newman described as little more than an “unfulfilled prophecy” in the first centuries), were not actually embraced in those early times, but had to develop.

        So while you may view this as evidence for the Romanist claims, I see this as a demonstration that there is real and unmistakable theological discontinuity between modern Rome and the primitive church. Again, all this is only convincing if you really want to be convinced. If you have decided in advance that the Roman Church is the one true church, then all of it must fit and make sense somehow, radical discontinuity or no. But there is an alternative explanation. You do the math.

        1. Glad to see you made it safely back from your travels.

          “The New Testament texts are not Roman Catholic documents…”

          Who wrote the Bible? Who compiled the Bible? Who promulgated the Bible?

          These were all the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If the Church is not the answer to these questions, then why should we not rule out the Gospels of Thomas and Mary Magdalene nor the Shepherd of Hermas? [One can also ask, “why should Martin Luther be given precedence to the members of the early Church when it comes to establishing a canon?”]

          Now, regarding your comments concerning the discontinuity between the early Church and the modern Roman Church, I must admit that I have yet to read Newton’s essay. However, I would like to throw out there that a later definition or discussion concerning a topic should not be used to make an argument that the early Church did not agree. Couldn’t it be that infallibility did not need to be defined until the 18th century? The Assumption also did not need to be defined? Could it also be that the Church had not put in significant reflection on these matters until they became heavily debated? Not every topic could be covered by the early Church because they were either uncontested or unforeseen.

          Our founding fathers were able to foresee such events, and thus we can amend our Constitution and we have a judicial system. Surely, God would have foreseen the need to continue to discern, develop, and solemnly define items of dogma. We posit this guarantee is the Church, the fullness of which is currently found in what is known as the Roman Catholic Church. Whom do you put forth?

          1. Cameron,
            Thanks so much for your response. I really appreciate your willingness to engage.
            Let me tackle your last question first. It’s a good one by the way. You ask who I put forth as an alternative to the Roman Catholic Church. Maybe you were expecting me to say “Protestantism” or something more specific like First Baptist in Yazoo City, but this is my sincere answer: I put forth the church that is truly universal, the church that is comprised of every individual in every age who sincerely looks in faith to Christ alone for salvation. Included in this number are surely people of every stripe, some (but by no means all) that call themselves Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox and many throughout history who would not have recognized any of those designations. Some believe in accordance with the specifics of their tradition, some in spite of the specifics. This is the true church and the Lord knows those who are his. (Incidentally, I do believe that the true church, while comprised of individuals, manifests itself as a body and involves certain key elements.) But you get the point.

            As to your questions: Who wrote the Bible? Who compiled the Bible? Who promulgated the Bible?
            First, I must observe that your questions are really very telling. What you are doing is unwittingly assuming in advance what you wish to prove. If you think that the answer is “The Roman Catholic Church,” I can only say (without wishing to offend) that this idea is based on more of a kind of cartoon history, than reality. (It’s okay, we all operate based on approximations and thumbnail sketches of the world to one degree or another). I know that this is probably what you have heard for your entire life, but the reality is far more complex.

            Yes the people who wrote the Bible (the Apostles et al) were the Church. And yes those who had a hand in canonization were the Church. But the first question I would have you ask is this: Why do I think that that Church is my church? Why do I think that these people were Roman Catholic in the sense that I am? And why am I assuming that the modern Roman Church is their heir, standing in meaningful continuity with these people?

            We all agree that there is a list of men going back to early times in a place called Rome. Even this is not as clear-cut as you might think and gets sort of foggy in the early years, but, for the sake of argument lets go with that. I ask you, does this in and of itself really prove what you may think it does? History is a funny thing, and is just bursting with all kinds of curious phenomena. Nevertheless, we must be careful that we do not let certain superficial facts bewitch us. Outward appearances can be deceiving and we must not let them hold ultimate sway in our thinking. The Egyptians can produce a fine list of Pharaohs spanning many centuries. Still this has yet to prompt me to become a faithful adherent of Horis or Ra.

            Try this on for size: If I were to ask you for a list of things that defines Roman Catholicism over against other Christian communions, I think we could all generate a list of things that make the distinction clear. In other words, there are things that really define modern Roman Catholicism and set it apart. However, if I could then demonstrate to you that, as far as we can tell, almost none of those key distinctives was believed for at least the first 300 years or better, would that make a difference to you? Would you still say that those people were what you are?

            Sometimes it is hard to sort of take a step back and examine our own thinking, but I really think that your logic amounts to a kind of tautology. You are engaging, unknowingly, in a kind of circular thinking or begging of the question. What I mean is this: If you define in advance the answer you wish to find, then naturally you will never be disappointed. You will always be “right,” but will have understood less than nothing. Let me give you an illustration. Suppose you overhear me saying, “I desperately want the Cincinnati Reds to win the worlds series this year. Therefore I am determined to buy all of the players of the team that wins the series and rename them the Cincinnati Reds.” You then ask me a follow-up, “Alright, fair enough, but which team do you think will win the series this year?” Suppose I answer: “Well, the Cincinnati Reds, of course! Weren’t you listening?” Would you not at once see that I am not saying anything meaningful? I was carrying the answer I wanted to hear around with me to insert when the time was right.

            As ridiculous and cockamamie as this sounds, this is more or less what you are doing. You have decided in advance that the people who wrote and compiled the Bible were Roman Catholics in the sense that you are. However, I would argue that this is so far from the case that it is demonstrably untrue. Hopefully, future discussions will bear that out.

            If you understand nothing else, understand this. The early church fathers were neither Roman Catholic (in the current sense) nor Protestant (to say this would be silly). I would guess that for much of your life you have been presented with certain ideas about the Catholic Church. These ideas are not substantiated by a disinterested and serious read of history, but they are the self-promoting myths that surround institution of this kind. They may sound charming, but in reality they are to church history what George Washington chopping down the cherry tree is to American history.

            The story that you’ve likely been fed all of your life goes something like this:
            In the first century Peter and Paul arrived in Rome where they founded a church. Peter was the first Pope and upon his death a successor was appointed. When he died a new Pope was appointed. This continued in unbroken succession down to the present day. From the beginning, all of Christendom recognized that the Bishop of Rome was the head of the universal church and whenever there was a dispute they went to him to receive the true teaching. Some years into this history groups sat down in all their Roman Catholic-ness and put together the Bible. Everything from the beginning was one monolithic, uniform church (apart from the Eastern Church that later went their separate way and heretics). From these earliest times people believed more or less what I, as a modern Roman Catholic believe. Everything was Roman Catholic and everyone had shiny hair and rosey cheeks and was very happy up until the 16th century. At that time some upstarts decided to make trouble. They told people that everyone could believe whatever they wanted to about the Bible and the faith. However, despite this hiccup, the one true Church, 2000 years old and derived from the apostles themselves remains and has its headquarters on an attractive piece of property in the heart of modern Italy.

            Ask yourself this: “Why do I believe that the Catholic Church is the true Church? Why am I so sure that it is not, in its present form, a corruption of the original faith?”

            As for your statements about the formation of the cannon, hopefully we can explore that in detail. There you will see that it was by no means a unified body against Martin Luther or anyone else. You may be surprised to see how many heavy-hitters throughout history rejected the apocrypha component of the list you currently have. But more about that later. Hopefully, some of what I have said has at least made you think. Thanks again for your thoughtful engaging of the issue. Very cool.

        2. Dear Josh,

          I know this comment was directed at Ryan, but I thought I’d jump in and make a few comments.

          I have not listened to Dr. Feingold’s talk, so I won’t venture to defend it. All I can say is that while the gist of what you report do not “prove” what we might call the dogmas of the Catholic Church, they do seem to be evidence that Jesus’ teaching passed on by the disciples was often done orally. That’s an important point, even if not for you. I often encounter evangelicals who make claims which apparently you would not make, like, “the Bible teaches that Jesus’ followers are only ever to follow what’s written in the OT and NT, and not the oral preaching of His followers.” This is clearly not your problem. But for those for whom it is an issue and an obstacle to Catholicism, it’s an important point to make. Biff Rocha and I did a study of the Book of Acts, almost a decade ago, which we presented at the Ohio Academy of Religion and published in their conference proceedings, which showed that most of the time the Book of Acts talks about the Word of God, it is referring to the oral preaching and teaching of the Apostles, and not to Scripture. Of course Scripture is the Word of God. But ultimately, Jesus is the Word of God, and He passed on His teachings orally to the Apostles who wrote some of them down in Scripture. But the bulk of their teaching was done orally, and St. Paul sometimes writes Scripture when he discovers that his oral teaching was not being followed.

          Again, I can’t speak for Dr. Feingold since I didn’t listen to the talk, but I don’t think these points of evidence are intended to be logical syllogisms, but rather are trying to make an overall case for the roots of Catholicism being found in Scripture’s pages. Of course I don’t “really think it is legitimate to take statements where Paul tells others to remember all the things that he taught them in person and present that as evidence for Tradition and an infallible magisterium.” And I hope that’s not exactly what Dr. Feingold was doing, but without having listened to it myself I concede the possibility.

          There’s something else in your post, though, that I want to address, and that’s comments like, “all this is only convincing if you really want to be convinced. If you have decided in advance that the Roman Church is the one true church, then all of it must fit and make sense somehow, radical discontinuity or no.” I don’t think this is fair to Dr. Feingold (you imply similar things about him earlier) or to Cardinal Newman.

          You see, Dr. Feingold is a Jewish convert to Catholicism. His journey to the Catholic Church was not an easy one. It was not as simple as, “I really want to be Catholic, but there’s so much discontinuity I need to figure out how to explain first.” His journey was a bit more complicated than that, although I do not know his entire story. I am much more familiar with Cardinal Newman’s story, and his journey was extremely difficult. Newman set out to disprove Catholicism through his erudite studies of church history, particularly focused on the early Christological controversies, and show why the Church of England is the true via media and the answer to Christian longings for authentic apostolic Christianity. Newman was very happy and satisfied as an ordained member of the Anglican clergy. It was primarily through his historical studies that he felt compelled to become Catholic. This is the cause for his famous expression which is used in so many offensive ways by Catholic apologists—“To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant”—we can dismiss such statements and take offense at them, but for Newman that statement is autobiographical, it describes his own journey. Converting to Catholicism upset many of his friends and colleagues in the Church of England, and guess what? Many Catholics were upset by his conversion as well—I think a lot of that had to do with jealousy, but certainly some of it had to do with debate over his view on doctrinal development. Newman was appointed Cardinal, but he had a lot of resistance from within the Catholic Church; his life didn’t become easier once he became Catholic, even if he felt more intellectually satisfied and honest than he had previously felt. You can get a sense for the difficulties Catholic theologians had with Newman’s theory by reading the responses to his thesis by the great Catholic theologian Giovanni Perrone. Newman began his Essay while still an Anglican (although it was initially published the year he entered the Catholic Church, and revised long after). When Newman became Catholic he was very frustrated with the state of Catholic theology which had a tendency to be more propositional and in scholastic style than he was used to. Newman thought more historically. Theologians like Perrone were less concerned about doctrinal development (in fact, they didn’t like that concept much at all, much like their Eastern Orthodox counterparts), but rather in what precisely was orthodox theology. So, Newman made an attempt to write a scholastic treatise explaining himself to Perrone (because Fr. Perrone was a giant Roman theologian). Newman even wrote the piece in Latin, fairly propositionally, entitled, De Catholici Dogmatis Evolutione, which is a much shorter work (a long paper really) than his book-length Essay. Perrone’s notes in response are published in the English translation, and you can see that Newman’s “hypothesis,” as you say, was not very welcome among many Catholic theologians like Perrone. You can disagree with Newman, and one could even be convinced that Newman is flat wrong, but I would submit that Newman was not trying to prove Catholicism by creating his thesis of doctrinal development. Rather, his studies of history convinced him of what would become his thoughts on doctrinal development, and these studies and thesis compelled him to enter the Catholic Church. It’s one thing to argue against the points of Dr. Feingold and Cardinal Newman, it’s quite another thing to argue against their sincerity.

          I know many intellectual converts to Catholicism, and in my experience, none of them simply desired to become Catholic and just tried to ignore “the facts,” as it were, and construct elaborate arguments, to justify their decisions. In most cases the decisions were very painful and caused quite a bit of disruption in their lives, but the joys of being Catholic, much like the joys of finding Christ for the first time, and the knowledge (or belief?) that they have found Jesus’ Church, much like the knowledge that in Jesus we have found God, have made them committed to Jesus and to His Church (what they, we, believe to be His Church) despite the challenges, difficulties, and obstacles faced as Catholics. Converting to Catholicism is not a rosy path. Friends and family members, employers sometimes, colleagues, and others, can be very upset and hurt by such a conversion. Sometimes Catholics who have been Catholic all of their lives, can also treat converts badly, as Newman experienced, and for a variety of reasons.

          It’s clear that you were not convinced by Dr. Feingold’s arguments which you listened to on the link Ryan provided, and that you were not convinced by reading Cardinal Newman’s book, but that’s a far cry from the claim that only someone already convinced would believe his argument. I know at least 3 individuals, including one who was a Protestant minister, who had several intellectual obstacles to becoming Catholic, and for whom Newman’s Essay was sufficient to remove all remaining obstacles, including in one case the question of the papacy.

          Please don’t misunderstand me. I appreciate your comments, and that you are really working through all of this material, and keeping up with our blog.

          One of the things we’ll be trying to do in this blog is show the biblical roots of Catholic teachings. My comments on the papacy in the NT are on their way. I’m not trying to proof-text with each of the verses in each post, but rather I’m trying to build a case by focusing first on the OT and NT background material, in the light of which passages like Matt 16, Luke 22, and John 21 need to be read. We’ll see what you think the cumulative weight is when I’m through.

          All the best,


          1. Jeff,
            Thanks for your response. As usual it was thoughtful and fair. Not time to respond now, but I just wanted to say that I appreciate your reply.

          2. Thanks again for your thoughtful reply. I did want to clarify one thing; It was not my intention to question the sincerity of Feingold, Newman or anyone else. (Although, I can see how you could come to that conclusion.) You rightly note that I say things like: “This is only convincing if you really want to be convinced.” To clarify, the accent was intended to fall on the spurious nature of the arguments, not the authenticity of the arguers.

            Pinning down just why we believe as we do is like trying to lay hold of mercury. It involves a lot more than simply an “objective” read of the cumulative evidence for or against a position. We are influenced by countless things – personal history, desires, impressions, social forces, temperament, and a million other subjective factors. I am simply suggesting that, once you have come to believe (by whatever path) that the Roman Church is the true church, you may, perhaps unwittingly, begin to parade out even the most outlandish things as confirmations of your view. We all do it to some degree, seeing reality through the prism of our presuppositions and evaluating evidence in light of our paradigms. (It’s the whole Thomas Kuhn “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” story.) I know that as a non-Roman Catholic I do similar things. I am no skeptic, but it is complicated stuff.

            All I’m trying to do is call a spade a spade. That is, from the perspective of someone who has not embraced Rome, the things that Feingold trots out seem like a real stretch. In other words, the principle reason they appear to be convincing is that he and others have already drawn their conclusions. My perception is no doubt colored by my non-Catholicity, but they are honest appraisals. Incidentally, I do think that there are arguments for the RC position that are more persuasive; We just haven’t seen any of them yet. I will, of course, stay tuned and try to be as fair as I can, knowing you will do the same.

          3. Thanks Josh for clarifying. I really appreciate it. I’m sorry for misunderstanding your point. What you say in your clarification is fair indeed. As always, your brother in Christ.

  5. Incidentally, I see that you have put a 2,000 character cap on comments. The sentiment behind this is no doubt wise, but I would humbly petition for a bit more, say, 6,000. Two thousand is enough to say “Atta-boy, way to teach from the heart of the Church” or some such thing, but not enough for any kind of serious response or interaction. Just a thought. It is, of course, your call.

    1. You’re correct, we just implemented a character limit for comments. Previously, any comment longer than 2000 characters was flagged for moderation. We believe a visible character limit brings more transparency to the approval process and further encourages brevity and accessibility. Thanks for your feedback.

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