What are going to be the key theological issues explored this coming year? If the Australian Church Record (“ACR”) is to be listened to then one might be Justification by Faith Alone. They’ve just published an essay [pdf] by Matt Olliffe, responding to an earlier contribution by Michael Bird which itself was a reply to Olliffe’s original piece [pdf] in the October ACR (still following?!).

Olliffe’s chief concern is that

…it would be good for Protestant NT scholars to be careful about their articulation of Pauline justification by faith and to actually be Protestant, rather than making statements that effectively move them toward a Roman Catholic position.

Lying behind this are the wider questions about what “the gospel” that is being appropriated by faith actually is. The work of N.T. Wright to argue that it is effectively the NT witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has had some influence in moving this debate along (or perhaps shoving it forward in the first place). Part of getting Justification by Faith right is working out what/who we’re trusting in the first place.

Expect this one to expand somewhat in 2015.

Comments

comments

16 comments on “2015 – The Year of Justification by Faith Alone?

  1. Oliffe’s original piece in Australian Church Record was too brief for his subject, but I assume he had a word-limit to work to. Nevertheless, some of the quotes he gave from modern “evangelical” theologians do give rise to concern.

    For instance, Mark Seifrid: “Both [James and Paul] understand that our justification at the last judgment will be based upon works”. [Seifrid currently lectures at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but he has also been a lecturer at orthodox Anglican seminaries in USA]. This is simply not correct: good works are relevant to our justification in the sense that they are evidence of a heart that has been irrevocably regenerated; but at the final judgment, the Lord will not need “evidence” of the state of our hearts since he sees them clearly – He already knows whether we are regenerate or not, and therefore whether or not we are His.

    Or Oliffe’s quotes from Michael Bird of Ridley College, Melbourne: “If obedience is the fruit of faith, and if faith is necessary to keep the believer in communion with God, then obedience is required for maintaining the status of justification – after all, no one will be justified if they do not persist and persevere in faithfulness.” Whilst there is some truth to the last 14 words, it is contrary to the teaching of scripture that our obedience is required to maintain justification.

    However, what I found really interesting was Michael Bird’s response. It contained a number of unnecessary ad hominem jibes, but of more concern, he simply fails to deal with the concerns legitimately raised by Oliffe. He quoted from another of his books, and I agree that this quote seems orthodox, but what about the quote above? If Oliffe has “cherry-picked” as Bird claims, then why not explain how the quote above has been taken out of context, or whatever the explanation may be?

    There does seem to be an issue with a number of evangelical or reformed theologians who don’t entirely follow reformed teaching on justification.

  2. “Justified by faith is he who, excluded from the righteousness of works, grasps the righteousness of Christ through faith, and clothed in it, appears in God’s sight not as a sinner but as a righteous man”. (John Calvin)

    David, as a Christian I try to mould my life on what Jesus taught and demonstrated by his life. Did Jesus ever teach 'faith alone'? I don't think so. So why should anyone, take any notice of what Calvin says? He, like yourself, was a minister of religion – his ideas only have value to the extent that they mirror and expound what Jesus teaches.

    Calvin was a cruel man. He was one of those who were a party to having Michael Servetus burned alive at the stake and an advocate for the horrific, ungodly 'doctrine of predestination' which features an arbitrary, unloving concept of God.

    What does he mean by faith? Genuine faith is far more than an intellectual acknowledgement. If someone is not willing to act on what they claim to have faith in, i.e. in the case of Jesus, to make every effort to live the type of life he espouses, how can they genuinely claim to have faith in him?

    I think Calvin got the first half of the equation right – believing one can save oneself by one’s own effort is merit-seeking and counterproductive. But as Jesus taught over and over again, a living faith involves doing good works which however are not meritorious if the doer ascribes the inspiration and power to so act, to God. As we say in the Lord's Prayer, "…. for yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory …".

    God would have to be pretty dumb to see "a sinner as a righteous man" yet God is omniscient. No one can pull the wool over His eyes. The only way a sinner can be saved from sinning, and hence the consequences of his sin, is to personally choose to stop doing so, acknowledging all the while that the inspiration and power to so do comes from and is attributable to God alone. After all he/she is a being gifted/graced by God with rationality to distinguish what is right and wrong, and free-will to choose to act one way or the other.

    God is pure mercy so He does not condemn or hold grudges about the past. As Jesus said, “…. go and sin no more.” (John 8:11). A similar message is given in Ezekiel 18:20-32. Provided we, using and acknowledging God’s inspiration and power, stop sinning, i.e. sincerely and determinedly make the effort to stop, all is forgiven. If we don't, we continue to choose the ‘punishment’ that is the inevitable result of sin – because God/good (the source of all true happiness i.e. heaven), is not in it.

    • Hi Ralph,

      I expect David will reply to the main part of your post in due course, but in the meantime, I couldn’t help noticing that you brought Calvin into the debate (I don’t think David mentions him in the article). The gist of your argument appears to be: “A theologian in the 16th century held the same views as David, and that guy was involved in something bad, therefore David must be wrong”.

      I don’t follow the logic of that argument at all, but okay, let’s run with it:

      If you are familiar with the history of those times, you will know that there were people who essentially believed as you do, and were involved in much worse things than Calvin. So, using your own logic, that would mean that any thinking person today must also reject your theology?

      In fact, if we can find a single person at any time in history that believed as you do, and was involved with something that we today regard as questionable, we can reject your beliefs out of hand – that is where your argument (on this point) leads, doesn’t it?

      • Michael, thanks for your comment. I question your assessment of my “argument”. David didn’t state that he “held the same views as” Calvin. I’m aware that he has spoken in favour of ‘faith alone’ in other places but did not know that he was agreeing (or not) with Calvin’s quote.

        As David stated in his piece there are different ideas about the subject. My argument was/is that, as Christians, Jesus (the Gospels) should be the core of our belief not what some commentator, like Calvin for example, has said.

        In the statement of belief for the Glenquarie Church it says, “… we meet together to celebrate, talk about and worship Jesus.” That’s what I’m suggesting – that we refer everything – every issue of doctrine back to Jesus.

        The Gospels are full of the teachings of Jesus – a part of what we call ‘the WORD of God’. I like to think of it as a statement of reality/truth itself as opposed to the limited views/interpretations of truth that individual humans can discover or devise.

        Commentators can be useful in understanding what Jesus said but they can also be very limiting especially where they push their own ideas or believe that their interpretation is beyond question.

        I have never believed in the ‘faith alone’ story, partly, I suppose, because I grew up in a tradition that did not accept it but also from a lifetime of study and life experience that have led me to the conclusion that it is not an idea that Jesus ever presented but has come from various interpreters and commentators.

        It appears to me to involve a very limited and limiting idea of God. A limited idea of God is better than none but surely our aim should be to discover and understand more and more the wonder and enormity of God so that we can more fully appreciate and worship Him.

        • “David didn’t state that he “held the same views as” Calvin.”

          That is the whole point, Ralph. You were the one who decided to bring Calvin into it as a basis for cutting down David’s argument, and now you are saying that you had no rational basis for doing so! We appear to be faced with two possibilities – either that part of your original post made no sense, or my characterisation of your argument was accurate. .

          “a lifetime of study and life experience that have led me to the conclusion that it is not an idea that Jesus ever presented”

          What is the relevance of your lifetime of study and experience? I am not belittling it, but every person on earth has the same thing – you are not unique. 🙂

          I would have thought that looking at what Jesus actually said would be the first place to start. And since he claimed to be God incarnate, and since he commissioned his Apostles to deliver His commands to His church as well as to write his gospels, then reading the words of his Apostles (i.e. all of scripture) would also be a great start.

          • Not sure what you’re on about Michael. I wasn’t aware that I was “cutting down David’s argument” but if you want to think of it that way I guess that’s your prerogative. I don’t think David presented an ‘argument’. He presented the Calvin quote and spoke of a discussion going on about ‘faith alone’. I put forward my ideas about the quote (which was new to me BTW).

            I certainly realise that I am “not unique” (in the sense you meant it). My opinion is simply my opinion just as Calvin’s is his. Jesus, on the other hand, was/is unique – as you said, he claimed to be God incarnate. As such he would not present opinion but truth. “…. I am the way, the truth ……” etc

            “I would have thought that looking at what Jesus actually said would be the first place to start.”

            I agree, but not only the “place to start” but also the final place of reference. The Apostles were charged with preaching the Word/the Gospel stories which contain the story of the life of Jesus and his very words. Check out a ‘red letter’ edition of the Bible.

            The “words of the Apostles” record the events of the early, developing Christian church – very useful where they reflect, expound and implement Christ’s teachings but not the primary source of doctrine which, IMO, can only be Christ (the truth itself).

          • Okay, well I suppose it is more correct to say that David presented Oliffe’s argument than his own, and he used a quote from Calvin as a banner.

            But however it is categorised, you tried to oppose it using an ad hominem argument based on Calvin. Your argument was, in effect: “Calvin believed in justification by faith alone; Calvin wasn’t a nice person; therefore justification by faith alone must be a bad thing”. And my question to you still stands – does this mean that if people who believed as you do were also non-nice people like Calvin, that therefore your theology should also be rejected? It seems a fair question.

            Re your second point, you can adopt that position if you like (that only Jesus’ words should be followed) but you can’t validly call it Christianity – I can’t think of any church through the whole of history that has followed it, and for very good reason:

            Firstly, we only know what Jesus said because of the Apostles. If they aren’t 100% reliable, then we don’t have any reliable words of Jesus either.

            Secondly, assuming that we CAN rely on their report, then Jesus himself conferred authority on the apostles to deliver His commands to His church.

            Thirdly, the Apostles themselves repeatedly claimed that they had been granted authority by Jesus to rule the church. If such a major claim was false, then we can’t trust anything else they claimed. And that includes the Gospels, i.e. everything we know about Jesus’ own words.

            Look at Acts 1 (which is a Gospel). Jesus “gave instructions to the apostles he had chosen”. Then he commanded them to wait for the Holy Spirit before departing. We immediately thereafter see the Apostles leading the disciples, and then after the Holy Spirit has come, the church devotes itself “to the Apostles’ teaching” [Acts 2:42]. Not to “Christ’s teaching”, but to the apostles who were empowered to deliver Christ’s teachings to the church.

            And if we are familiar with the other Gospels, this is exactly what we would expect to find: Jesus says that others will believe him because of the Apostles’ message, not his own (John 17:20). The apostles themselves could only be chosen directly by God (Acts 1:24-25) and Jesus states that the Apostle Paul is “my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their Kings and to the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

            Note that last passage – if you reject Paul’s teaching, you reject the direct command of Jesus.

            Peter tells us that Jesus gives his commands through his Apostles (2 Peter 2:6), and if Peter was wrong about that, then Jesus becomes a liar when He said that He had given the apostles his word and would sanctify and preserve them (John 17:13-19).

            The same applies to Paul’s claims about his own authority – if they are false then the Gospels are false when they testify in Acts 9:15 that Jesus stated Paul was his chosen instrument to deliver his message. Paul teaches that:

            • He is chosen directly by Christ (Gal 1:1)
            • All apostles are entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed (1 Cor 4:1)
            • That anyone who rejects Paul’s instructions does not reject man but God (1 Thess 4:8)
            • That his commands are of equal authority to those that Jesus gave whilst He was on earth (1 Cor 7:10-14)
            • That the mystery of Christ has been revealed to his prophets and apostles (Eph 3:4-5)

            Of course you can’t have Christianity without Christ, but you can’t have it without the NT Apostles or the OT prophets either. God’s household (i.e. the church) is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone”. (Eph 2:20). If you reject the foundation then you have rejected the whole building, including the cornerstone, Jesus.

  3. No reply button to your last post Michael so I’ll try here.

    I think you have vastly over simplified your critique of my argument to suit your argument. I drew no such conclusion as you suggest. I rather went on to discuss the nature of faith, the quality of God and our response to Him.

    My main argument is that Calvin’s derived doctrine is not traceable back to Jesus. It’s commonly traced back to the Apostle Paul (Paul could actually be used to argue both ways on the issue) so now you’re upping the authority of the Apostles (specifically Paul) to be on the same level as Christ. That really is some claim since Jesus claimed to be divine/the embodiment of Truth Itself and the Apostles were finite, fallible men.

    “… we only know what Jesus said because of the Apostles. If they aren’t 100% reliable, then we don’t have any reliable words of Jesus either.”

    That’s being rather sceptical isn’t it? The difference with Jesus was that, “…. He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Matthew 7:29) I understand that the gospel writers wrote from direct inspiration internally dictated. Their reliability would not be an issue because they were merely used as a tool/vehicle to ultimate ‘the Word’ into written language.

    “… Jesus himself conferred authority on the apostles to deliver His commands to His church.”

    Being charged with spreading Christ’s message is not the same as claiming authority for oneself. Being ‘a chosen vessel’ (as Paul is called) does not bestow authority other than the authority of a vessel/servant to perform as a messenger i.e. to teach and lead to God.

    Jesus didn’t set up an organisational church – that’s something the early followers of Christ, including the Apostles, did. Although not a problem in the early Apostolic Church, one of the faults of the later Catholic Church (that Martin Luther brought to prominence) was the mistaken belief that Jesus handed down his (spiritual) authority to church leaders.

    At the end of Matthew, Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” That authority still rests with Jesus – in his words and in his teaching, ever present in the written Gospels. It exists in his divinity. He did not/could not transfer that authority to finite beings. The final authority of the church is always (or IMO should be) the written Word/revelation of God not the counsels and deliberations of men – be they apostles, church fathers, reformers, your everyday ministers or lay people.

    “if you reject Paul’s teaching, you reject the direct command of Jesus.”

    That’s a major stretch. I haven’t suggested ‘rejecting’ Paul’s (the apostle’s) teaching, only putting it in perspective. Your 1 Cor 7:10-14 reference had Paul making a distinction between teaching that came direct from the Gospels (Jesus) and his own ideas which IMO do not carry the same weight of authority. Paul certainly has some great insights but do you accept Paul’s teaching on celibacy? or the passive role of women?

    I think you might need to check your 2Peter 2:6 reference. It doesn’t seem to apply to your argument.

    “Of course you can’t have Christianity without Christ, but you can’t have it without the NT Apostles or the OT prophets either. God’s household (i.e. the church) is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone”. (Eph 2:20). If you reject the foundation then you have rejected the whole building, including the cornerstone, Jesus.”

    Nice of you to squeeze Jesus in somewhere. My point is that Jesus (and Jesus alone) is the foundation – that’s what a ‘cornerstone’ is. Without Jesus there would be no OT; no apostles or prophets, in fact nothing. We can all be grateful for the good work of the apostles but let’s not forget that they are still fellow servants (Revelation 22:8-9) of our Lord and Master who alone is ‘the way, the truth and the life’.

  4. Hi Ralph, you have made a number of inaccurate assertions in your latest post and it will take time to respond to them. But firstly, thank you for pointing out that my reference to 2 Peter 2:6 was incorrect. It was a typo, my apologies. It should have been 2 Peter 3:2, which I will quote as it is right on point:

    “I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.”

    The apostles claimed to have been authorised by Jesus to deliver his teachings to his church.

  5. “I understand that the gospel writers wrote from direct inspiration internally dictated. Their reliability would not be an issue because they were merely used as a tool/vehicle to ultimate ‘the Word’ into written language.”

    Really – how do you know this? There were at least 20 “gospels” that purported to set out teachings of Jesus, so the reliability of the writers is indeed an issue. The only reason we believe that the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, John and Luke reliably set out Jesus’ words (and conversely that such documents as the Gospels of Thomas, Peter, Bartholomew and Philip do not) is because the church has testified to the fact that only the four first-mentioned documents were written by or under the authority of an apostle.

    [Re my reference to Ephesians 2:20] “Nice of you to squeeze Jesus in somewhere. My point is that Jesus (and Jesus alone) is the foundation – that’s what a ‘cornerstone’ is.”

    No, you are misquoting, substituting your own words for Paul’s. Let’s look at the passage of scripture again:

    “Consequently, you are … members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” [Eph 2:19-20]

    it says clearly that the old testament prophets and the new testament apostles are the foundation. You might not agree with it, but you don’t have the right to misquote it.

    “Without Jesus there would be no OT; no apostles or prophets, in fact nothing. We can all be grateful for the good work of the apostles but let’s not forget that they are still fellow servants (Revelation 22:8-9) of our Lord and Master who alone is ‘the way, the truth and the life’.”

    Of course, and nothing that I have written in any of these posts gainsays that. The issue is that Jesus has sent messengers to you, and you want to reject their authority, because you hope thereby to evade the message that they carry. Be careful – Jesus has already warned about those who reject his messengers, and thereby reject his message (Matt 10:14-15).

    • Hi again Michael

      “[“I understand that the gospel writers wrote from direct inspiration internally dictated.”] (RH)

      Really – how do you know this? There were at least 20 “gospels” that purported to set out teachings of Jesus, so the reliability of the writers is indeed an issue. The only reason we believe that the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, John and Luke reliably set out Jesus’ words (and conversely that such documents as the Gospels of Thomas, Peter, Bartholomew and Philip do not) is because the church has testified to the fact that only the four first-mentioned documents were written by or under the authority of an apostle.”

      I think it would have had to be that way. If anything, any ideas, emotions or imaginings of the writers interposed it would not be ‘the Word of God’. The example of being ‘in the spirit’ – as with the prophets and John on the isle of Patmos (Revelation 1:10) comes to mind (not exactly the same thing but an altered state of consciousness for a particular purpose).

      I haven’t read any of the alternative ‘gospels’ you mention but trust the inspiration of those who chose the canon and the divine providence that led them to do so.

      Our difference appears to be that I make a clear distinction between the words/teaching of Jesus and the discussion and teachings of the apostles. Christ’s teachings are direct statements of spiritual reality in the same way as the ‘laws of Nature’ are statements of natural reality.

      You seem to think that because Jesus gave the apostles the authority to teach what he had taught that all their teaching became imbued with the same spiritual authority of Christ. I say no because it was presented through the medium of a limited, fallible human being.

      “No, you are misquoting, substituting your own words for Paul’s. Let’s look at the passage of scripture again:

      “Consequently, you are … members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” [Eph 2:19-20]

      it says clearly that the old testament prophets and the new testament apostles are the foundation. You might not agree with it, but you don’t have the right to misquote it.

      I’m not “mis-quoting”. How else do I disagree and question what’s said? You may accept what’s said as gospel truth, I don’t. Looking at Strong’s index there doesn’t seem to be any justification for the translation of “chief cornerstone”. The KJV translation says, “the head of the corner”. ‘Chief cornerstone’ gives the impression of many cornerstones and one being more important than the others. I’m not sure how that would work in a practical sense and it’s not what the original language suggests. I think ‘the cornerstone’ which ties two intersecting walls together, is symbolic of the entire foundation. The ‘head of the corner’ analogy is confined to one corner with Christ as the head. It’s not a democracy. Christ is the ‘head’ because he is the Truth Itself.

      • “I haven’t read any of the alternative ‘gospels’ you mention but trust the inspiration of those who chose the canon and the divine providence that led them to do so.”

        “Those who chose the canon” were the Apostles – the New Testament consists of those books that the Apostles wrote or authorised. Hence, the only way we know what words Jesus spoke is because the Apostles tell us, just as they also tell us that Jesus commissioned the Apostles to deliver His teachings to his church. That is why those who reject the Apostles’authority reject Jesus’authority.

        “You seem to think that because Jesus gave the apostles the authority to teach what he had taught that all their teaching became imbued with the same spiritual authority of Christ. I say no because it was presented through the medium of a limited, fallible human being.”

        The words of Jesus are always presented through the medium of a limited fallible human being – a fundamental point that you are trying to run from. The Apostles taught us what Jesus said, and they also taught us that Jesus commissioned the Apostles to deliver His teachings to his church.

        “I’m not “mis-quoting”.”

        Yes you are, and blatantly so. Here is the passage again:

        “Consequently, you are … members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” [Eph 2:19-20]

        “Looking at Strong’s index there doesn’t seem to be any justification for the translation of “chief cornerstone”.”

        Here we go again – you have (as far as I can tell) no facility in Greek, but you reject a translation done by people with a great deal of facility, simply because you don’t like what the passage says! Mind you, I am not sure how this assists your argument anyway, as even with your “translation”, the effect of the passage is the same: Christ is the one who holds the building together, but he has chosen to build it on the foundation of the new testament apostles and the old testament prophets.

        I do have facility in Greek, classical and koine, and I am quite happy to debate issues like this with those who have a genuine interest. But I really can’t help those who are just desperately searching for some way to avoid teaching that they don’t like.

  6. This is the last of my three responses to Ralph’s post above:

    “I drew no such conclusion as you suggest.”

    Yes you did. Your reference to Calvin was entirely ad hominem. In effect ‘He did bad things, therefore we shouldn’t believe anything he taught’. Of course i am simplifying, but not unfairly so.

    “so now you’re upping the authority of the Apostles (specifically Paul) to be on the same level as Christ.”

    Not me – Jesus upped it. He endowed the Apostles with authority to proclaim His teaching to the church.

    “That really is some claim since Jesus claimed to be divine/the embodiment of Truth Itself and the Apostles were finite, fallible men.”

    Of course they were, but Jesus endowed them with the authority to deliver His teaching to His church. That didn’t change the fact that they were finite fallible men, but it did mean that the message they delivered was infinite and infallible. In the same way, Jesus reminded the Pharisees that the words Moses wrote to them was God’s word and infallible (Mark 7:10, 13), yet Moses was still a finite fallible man.

    “Being charged with spreading Christ’s message is not the same as claiming authority for oneself.”

    Firstly, Jesus made it clear that if he commissioned someone to deliver a message, no-one had the right to reject the messenger (Matt 10:14-15) so that doesn’t justify your rejection of Christ’s message delivered to you through Paul. Secondly, the apostles made it clear that they claimed the authority to deliver Christ’s teaching to his Church (e.g. 2 Peter 3:2, 1 Thess 4:8, Eph 3:4-5). That means its Christ’s authority not theirs, but in practical terms it means that the other books of the New Testament are just as authoritative as the gospels.

    “Although not a problem in the early Apostolic Church, one of the faults of the later Catholic Church (that Martin Luther brought to prominence) was the mistaken belief that Jesus handed down his (spiritual) authority to church leaders.”

    That wasn’t Martin Luther’s position – we need to be accurate in our treatment of history. Luther, like all the Reformers, recognised that the authority of scripture is apostolic, and that the teachings of the apostles and the teachings of Jesus are the same. The problem with some sections of the medieval church was that they taught that the apostles handed on their authority to later church leaders, when the apostles themselves had made clear that this could not be done.

    ““All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” … He did not/could not transfer that authority to finite beings”.”

    I never suggested that he did – so this is a “straw man”! Jesus gave the apostles authority to declare his teachings to his church, and that is the same authority they claimed for themselves. It is not “all authority in heaven and earth”!

    “That’s a major stretch. I haven’t suggested ‘rejecting’ Paul’s (the apostle’s) teaching”

    Of course you have. Its no different to someone who says that they haven’t rejected Christ’s teaching, just ‘put it into perspective’. The Apostles were endowed with authority by Christ to deliver His teaching to the Church and you either accept it as authoritative or you don’t.

    “Your 1 Cor 7:10-14 reference had Paul making a distinction between teaching that came direct from the Gospels (Jesus) and his own ideas”

    Of course he distinguished; but that was his point – the church was obliged to obey both. Neither is more authoritative than the other, because both have their source in Jesus.

    “Paul certainly has some great insights but do you accept Paul’s teaching on celibacy? or the passive role of women?”

    Yes I do. But this is the real issue, isn’t it? You reject Paul’s authority because you don’t like the contents of his message.

    • “Your reference to Calvin was entirely ad hominem. In effect ‘He did bad things, therefore we shouldn’t believe anything he taught’. Of course i am simplifying, but not unfairly so.”

      I think completely “unfairly so”. I would only be attacking his character if what I said were untrue. What I stated is historical fact. It’s quite valid because it shows that he acted in ways that Jesus would not have agreed with or approved of. I did not base my conclusion on my assessment of his character but independently explained why I disagreed with him on that issue. I did not state or believe that he was wrong about other issues. Each issue would have to be independently looked at to see if it agreed with what Christ teaches.

      “Firstly, Jesus made it clear that if he commissioned someone to deliver a message, no-one had the right to reject the messenger (Matt 10:14-15) so that doesn’t justify your rejection of Christ’s message delivered to you through Paul.”

      I repeat that I do not “reject the messenger”. Nor do I reject “Christ’s message” regardless of how it is delivered. I just say that everything Paul says is not Christ’s message. Paul himself, quite honestly, demonstrates this in 1 Cor 7:10-14. I believe we need to analyse what Paul says from himself to see if and how it agrees with Christ’s teaching. I think the majority of it probably does but we can’t just take it for granted.

      When you go to church and listen to the minister do you take everything he says as gospel truth just because he’s been ordained to preach the gospel or do you cross-reference in your mind with what you already personally understand and believe. Paul’s being given the authority to preach and spread the gospel did not make him infallible any more than you local priest is not infallible.

      “Secondly, the apostles made it clear that they claimed the authority to deliver Christ’s teaching to his Church (e.g. 2 Peter 3:2, 1 Thess 4:8, Eph 3:4-5). That means its Christ’s authority not theirs, but in practical terms it means that the other books of the New Testament are just as authoritative as the gospels.”

      Look at it this way. Any historian always searches for and gives the highest degree of credence to an original document. The direct words of Christ are the original document – and infallible. The preaching of the apostles when they were not directly quoting Christ is not an original document but comes through the prism of a fallible human being with a limited understanding. Obviously the apostles did their best to be true to the original and I suggest mostly were. What’s the problem on checking up on them? I suggest this is even more so for later commenters (like Calvin for example) who are further removed historically from the original.

      “Yes I do (accept Paul’s teaching). But this is the real issue, isn’t it? You reject Paul’s authority because you don’t like the contents of his message.”

      Paul believed that celibacy was superior to marriage but a genuine marriage where husband and wife learn how to fully cooperate to the extent that they become one in heart and mind (Genesis 2:24 and Jesus’ endorsement at Matthew 19:4-6) is far superior.

      It is the seminary of the human race and subsequently heaven – a place where one can complement, love and trust another to the fullest possible extent. I ‘reject’ Paul’s idea, not only because Jesus did not teach it but additionally because, IMO, it does not agree with reason or commonness.

      It may be close to time to put an end to this (it’s becoming rather time-consuming) so if you want to have a final say I probably won’t respond. But please – no threats like, “Be careful – Jesus has already warned about those who reject his messengers, and thereby reject his message”. I hope you can see by now that it does’t apply.

      • “I would only be attacking his character if what I said were untrue. ”

        Not at all. An attack on character is an attack on character. More to the point, you are still trying to avoid my question. You wrote above that you rejected the doctrine of faith alone because Calvin believed it and Calvin (according to you) did bad things. I then asked you (several times) whether that meant that anyone was entitled to reject your theology just because someone previously in history who did bad things believed it. You have repeatedly avoided answering this question.

        “Nor do I reject “Christ’s message” regardless of how it is delivered.”

        Yes you do. Paul delivers Christ’s message, and when you reject Paul you reject Him who sent him.

        “Paul himself, quite honestly, demonstrates this in 1 Cor 7:10-14.”

        On the contrary, Paul says the opposite in that passage – that his message is equal in authority to Christ’s words delivered while He was on earth.

        “When you go to church and listen to the minister do you take everything he says as gospel truth just because he’s been ordained to preach the gospel”

        Of course not, and that is the whole point. The minister is not commissioned by Christ to deliver His words to the church; whereas Paul was so commissioned.

        “The direct words of Christ are the original document – and infallible.”

        You are conflating spoken words and written documents. We only know what “the direct words of Christ are” because the Apostles tell us so. And the Apostles were commissioned by Christ to deliver His teachings to the Church, hence their words are of equal authority, and it is purely through their writings that we know the verbal teachings of Jesus and of his Apostles.

        “Paul believed that celibacy was superior to marriage …”

        It is obvious from this section that you do not understand Paul’s teaching on marriage. But this does show what I wrote before – the real reason you reject Paul’s authority is because you don’t like the contents of his message.

        “But please – no threats like, “Be careful – Jesus has already warned about those who reject his messengers, and thereby reject his message”. I hope you can see by now that it does’t apply.”

        Its not a threat Ralph, its a warning, and not one that originates from me. Based on what you have written here, it does appear to apply.

  7. I have a more on-topic observation – not that Michael and Ralph’s conversation hasn’t been interesting.

    Most of the quotes of respected theologians with which Matt Olliffe has a problem are concerned with the declaration on judgement day. Mike Bird recognised this and recommended the book “Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgement” at the end of his post. What’s going on (it seems to me) is that a number of theologians have tried to express the idea that the works of Christians do play a role at the end, and that that role is closely connected with justification, while still maintaining the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith. It seems that Olliffe didn’t recognise this, and produced a thorough explanation of the distinction between faith and the works that result from it (which I happily agree with), so he hasn’t really addressed the issue.

    That’s how I read the exchange anyway. Michael did a great job of defending the authority of the apostles’ teaching, btw.

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