Friday, August 01, 2008


Once again, I am over at Beggars All where there is a discussion posted over the "alleged perspiciuty" of the Catholic Magisterium . Basically, the argument is that Catholics claim that the Magisterial writings are clearer than Scripture. Well, I will attempt to address that point in the very near future (pushing my other projects aside for a little while longer) but the first point that needs to be addressed is whether the Bible even teaches that there is a Magisterium.

In the comment section, one gentleman who goes by the handle Jugulum states:

"So, I reject as silly the idea that we inherently require an infallible interpreter, or that having one gets us further than perspicuous Scripture would. That's a big part of my interaction with Alexander.

Going on from there, God still could have given us something like the Magisterium as an aid, of course. And I can see how an authoritative tutor could be helpful. But I am not even remotely impressed by Catholic arguments that God did--I don't see the Biblical or historical foundation."

I replied and suggested to him that the existence of a magisterium is biblical and cited to Deuteronomy 7:12.

Then Augustinian Successor, who we have commented on before here, then chimes in and states the following:

[Deuteronomy] 17:12 says ...

"And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel."

It talks about a kind of a "Magisterium" in the nation of Israel???

Let's take a close look at the preceding verses:

"If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within thy gates: then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the LORD thy God shall choose; And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and enquire; and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment: And thou shalt do according to the sentence, which they of that place which the LORD shall choose shall shew thee; and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they inform thee: According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do: thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall shew thee, to the right hand, nor to the left."

And now let's pick two key words form the verses: sentence and law. What do these words tell us? Legal matters. Not doctrinal matters. Futhermore, Israel was a theocracy where both civil, judicial, theological matters intersect. The Roman Catholic Church despite its claim to the two swords of spiritual and temporal authority is not a theocratic state." (See here)

Here was my response:

So what is your point? I have provided to you a passage which clearly demonstrates the existence of the OT equivalent of a magisterium and to escape the import of it, you engage in eisegesis! Let's put those two words back into their historical and Scriptural context rather than apply modern-day notions to them.

Rather than pick out two words to support your claim, let's look at some other texts of the OT and see how your analysis of Deut. 17:8-12 holds up.

At Ex. 18:13-27, we find Moses establishing a court system to interpret the Law because he got overwhelmed with people coming to him to settle their disputes AND MAKING THEM "KNOW GOD'S STATUTES AND HIS DECISIONS." Ex. 18:15 explicitly says that people were coming to Moses to "INQUIRE OF GOD."

When Moses set up this system of judges, he retained authority at the pinnacle, so he could “teach them the statutes and the decisions, and show the Israelites the way in which they must walk and what they must do.” [BTW, the word halachah which is the name given to the precepts of the Oral Torah comes from the word “to walk”] (Ex. 18:20) Moreover, Moses chose able men from all the people, who feared God, who were trustworthy, and who hated bribes and then placed such men over the people as their rulers. These rulers were to judge the people at all times; every great matter they were to bring to him, but any small matter they were to decide themselves. (Ex. 18:21-22) Scripture records that Moses did choose his judges from the people and “they judged the people at all times; hard cases they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves.” (Ex. 18:25-26) Note, that the Scriptures here does not differentiate between religious matters and civil or criminal matters, only matters of great and small. Since all of the statutes were from God, the Israelites considered them all to be religious matters.

At Numbers 11: 14-17, we find God telling Moses to gather seventy men from the elders of Israel and bring them to Him. Once gathered, God would take some of the spirit which was upon Moses and confer it upon the men so that they would be able to judge the people and the people would know that God gave the elders the right to judge them.

Note the two examples given where God Himself intervened. At Num 15:34-35, a man broke the Sabbath gathering sticks. Since the Law was not plain as to the punishment, the matter was brought to Moses who was then told by God to stone the man. Now is this an example of a doctrinal matter as opposed to a legal matter? Perhaps, in light of the preceding passage which demonstrates the difference between venial sins and mortal sins (Num. 15:27-31), I guess one could construe as such.

However, at Numbers 27:1-11, we see a matter of inheritance being brought before Moses. One would think that a probate matter would be a legal matter, right? God Himself made a statute and ordinance that the daughters of Zelophehad could inherit.

The OT doesn't distinguish between the two.

In the first chapter of Deuteronomy we find Moses having a conversation with the sons of Israel who he asked to “choose wise, understanding, and experienced men, according to your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads.” The sons of Israel complied. He then charged the men chosen to judge to hear the cases both small and great alike between brethren and judge righteously for the judgment is God’s. Only cases that were too hard to decide were to be brought to Moses. (Deut. 1:13-18). Again, nothing here distinguishing between legal matters and theological matters;

Now let's look again at Deuteronomy 17:8-12. If this was purely a legal matter as you suggest, why does verses 9 and 12
reference the Levitical priests as well as the judges? And Note how both the priest and the judge's authority had equal weight. Furthermore, look at the similarity of language here "thou shalt observe to do according to all that they inform thee" and what Jesus says about the Pharisees at Matt. 23:3 "to practice and observe whatever they tell you." The Moses seat at Matt. 23 was the seat of authority given to the judges in the OT.

We see this repeated in Scriptures elsewhere. At 2 Chronicles 19:4-11 that King Jehoshaphat went out among the people, from Beer-sheba to the hill country of Ephraim, to bring them back to God. To insure that they did not relapse, he appointed judges in the land in all the cities of Judah. At verses 6-7, he repeats what Moses said when he appointed judges, "Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the LORD; he is with you in giving judgment. Now then, let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take heed what you do, for there is no perversion of justice with the LORD our God, or partiality, or taking bribes." At verse 8 Jehoshaphat then appointed certain Levites and priests and heads of families of Israel, “to give judgment for the LORD and to decide disputed cases.” Their seat was at Jerusalem. He then sets forth their duties which included rendering judgment in disputes concerning bloodshed, law, commandments, statutes, and ordinances. (Verses 9-10). Again, judges were given authority to decide religious matters.

In the book of Ezra 7:25-26, Ezra was to appoint judges and magistrates and "whoever who will not obey the Law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be strictly executed." Was the "Law of your God" here civil law or divine law that was being enforced?

Perhaps you would like to take another tack here? I have used Scripture alone here to demonstrate the existence of a kind of OT magisterium. We have not even discussed what is contained in the Oral Torah or archaelogical findings yet. Now of course, you can argue about whether this OT magisterium was infallible or bears the same characteristics of the magisterium that exists in the Catholic Church, but you can not argue that 1) it did not exist, nor 2) that was not authoritative, nor 3) that its decisions, both civil and ecclesiastical, were binding on the people.

God bless!"

Now that we have established the fact that the OT does teach the notion of a Magisterium, the next thing we will need to do is establish whether the NT teaches that there is one as well. I will tackle that issue next.

Anyone care to comment?


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your analysis of the second part of the argument. I wonder if I could take you back to the first argument for some questions?

"So, I reject as silly the idea that we inherently require an infallible interpreter, or that having one gets us further than perspicuous Scripture would. That's a big part of my interaction with Alexander."

So here we have a straw man of a perfectly perspicuous Magistarium failing to explain all compared to the (relatively) perspicuous bible. In fast forward a Catholic/Protestant argument might go like this:
C: If perspicuous then why denominations?
P: No significant differences between denominations.

Ignore the standard Catholic retort here.. My question is, "Then is there no significant difference between Catholics and Protestants"?

A "Yes" is unacceptable (affirming no differences between C and P). Here the only "logical" answer I can see is TAO's, "Catholic's are not Christian". This, of course, leading to the conclusion that there was no Christian church for, what, 1000 years or so.

Am I missing something here?

PS: As I seldom have time to post anywhere forgive an unrelated question. I see you tease TAO with the tag, "ever anonymous". As Reginald dePiprino (cant spell check right now) is "ever anonymous" (though much quieter and far more polite) also is your tag meaningful?

Martin (the ever semi-anonymous)

Paul Hoffer said...

Hi Martin, thank you for commenting here! I hope you visit often (at least as much as I update)!

As for your first question, I do not think you are missing "something." Denominationalism demonstrates the flaw of perspicuity of Scripture. Because it is human nature that people perceive things differently, people will also perceive Scripture differently and will disagree on what Scripture passages mean. Unless one accepts a binding and authoritative interpreter of Scripture, those disagreements will fester and ultimately, people will go the way they see fit. Denominationalism stems from a rejection of the authority of the Church and substituting oneself in its place.

Now TF and others will argue a variety of things that boil down to some sort of hidden Church argument or that the Church did not add to "bible" Christianity until the dark ages or similar foorah, but ultimately the question boils down to who wields the authority to interpret and teach.

As far as your second question, I use the tag "ever anonymous" as my small protest to TF's usage of the perjorative terms "Romanist" and "Papist." Being familiar with the history of the Nativist movement in this country, the KKK and the Know-Nothings, I find it unsettling that someone has the temerity to use these terms when describing Catholics, does from a position of cover. Using these terms from behind the shield of anonymity is a subtle reminder (to me anyways) of those who used these terms in this country to disparage, terrorize and slander Catholics and question their patriotism and honesty as well while hiding behind masks, the white hood, and the sight of a gun.

Now mind you. I do not have a bone to pick with folks who want to participate in the marketplace of ideas on occasion, but wish to do so while maintaining their privacy or have another valid reason for remaining anonymous. For example: "Reginald de Piperno" who does so out of humility. I have some concerns about people who wish to maintain their privacy while they not only participate in the marketplace of ideas, but insist on occupying center-stage but want to do so while wearing a mask or other concealment. If TF were to explain to me his reasons for anonymity (fear of persecution or from concern for the well-being of family in another country who hates Christians, etc...), I would even drop the adjectives I use now. If he has explained his reasons, I either didn't see it or I don't remember them.

God bless!

PS, Based on your usage of TAO, are you the same Martin whose comments I have read and interacted with on occasion over at Dave Armstrong's blog?