Attack of the Lutheran Polemicists

Back in October of 2021, Todd Wilken and William Weedon aired a program on the Lutheran show, Issues, Etc. defending the Lutheran version of Sola Scriptura, attempting to demonstrate that this was in fact expressed by various patristic and even medieval figures, no less than Aquinas. In the show, they make the curious characterization of people who argue against or object to Lutheran distinctives as “anti-Lutheran polemicists.” I found this rather comical and not too unlike the Mormon framing of anyone who criticizes Mormonism as “anti-Mormon.” It is a cheap move.

In any case, recently a former Lutheran who converted to Orthodoxy, sent me the link to this show for my comments. What follows are my comments on the show as it progressed. Some of those comments will probably only make adequate sense if you hear what I am reacting to in the show. So it leave it up to the listener to decide is they wish to listen to the show as they read or simply consume my remarks as they stand.


Early on, “where it is written” trades on knowing what it means and locating the text.  Simply acting like the meaning falls off the page into our brains is silly. But beyond that, what authority is there that could adjudicate between rival interpretations?

And of course, “where it is written” depends on the canon one has. If you read Davies’ bk, The Problem of Authority in the Continental Reformers, should be clear from the chapter on Luther that he assumes Law/Gospel dialectic before coming to scripture, which is how he adjudicates canonical questions. That’s called question begging.

What happens when you actually do provide a demonstration, but the average person can’t see it? Are they obligated to believe it even if they don’t understand it or see that it is in fact demonstrated? Here we get to the main issue. Is a person only obligated to adhere to things they agree with or no? Does the individual have veto power over the authority of the Church? If so, WHERE IS THAT WRITTEN? It isn’t. The Scriptures witness to Christ giving his ministers authority to adjudicate with divine authority, not mere human authority of those elected by other men, as the Lutherans would have it. In Acts 15, the council of the Apostles simple over rules any judgment of any individual, full stop. Without that, you end up with clumps of like minded individuals.

The story of the Duke is a non-sequitur. It doesn’t follow that if the Lutherans limit themselves to scripture alone both materially and FORMALLY, that their teaching is consistent with scripture or expresses scripture’s teaching. The Baptists and the Reformed also do this and the Lutherans take them to be false visible churches.

What is more, the Apostolic church did not function by scripture alone, but by apostolic authority. As John says “We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” 1 Jn 4:6. Notice, truth is discerned by who listens to the apostolic ministry, not by an appeal to a text.

And Eck was no dummy. I’d be surprised if Eck made any such silly admission, and Weedon supplies no reference to the text. So “where is that written” in Eck’s works? We are left to wonder. Eck goes out of his way in his works to cite scripture copiously for any number of doctrines and practices. Luther’s reply in some cases is just to deny that a given text is scripture. Besides, it is simply impossible to read a text without a presupposed framework that makes interpreting the text even possible. And Lutherans when pushed will acknowledge this that, they read the scriptures through the Confessional documents.

And if Sola Scriptura was of apostolic deposit, why is it that it survived nowhere? Both within and without the Roman Empire it shows up nowhere as a living practice and survives nowhere as a living practice. Was the apostolic deposit so brittle that from England to Norway to Africa to China and India, within 100 years it just up and vanishes like a fart in the wind? What the Lutherans need is not just that Rome botched it, but that everyone did, which is why they need a story of universal apostasy. Here Joseph Smith was cleverer than Luther, even though the former’s theology was infinitely more stupid than the latter.

So, if you question Lutheranism, you’re anti-Lutheran?! So wait, you can ask everyone else, “where is it written,” but if you question the Lutheranism, you’re an anti-Lutheran! LOL.

Here, try this on for size.  I’ll just stipulate, If you question Orthodoxy, you’re anti-Christ. We’re done. These guys need a better class of apologist.

Notice how he frames SS, as support for every dogmatic statement. Well, who decides and with what authority what is or is not a dogmatic statement? Is infant baptism a dogma? How about making the sign of the Cross? Certainly, the Reformed and the Baptists will not admit that reading of SS since it violates the Regulative Principle, namely that whatever is not commanded is forbidden, which is contrary to Lutheranism. Here they do not even agree as to what Sola Scriptura means. Is Sola Scriptura a dogma? What are we to do now since the Reformed and the Lutherans do not even agree on what the “dogma” of Sola Scriptura means?

Yeah, Chrysostom’s target is philosophy, not an appeal to apostolic tradition in that text. So Weedon is creating a strawman with the quote.

They reject the authority of the testimony of the ancient church because for them, no one can have greater authority over an individual unless the individual agrees to be so bound. This assumes that all ecclesial authority is of human origin. So, they assume a non-Christian view of the church in order to make this claim.

Tradition for Weedon can only provide information for the judgment of the individual to utilize and not because the tradition is normative over the judgment of the individual. Calvin’s rejection of the Eternal Generation of the Son is a perfect example. That is a dogma older than Nicaea, which has scriptural support that Calvin rejects. Why on Lutheran grounds is Calvin obligated to assent to tradition that he judges to be unscriptural?

And there is plenty from the Church’s tradition the Lutherans have rejected. Weedon is just blowing smoke here.

Again misusing Chrysostom. Notice the dialectic is between reason vs revelation, not between

claims of apostolic or ecclesial tradition vs. the private judgment of what the scriptures express. Claiming that the kergymatic dogmas are sufficiently set forth in scripture is not incompatible with a non SS position nor does it imply or entail SS.

Here, I agree with everything the scriptures say, therefore I should not be Lutheran. Now what?

Furthermore, it might help to know what some of the groups were that Chrysostom had in mind, such as Judaizes or various other sects, such as some gnostic sects or other minor anti-trinitarian sects. Does Weedon provide that context? No. How can one interpret a text without any contextualization?

The simplicity there is with respect to the kergyma. Or would he have us believe that the problem with the Eunomians was that they were too stupid to read the biblical text?

2nd Chrysostom quote-notice the dialectic, opinion vs. scripture. Is that what the Reformation was about? Was the pope requiring adherence to mere opinion? No. So Weedon doesn’t have here a text that expresses the dialectic of the Reformation. He is missing the context in which Chrysostom is writing.

He equivocates on the term prooftexting. Simply citing a passage doesn’t prove that the doctrine is expressed in a given text.

But wait, I thought it was all of matter of seeing “where that is written” rather than knowing before the entirety of what scripture expresses on a doctrine? Besides, how am I to know the whole first without knowing the parts, if I need to know the whole in order to know the parts? Oops.

He has no idea what he is talking about with respect to propositional truths. First, there is a clear difference between knowledge by acquaintance and propositional knowledge. Can you express what it is like to see the color red propositionally? No. Second, postmodernism doesn’t deny that

truth can be expressed propositionally, it denies truth simpliciter and authorial intent.

HIs account of Erasmus is completely ignorant. Erasmus was just fine taking “a stand for the Faith.” Why else write critiquing Luther? Erasmus wants to maintain both the goodness of God’s creation and human need of grace. Early on, Erasmus went out of his way as an early supporter of Luther. The section on Erasmus in McSorley’s bk, Luther: Right or Wrong? staring on page 279 is too long to quote here so I simply direct you to read it. If Weedon had read Erasmus’ extended reply to The Bondage of the Will, (which comprises no less than 700 pages in length!) he would have seen that Erasmus responds to this mischaracterization of Luther as being a skeptic. Weedon simply follows Luther uncritically-the big dog barks and the little dogs have set to yapping, as Luther himself said. How ironic.

As to the Cappadocians, first he’s dealing with factions within the Church. Scripture would be the relevant material and the most authoritative text. Such an appeal does not of itself constitute an expression of Sola Scriptura. Here Weedon confuses what is consistent with Sola Scriptura with being an expression of it. Other views are consistent with such an appeal as well. In short, he confuses necessary with sufficient conditions.

What is more the Cappadocians, as can be seen with Basil, are just fine with appealing to the Liturgy as a basis for his Trinitarian teaching as being of apostolic origin and authority, not to mention many other practices that are not found in scripture being from tradition of the church handed on from the Apostles.

Saying the Scriptures decide confuses formal and material authority. It would be akin to saying that the Constitution decides matters of law. That is true in the sense that the Constitution is the material out of which a judgment must be rendered, but the text itself renders no formal judgment as to its own meaning. (This is in part what drove the bus in the Arian controversy, namely different interpretative frameworks.) That has to be done by a person, called a judge. And the Protestant position is that no person can render an infallible and authoritative interpretation of the text binding on others.  That is what they are committed to. Hence every proposition of the faith, including the canon is revisable and provisional. It is a human construct with pragmatic constraints. Its just the best humans can do in this life on their view. This is why it is not a Faith delivered, but a faith constructed. It is a kind of theological Pelagianism-we construct the Faith from the material God provided.

He provides no reason to take the phrase “every tenant” as everything taught. He could simply mean every dogma. This is the better reading because if we take Weedon’s reading he ends up contradicting himself when he and the other Cappadocians appeal to apostolic tradition passed down in the Church.

Basil is more complex in his thought than Nyssa??!! He obviously has never read the two author’s works of the same name, Contra Eunomius.

He’s clearly misreading Basil, so would Weedon agree with Basil that apostolic tradition is of equal authority as Basil expresses? How would that not violate Sola Scriptura? Second, he is privileging the Lutheran view of Sola Scriptura, as the Reformed and the Baptists would and do exclude all those things on the basis that they are not found in scripture.

So, taking the sign of the Cross or facing East, where would Weedon direct us when asked, where is it written? To Scripture or tradition? Where does Basil? For supporting the deity of the Spirit, Basil takes both to be apostolic.

Further, Basil makes this argument in arguing for the deity of the Spirit against the Pneumatomochai

from the divine liturgy. Would Weedon accept the deity of the Spirit on the basis of early liturgies or on Scripture alone? Which has greater weight for Weedon in comparison to Basil? His reading here of Basil is rather delusional and he can’t seem to follow what the text is expressing.

Ok at this point, he obviously has never read Basil’s On the Holy Spirit, since that whole book is about DOGMA, the deity of the Spirit, which is why Basil appeals to the divine liturgy as an authoritative ground on par with Scripture to ground the doctrine of the deity of the Spirit.

Notice that Basil says “not of faith.” Notice earlier he distinguished between kergyma (public proclomation) and theologia, that which is kept internally to the Church. Basil is here is not expressing SS but rather anything outside of the tradition that is inconsistent with it. Now, who gets to decide for the church what is or is not consistent with it? What must Weedon’s answer be? Everyone gets to decide for themselves and no one can be obligated unless they are convinced. Ever try to convince people from say Calvary Chapel that the Eucharist is Christ’s body and blood? So, would Weedon say that they aren’t obligated to believe it because they aren’t convinced? Remember what Luther says, unless he is convinced, so that the measure is not demonstration but persuasion.

Notice also that Weedon says its wrong to claim divine sourcehood for something “not explicitly laid out in the scriptures.” But that was exactly the argument of the Pneumatomochoi, namely that the deity of the Spirit was not “explicitly laid out in the scriptures.” This is why Basil appeals in part to the Liturgy as divinely authoritative proof. Here Weedon’s reading of Basil is ungrounded in the thought and argument of Basil.

What is more, let us take a test case. Let’s take the Lutheran view of God’s simplicity. That is certainly a dogma as part of the doctrine of God. Can Weedon show that it is “explicitly” taught in Scripture? No, he can’t.

Can he do the same with the Filioque? No, he can’t. All he can do is point to statements about the economia, not the generation of eternal person of the Spirit. Hence he violates his own standard in core areas of theology.

He’s equivocating on the term “private judgment.” First, does he tell you what a hearer was? It isn’t just a person who can hear things. It is most likely an inquirer or an aspirant. Asking such persons to adjudicate truth claims is not the same as the doctrine of private judgment, though they are often confused. The latter is that the individual can’t be obligated by anything any authority says unless they agree it is scriptural. Nowhere does this text express that idea. Second, at the time Basil is writing with different Arian and semi-Arian factions in the Church, such advice makes perfect sense. There is no blanket statement here that an individual’s authority is on par with that of the Church.

What is more, if you read a bit further in that same section from Basil, we see the following statements.

“That they who heed not those who are sent by the Lord bring dishonor not only upon these latter, but upon Him also who sent them, and they draw down upon themselves a harsher judgment than that pronounced upon the people of Sodom and Gomorrha.” Ch. 72, cap. 3.

This seems to indicate that those in ecclesial authority have authority over the judgment of individuals, in line with say Hebrews 13

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

And then just for fun we have this statement right after from Basil,

“That the teaching of the Lord’s commandments should be received as having the power to procure eternal life and the kingdom of heaven; and also that we should put it into practice with a good will, even though it seem arduous.” Ch. 72, cap. 4

 Whatever that is, that isn’t Sola Fide.

In any case, Basil doesn’t express a scripture vs. tradition dialectic here, but a scripture vs. what is opposed to scripture. Notice also that Weedon moves the goal posts, from whether a person is persuaded to whether it can be demonstrated. Those are not the same standards.

So, which is it? I can provide deductive demonstrations of things that the average person isn’t persuaded by, because well, most people aren’t logical.

Take his use of Basil, “We are not content simply because this is the tradition of the Fathers.  What is important is that the Fathers followed the meaning of the Scripture.”  St. Basil the Great (On the Holy Spirit, Chapter 7, par. 16).

If you read the entire section, Basil’s meaning is quite contrary to the sense that Weedon is putting on it.

“16.  But their contention is that to use the phrase “with him” is altogether strange and unusual, while “through him” is at once most familiar in Holy Scripture, and very common in the language of the brotherhood.  What is our answer to this?  We say, Blessed are the ears that have not heard you and the hearts that have been kept from the wounds of your words.  To you, on the other hand, who are lovers of Christ, I say that the Church recognizes both uses, and deprecates neither as subversive of the other.  For whenever we are contemplating the majesty of the nature of the Only Begotten, and the excellence of His dignity, we bear witness that the glory is with the Father; while on the other hand, whenever we bethink us of His bestowal on us of good gifts, and of our access to, and admission into, the household of God, we confess that this grace is effected for us through Him and by Him.

It follows that the one phrase “with whom” is the proper one to be used in the ascription of glory, while the other, “through whom,” is specially appropriate in giving of thanks.  It is also quite untrue to allege that the phrase “with whom” is unfamiliar in the usage of the devout.  All those whose soundness of character leads them to hold the dignity of antiquity to be more honourable than mere new-fangled novelty, and who have preserved the tradition of their fathers unadulterated, alike in town and in country, have employed this phrase.  It is, on the contrary, they who are surfeited with the familiar and the customary, and arrogantly assail the old as stale, who welcome innovation, just as in dress your lovers of display always prefer some utter novelty to what is generally worn.  So you may even still see that the language of country folk preserves the ancient fashion, while of these, our cunning experts in logomachy, the language bears the brand of the new philosophy.

What our fathers said, the same say we, that the glory of the Father and of the Son is common; wherefore we offer the doxology to the Father with the Son.  But we do not rest only on the fact that such is the tradition of the Fathers; for they too followed the sense of Scripture, and started from the evidence which, a few sentences back, I deduced from Scripture and laid before you.  For “the brightness” is always thought of with “the glory,” “the image” with the archetype, and the Son always and everywhere together with the Father; nor does even the close connexion of the names, much less the nature of the things, admit of separation.” Philip Schaff: NPNF2-08. Basil: Letters and Select Works – Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Notice here that Basil’s argument trades on tradition in relation to scripture and not the Lutheran dialectic of tradition as opposed to scripture. This is how you know Weedon has probably not even read the text and is simply quote mining. I believe as the Reformed theologian Gerstner coined the term, the appropriate term here is not proof textings, but spooftexting.

Notice Basil’s previous argument which he then follows up with an appeal to scripture in addition to the tradition of the Church. Notice also that his argument is not about explicit teaching, but what follows by logical implication.

I’ve already dealt with Cyril of Jerusalem here against Reformed pastor Patrick Hines.

Here I will simply pick out relevant material from that post to answer Weedon.

“First, Cyril doesn’t express the Protestant doctrine of the Right of Private Judgement. That is, he

doesn’t say, if you and the church disagree over an interpretation of a given text, then you are only ultimately obligated to assent to what you agree with. Without that concept, Cyril can’t be expressing the doctrine of Sola Scriptura because the doctrine of the Right of Private Judgement is a necessary constituent of Sola Scriptura. So whatever Cyril is expressing, it isn’t Sola Scriptura. The above alone is sufficient to refute the claim that he is expressing Sola Scriptura.

If Sola Scriptura is, as Mr. Hines says, the thesis that all and only “the Bible” is inspired and by the term “Bible” he means to denote the Protestant canon of it, then Cyril simply doesn’t believe in Sola Scriptura. Cyril does not adhere to a Protestant canon of the OT. For example, he includes such works as Baruch as inspired (not to mention having a shorter NT canon as well). (4.35)

Next Cyril’s work is for catechumens. It is not some exhaustive text of everything the church says, does or believes.  Various early church figures and fathers distinguish between what the church openly proclaims, its kerygma, and what is to be kept secret.  What Cyril has in mind here in section 4:17 are what he deems the articles of the Faith, or its chief points. (See also 5.12) This is why he states both in 4:17 and elsewhere that what is taught is not the result of apparently, philosophical reasoning. So the implicit contrast seems to be that the core doctrines of the Faith are exemplified and found sufficiently well attested in the Scriptures rather than being the product of argumentation.  Christianity delivers divinely revealed truths and not philosophical speculation. That of course is quite compatible with a non-Sola position.

By contrast of course, Cyril advances positions and practices not to be found in scripture, at least not explicitly so, such as making the sign of the Cross (13:22, 26) and saintly invocation (23:9-10). In fact, Lecture 23 is hardly compatible with Mr. Hines’ reading of Lecture 4:17 for many of the things mentioned there are not expressly in Scripture as explicit directives or derivable information, at least on Protestant grounds they aren’t. And yet Cyril seems to think they are warranted by the Apostles.  So on the one hand we have statements from Cyril expressing that the church’s doctrines have to be located in and derived from scripture and then we have practices and at least implicit doctrinal content that is not located in and derived from scripture, at least not explicitly so.  So what are we to say is going on here?

[Interjection-and last I checked, Lutherans aren’t too fond of the claim that saintly invocation is legitimate.]

For any Orthodox reader, much of the above in terms of praxis is quite familiar. But to speak to the point, Basil’s position is that while the church’s core teachings are explicitly expressed or even found in scripture, plenty of other things are not. And this seems to be the same general idea that Cyril is expressing, which is why Cyril’s remarks in 4:17 are in the middle of a summary of the core teachings of the church. It makes sense for him to instruct  catechumen’s prior to baptism about those core doctrines and that they are to be found in scripture, rather than the products of human reason, while at a later time, he instructs them in things that are not to be found in scripture, things are generally kept secret. (I’d say the secret is pretty well kept since most Presbyterians wouldn’t be familiar with the practices. ;)) And yet Cyril, like Basil appears to think these things are of apostolic deliverance. In sum, I think this reading is pretty evident if one reads through the patristic text, rather than relying on secondary quote mining works.

“Now suppose for those beliefs/practices that Cyril takes to be scriptural, Mr. Hines argues that Cyril was simply wrong about these beliefs and practices either being grounded in or expressed in Scripture. As a matter of argument he is free to do so. But this at best simply moves the question. For now we are at a point of the normativity of the two judgments, Cyril’s and Mr. Hines. And so this pushes us back to the Protestant doctrine of the Right of Private Judgment. And of course Cyril does not express that doctrine. As Mr. Hines’ points out, Cyril takes himself to be fallible. And that is of course true of any bishop per se on either an Orthodox conciliar model or a Catholic papal model. So, noting that he takes himself to be fallible isn’t sufficient to show that the concept of Sola Scriptura is being expressed by him.  Besides, the fallibility of any given cleric doesn’t amount to an expression of the doctrine of the Right of Private Judgement. A given bishop may enjoy a degree of authority and not be infallible and it still not be the case that the conscience of the individual enjoys a degree of normativity greater than that of the church’s judgements or that individual bishop.”

The quote from Augustine also doesn’t express SS either. Even Rome holds that only scripture is materially inspired. That is all that Augustine is expressing. Second, Augustine took councils to be able to adjudicate matters in the Church over and above laymen. Laymen weren’t even generally allowed at councils. Third, it is laughable to use Aquinas to defend Sola Scriptura. Thomas is contrasting pseudepigraphal works with the Scriptures in the passage referred to.
Next Aquinas says in the Summa Theologica,

“The reason of this is that the species of every habit depends on the formal aspect of the object, without which the species of the habit cannot remain. Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith.” ST, II-II, Q. 5, art. 3, responsio.

Aquinas doesn’t deny the authority of the doctrines of the church over than of the private individual, as the Reformation traditions do. Second, Aquinas has a wider canon of books than the Lutherans, which is why he has many views as scripturally grounded that the Reformation traditions do. An appeal to inspired texts won’t give us the formal canon of scripture, regardless of which canon we have. Third, Weedon is confusing the claim that the Scripture is the highest and only materially inspired source of doctrine with the claim of Sola Scriptura, which entails not only material but also formal sufficiency, and Aquinas denies the latter. This is why Weedon’s citations do no work. In short, Weedon is reading into Aquinas a view he simply doesn’t express. And this is because he is just quote mining text that float around on the internet rather than doing the work of actually working through the texts he cites.

Furthermore, the Lutherans reject the “doctors of the church” when they contradict the judgment of the Lutherans as to what Scripture means. This logically entails that the authority of the individual in interpreting the text of scripture is greater than any ecclesial authority, and hence the distinctive and necessary constituent of Sola Scriptura, namely the right of private judgment. So why again isn’t anyone free to reject Aquinas here on their own grounds?

So here Weedon misses the issue, since it is and was no one’s position that the various authors were materially inspired with special revelation. They don’t need to be to have an authority greater than that of the individual.

Again, Weedon shifts back from persuasion as the standard to demonstration. Secondly, many of the things that the Lutherans reject do not rise to the level of dogma, and hence by his own reasoning it would follow that neither persuasion nor an explicit demonstration from a biblical text is required to obligate assent. Yet the Lutherans reject them nonetheless on the basis that they are not explicit in scripture. Hence they seem to shift back and forth between the requirements for dogma and the requirements for any teaching and practice.

As to the requirement for “true and simple.” Are Lutheran christological distinctives that they insist on over against other Reformers “simple?” Doesn’t seem so. Why aren’t the Lutherans

The Difference Between a Fool and a Simpleton - Borrowed Light

inconsistent here then? They should set aside their non-simple Christological models and simply unite with the Baptists and the Reformed. The same goes for their views on Divine Simplicity and the Filioque. Is the Filioque “simple?” Not by a long shot, and yet the Lutherans insist on it, primarily because that was the way they received from Rome on how to interpret the biblical data.

I find it interesting that according to Weedon in order to be a Confessional Lutheran, one has to adhere to Young Earth Creationism. But here I think he misuses Basil. Basil is confronting largely Platonic hermeneutical practices with respect to allegory, and not truths known by experience and reason (science) in an attempt to harmonize both scripture and naturally known truths. Basil simply never encountered strata with a dozen transitional forms all lined up the way we’d expect them to be on a general evolutionary model. I’d also offer Augustine’s Literal Commentary On Genesis, which is anything but “literal” in the modern sense of the term. It is entirely figurative.

Furthermore, the text from Basil about the literal sense does no work for Sola Scriptura. Nor does it touch the position of Lutheran opponents since they by and large do not reject the literal sense or the literal sense as the ground for any of the other senses. Consequently, this is just a strawman.

As to Weedon and Co.’s charge against Old Earth advocates that the only thing not literal are the days and that this is somehow special pleading-They conflate the text mentioning actual animals and plants as part of a figurative story with the thesis that a figurative account can’t contain any actual real world objects. But these two are not the same ideas. Do Jesus’ parables include things like actual human beings? Yes of course. Do all the parables pick out actual specific historical persons? No. Did Jesus goof the literal sense by giving parables? No. Are parables “literal” or “figurative?”

Another thing to note is that taking a text to be figurative in the ancient sense doesn’t necessarily mean taking it as allegorical in say the way Origen would. So again, against the charge of taking only one part of the text being figurative, I would ask, why did Jesus only present some of the

Kepler's Law of Planetary Motion - The Heliocentric Model - Physics In My  View

parables as figurative and not everything as either figurative or “literal?” If Jesus is not inconsistent in this behavior, I can’t see why those who are not YEC’s are inconsistent.

Furthermore, given that the Lutherans are on record as rejecting Heliocentrism past the 19th century and into the early 20th century, I have to ask why they rejected their “literal” geocentric views, as held by Luther and others, in the face of “science” and the “whore of reason?” After all, if science is wrong about how species come to be differentiated (which is what evolutionary theory is) and the age of the earth and the wider cosmos, why stop there and just accept Geocentrism? Why did they change their interpretation of scripture? Oh yeah, it was our demonstrated knowledge of the natural world by use of our senses.

This highlights the underlying point here, namely that taking texts to be figurative (or even allegorical) in the face of demonstrated data is not a move of special pleading as they charge. Rather it is an attempt to preserve both sets of truths and harmonize them, since all truth is God’s truth. Besides, if Weedon and Wilken wish to go this route, they need to offer us one of a few things. Either they need to offer us a scientific model and method of demonstration, that in fact demonstrates that the Earth is 6k plus years old or they need to reject their senses as being a means to convey truth about reality and lapse into some kind of epistemic occasionalism (God puts ideas in my head on the occasion of my “reading” such and so text “with” my eyeballs). For the first lemma, appeal to the biblical text is not a scientific or empirical method applicable to the age of objects, the earth or otherwise. That would be an appeal to special revelation. So far as I know, they have no such alternative method for discovering truths about the natural world. This betrays that they have no means to reconcile apparent conflicts between the two domains. On the second lemma, if we cannot gain knowledge about the natural world from our senses, how do they propose we learn from the text of scripture since we use our senses to gain knowledge of objects (a book) in the natural world? In short, Basil just isn’t in our position or anything really comparable to it. The sciences in his time were in their extreme infancy. One could even argue that we have simply moved from extreme infancy to completing gestation when one considers that at the time of the American Civil War, chemistry was still considered magic and that the last civil war veteran died in the 1950’s.

John of Damascus

1. Damascus also employs the Cosmological Argument. I am pretty sure that that isn’t found in Scripture but rather that philosopher most dreaded by Lutherans, Aristotle. 2nd, Damascene is quite happy to appeal to tradition as normative. He writes ” For he that believeth not according to the tradition of the Catholic Church, or who hath intercourse with the devil through strange works, is an unbeliever.” Exact Exp. bk 4. sec. 10.

St. John of Damascus

“So, then, in expectation of His coming we worship towards the East. But this tradition of the apostles is unwritten. For much that has been handed down to us by tradition is unwritten.” Exact Exp. Bk 4, Sec 12.

“Moreover that the Apostles handed down much that was unwritten, Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, tells us in these words: Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the tradition which ye have been taught of us, whether word or by epistle. And to the Corinthian he writes, Now, I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the traditions as I have delivered them to you.” Exact. Exp, Bk 4, sec. 16.

As to the section Weedon cites from Exact Ep. Bk 1, sec. 2, no one disputes the necessity of divine revelation or even special revelation. But that is a far cry from Sola Scriptura. Second, in sec. 1 of the same book, John also appeals to natural revelation as implanted in humans by nature, which is clearly not talking about scripture. And John does not hold to a Lutheran anthropology with respect to the Fall, which is one reason why he thinks reason can demonstrate the existence of God. For John, reason may be limited to a domain, but she ain’t no whore. In any case, John isn’t expressing Sola Scriptura in this text.

The attempt to shift to “recognizing the canon” does no actual work. And this can be brought out and made clear by a simple question. Is anyone obligated to assent to the church’s “recognition” if they don’t recognize a specific work to be inspired? What authority if any does the church’s “recognition” possess? If that authority is merely human, then it is in principle no greater than that of any individual since it is of the same nature. If it is divine, then Sola Scriptura is false since now the church has an authority greater than that of any individual or collection of individuals operating on human authority.

Second, Weedon confuses the material canon with the formal canon, which is typical of “anti-Christian” (meaning Lutheran) poloemicists. Everyone agrees that the specific works that are inspired are so by God’s activity in cooperation with human authors. But since none of those books provide a list of what works those are, the material canon is insufficient to put us in an epistemic and more precisely a normative position to adjudicate which are inspired. When we do form that list, this is the formal canon of scripture, an authoritative list of inspired works. But on Weedon’s account, the list is not authoritative, but at best merely accurate, and also provisional. But accuracy and authoritative aren’t identical concepts. One can be obligated to assent to an authority without knowing whether what the authority says is true or not. The individual may only meet the conditions on say justified belief for example.

As to the formal canon, Weedon essentially concedes the point that Gregory the Theologian did not have the Protestant canon. In like manner, his use of Athanasius though fails for the same reason. If one actually reads Athanasius, one sees that he speaks of Wisdom and other books of the wider OT canon as “inspired scripture.” This implies that he either changed his mind from the time of his Festal Letter or he included such works as part of Jeremiah or other OT works, which was somewhat customary. For this reason Athanasius does not adhere to a Protestant OT canon. All Weedon had to do was pick up the Schaff/Wace volume of Athanasius and look in the Scripture index and start looking at how Athanasius treats and cites those works. Or he could have taken the time to actually read through Athanasius’ works.

So if Athanasius says let no one take away from these, why do the Lutherans contradict Athanasius and remove Baruch, Wisdom and the other works he cites as “inspired Scripture?” Oh yeah, they put the authority of their own judgment above his.

St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Church - Home

And his appeal to Augustine doesn’t help since Augustine had an even wider canon than Athanasius. None of this helps establish the Protestant claim that the church merely “recognized” the formal canon, rather than establishing it. In fact, the material Weedon cites shows that as patriarchal thrones, they were establishing episcopal canons for their jurisdictions. This is more than mere recognition, but an actual establishment for a formal list on their episcopal authority and the authority of what was passed on to them via the tradition.

Second, later minor councils were in turn ratified by ecumenical councils accepted the wider canon. Consequently, Athanasius’ authority was superseded by that of the whole Church, which is why the wider formal canon is normative. On the Lutheran grounds, what makes the formal canon of scripture normative in any sense or degree?

As to Jerome, what Weedon presents are the early views of Jerome, which after the West accepted the wider canon, Jerome changed his views, even going so far as to cite such works as scripture. So what Weedon presents here is only half the story. It doesn’t represent Jerome’s mature and complete views.

Weedon’s remarks about Rome and the Orthodox needing to “knock the question” of where it is written out are rather telling. When Eck showed Luther that his doctrine was grounded in the Scriptures, Luther simply shortened the canon to get away from Eck’s point in an ad hoc way. The same move can be made by anyone in principle by simply saying that the person doesn’t judge that scripture teaches such and so doctrine. So even when we can show “where it is written” the Reformation traditions simply shift the goal posts. What is more, as I already noted, there are various core doctrines such as the Lutheran view of Divine Simplicity and the Filioque which

The Leipzig Debate - Lutheran Reformation

cannot be demonstrated by Scripture alone, and yet, the Lutherans have never rescinded those. Consequently, what we have here in Lutheranism is the formation of an unconscious normative tradition that guides their selection process.

In short, Weedon adopts  a zero sum position, without argument it seems, with respect to obligation. This is what permits him to “clear the floor.” But of course this makes everything dogma or nothing at all. There are no possible degrees of normativity or authority. So, the Book of Concord in no less than three places teaches the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. Is that dogma? Is that “explicitly” taught in Scripture? Where is that written Mr. Weedon? If it is dogma, that means it is necessary for salvation in some way on Lutheran grounds. Why then do the Lutherans not anathematize other Protestants for heresy for denying a “dogma” of the Faith? It seems for Mr. Weedon and the Lutherans, it doesn’t even matter where or even if it is written.


  1. Hi Perry, what would be your response to a Protestant who uses the text of Rm 11:16-24 to argue by a way of induction that the Catholic i.e, the Orthodox Church may have fallen from the faith once delivered to the saints?. Of course the verse 21 uses “may”, –at least in the NKJV version; I’m not sure on the Greek text however– therefore showing that this is only a possibility, not that this will eventually happen. By the way, I’m the one who asked you whether the Jansenists had the correct interpretation of St. Augustine at Sam’s livestream recently. Thanks.


  2. First, Jesus explicitly says that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against the church, not to mention content from the epistles on the faith being “once for all delivered” and such. Second, the objection turns on a number of assumptions, which have to be argued for prior to making this objection. For example, it assumes that the Church and OT Israel are in the same covenantal position, that they are of the same fundamental nature with no qualitative difference, etc. Many of these assumptions are contrary to confessional protestant commitments and so render the objector inconsistent. What is more, confessional protestants deny that the church apostatized in the middle ages but only that the “gospel” became “obscured.” As to the covenantal aspects, the church is part of the New Covenant and Paul’s discussion in Romans 11 is in the face of the Old Covenant becoming “obsolete” and no longer in effect, per the Epistle to the Hebrews. The objector would, in order to make the argument work, have to argue that the New Covenant is also nullified and no longer in effect and that there is some new third covenant. That’s a non-starter. In addition, even granting the argument, there are many claimants to “restore” the true church. Simply drawing a bull’s eye around where their arrow landed doesn’t imply that they hit the target. They would still need to show why their view was the true view, and that will still require a historical account, not only of their view in history, but when, where and why the true gospel and ministry was lost universally. That is an incredibly heavy burden of proof to bear. For these and other reasons, I don’t think this is an argument that confessional protestants can utilize.


  3. Thanks for the reply. This is the same line of argumentation that I have been thinking to respond the argument, esp. considering Hb 7:17 and John 17:21: after all, Christ is an eternal priest, and His prayer has I think –irony intended– a considerable effect. I should also add that if, the objector continues with argumentation, it will lead him to a fallacy of composition, whereby he takes the part, i,e, the Romans as a whole.

    As for classical Protestantism, to use the term “obscure” here, is to be very charitable, although I understand that this an euphemism. Just take Calvin’s commentary on John: (…) “Closely allied to this third fault is another, namely, the confounding of times, when men, devoting their whole attention to the examples of the Fathers, do not consider that the Lord has since enjoined a different rule of conduct, which they ought to follow. 80 To this ignorance ought to be ascribed that huge mass of ceremonies by which the Church has been buried under Popery. Immediately after the commencement of the Christian Church, it began to err in this respect, because a foolish affectation of copying Jewish ceremonies had an undue influence. The Jews had their sacrifices; and that Christians might not be inferior to them in splendor, the ceremony of sacrificing Christ was invented: as if the condition of the Christian Church would be worse when there would be an end of all those shadows by which the brightness of Christ might be obscured. But afterwards this fury broke out more forcibly, and spread beyond all bounds” .

    The man literally believed that vestments and altars were a corruption of Christianity. Note he says “immediately”. In that matter, he is close to Origen, because the latter also thought that the Christian religion must a “spiritual”, that is intellectual worship, vide his commentary on John book X, chapter 11:


  4. Just hopping in to @henriqueheinrich, I think the most relevant factor to interpreting Romans 11:17-24 is probably the pronoun, σύ, in its various cases and attending verbs, which is singular, in contrast to the plural natural branches. On its face, it would seem that the object of Paul’s warnings are to individuals, that they consider the fall of Israel as a warning to themselves personally. Expanding its application to a broader body is inevitable, but is going to involve bringing in judgments about ecclesiology from elsewhere that can’t be derived from this passage alone (as Perry noted).

    The “perhaps” or “may” in verse 21 (μή πως) isn’t present in a lot of manuscripts, so they read, “If God did not spare them, he will not spare you.” The following verse expresses the condition underlying verse 21 absolutely, “If you do not continue in his kindness, you also will be cut off.” Compare that to verse 23, “If they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in.” While it is hypothetical, expressing a contingency, it is not an idle one. Many evangelical commentators for instance do not merely believe that verse 23 is expressing a hypothetical situation, but that Paul goes on to assert in verses 25ff that the contingency will occur (ie, a mass conversion of the Jewish nation). If the second conditional is realized, why couldn’t the first one be? Apostasy is a seemingly common event. I think this text describes something that does happen, and unfortunately all too often.

    Certainly, every contender in the argument holds that whole swathes of churches can and did apostatize from the faith. The question that would remain (it seems to me) is what are the criteria to determine whose history of orthodoxy, heresy, and schism is correct. But of course, I write this as a Protestant.


  5. Henriqueheinrich,

    Well, I was trying to be charitable. That said, Calvin is working with a skewed view of church history from the Franks, the Libiri Carolini, which worked from a much smaller patristic data set. This gave the Franks and Calvin the idea that there the church was relatively image free and somewhat relic free in the first four centuries and then later slide into iconic veneration in later centuries. This ends up supporting the wider idea that the first four councils were of a purer age of the church and dealt with core areas of importance while the later councils fell into sophistry and scholastic hairsplitting.
    It is nonsense, but to be fair, the Franks and Calvin were after all fallible men and products of their time.


  6. Craig Green,

    Criteria is an important matter, but the other relevant question is, who is to apply it? It is one thing to have a rule, it is another thing to have a judge to apply the rule. Who then is to be the judge and with what authority shall they judge?

    Another consideration is, who and what views were even present prior to the Reformation? And when I said “who” I mean what actual society of people, not this or that individual who held this single view that the Reformers latched on to. ISTM that pride of place goes to those who actually existed. And this speaks to the issue of who is to judge that I discuss above.

    That said, the Reformers do not advocate for a full apostasy before Trent, because as I am sure you know, they have a story to tell about the evils of scholasticism. I don’t take the scholastics to be malicious participants as Luther seemed to, in his hyper generalization from Biel and Co. to everyone else. For the record, I don’t take Luther to be malicious either, though he is reactionary and to a large extent IMHO over reactionary. In any case, at the end of the day, IMHO, the historical record, for which we have a much better picture now, forces the Reformation bodies into a thesis of full apostasy, which is one reason I am no longer Reformed.


  7. @Craig Green, Thanks for the answer. As for the criteria of Orthodoxy, I think that if you see things through the “Dogmengeschichte” — and here I am employing the term that Florovsky uses is his famous “Fathers of the Fourth Century”, not in the way Harnack et al. used– you will have a notion about who is faithful to the tradition, and who is not.For example, I doubt that Nestorius, Theodoret of Cyrus and Theodore of Mopsuestia were only following the so called “Antiochene School”, as a school naturally opposed to the Alexandrian school; they were only responding to Arian arguments that, if Christ is God, then the divine nature ceased to be impassible at the moment of Christ’s crucifixion.

    @Perry, Concerning Calvin and the Franks, that is an explanation: The Libri Carolini was rediscovered in the mentioned period. But Calvin was a French Renaissance man, and knowledge was progressing in Europe, and France construing its own “République de lettres”, so I don’t think that Calvin was somehow limited to the polemical literature written by Charlemagne’s theologians against the “Greeks”. Forgive me if I’m interpreting you wrong,but Calvin is more guilty than he looks.


  8. Thanks Perry. I didn’t mean to make a strong assertion of the right to private judgment or anything in my closing line, only to state that all must ultimately make a choice to serve this or that master and reject the rest (Rom. 6:16). Maybe that is the same thing, and I am just confused about the issue, but it seems inescapable that the individual subject must choose whom they will obey or no.

    Every Christian tradition appears to me to have a reasonable explanation of why there are competing claimants, at least prima facie, and so we won’t be able to appeal to the exegesis of Romans 11 to rule out one contender or another—it isn’t as though apostasy is ruled out by holding to an infallible magisterium—only a total and complete failure of the church would seem to be off limits, which at least traditionally is not the Protestant position, as you note. That was really the substance of what I meant to communicate in the last part of my message. Instead, one will have to do the spade work of examining each claimant fairly, which I do not think is all that different from what you are suggesting in your reply.

    In general, I try to follow what you wrote in On Books and the Spiritual Life and On Leaving Your Cult. Perhaps I have misunderstood those writings, but they seemed quite good starting principles for this discussion.


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