Who Can Define the Christian Faith?

Who is the authority for Christian doctrines? Is it the New Testament? Is it the Roman Catholic Church? In this article, I’ll be evaluating what the apostles and the early church fathers believed.

I will show that the teachings of Jesus and his apostles, which are found in the New Testament, are our infallible authority for Christian doctrine. Only Jesus and the apostles are “upstream” from doctrine; in other words, only statements by them can be taken as definitive of Christian doctrine. Everyone else is “downstream” from doctrine; our statements must be compared to the doctrines defined by Jesus and the apostles.

The inspiration for this argument comes from early Christians such as Irenaeus, Polycarp, and Cyprian. Whether you agree or disagree with the arguments offered in this essay, please don’t hesitate to comment. I would very much value your feedback.

Note: If you would like a full-fledged response to the Roman Catholic claim that, without the decisions of their institutional church, we have no way of telling what’s true, see my article offering foundations for an Anabaptist view of doctrinal authority.

Key term: By “defining” the faith, I mean “making a statement about doctrine that establishes what true doctrine is, a statement that has the authority to be binding on all Christians, as the apostolic writings are.” I don’t mean the word “define” in its broader colloquial sense.

Jesus had authority to define the faith.

Since Christians believed (and still do) that Jesus is the Son of God, they of course believed that Jesus is upstream from Christian doctrine. Here is one of many places where Jesus’ authority is discussed:

So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. (John 8:28 ESV)

What’s interesting is that Jesus says that when he (the Son of Man) is lifted up, his hearers will have evidence for his authority. Later, John clarifies that Jesus used “lifted up” to signify his death (John 12:33). And in fact, his death and resurrection, occurring as he foretold it, provide evidence for the authority for the other things he said. Other passages on Jesus’ authority are Matthew 28:18, Luke 4:32, John 7:16-17, 12:48-50, 14:9-11.1Early Christian passages: Ignatius to Ephesians 9

The apostles had authority to define the faith.

Christians also believed that Jesus, having authority to teach, also handed a unique calling to the apostles, thus making them upstream from Christian doctrine as well. Jesus said,

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12–15)2See (quoted below) Disputation with Manes 34, Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics 22

This passage is often interpreted to apply to all Christians, but Jesus didn’t actually say it to all of his followers. He said these words to the eleven apostles who were with him in the upper room after Judas had left to betray him. He told those specific men that the Spirit would guide them into all the truth.

One could claim that Jesus was addressing the apostles as church leaders, and that this means that church leaders will be led into all the truth. However, there’s no textual reason for that. Furthermore, this fails to recognize that the apostles, the ones addressed, already knew all doctrine. There was therefore no further doctrine for church leaders to learn beyond what the apostles knew and taught. So this promise doesn’t apply to church leaders.

In another article, I address the claim that John 16 is speaking about the collective voice of the church.

In this same discourse, Jesus also said that those who listened to him would also listen to the apostles:

Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:20)

After his resurrection, Jesus entrusted these same apostles to teach his message. He commissioned them to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19–20). However, Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4–5).

Before Pentecost, Matthias was added to the eleven apostles to replace the unfaithful Judas Iscariot and fill out their number to twelve again (although that hardly matters for our purposes, since we don’t have teachings that specifically come from Matthias). On Pentecost, the apostles received the Holy Spirit, and it was then that they began to teach (Acts 2:1–4).

Paul had authority to define the faith.

Paul was not one of the original twelve apostles, but he was also considered an apostle. He was given apostolic authority by Jesus himself, as the apostles were, and therefore is upstream from doctrine:

And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:15-18)

Writing to the Corinthians, Paul says, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Cor 9:1). An apostle is one who is sent, especially to represent the sender, and Paul had his authority because he was sent by Jesus himself, the one who had sent the twelve original apostles.

The other apostles recognized Paul’s apostleship. Peter recognizes his writings as authoritative, and even uses the same word (graphe) of them as is used throughout the New Testament of the Old Testament Scriptures (2 Pet 3:15-16). More clear, however, is Paul’s statement to the Galatians. In order to show that he was commissioned by Christ himself, he writes that he didn’t receive his doctrines from the original twelve apostles:

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. . . . [W]hen he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. (Gal 1:11-17)

However, there is no doubt that he was teaching the same doctrines that the twelve were. He continues:

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. . . . Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. . . . And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, . . . and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (Gal 1:18-2:10)

Paul says that, even though he wasn’t given the gospel by man, he was teaching the same faith. The specific issue in question was whether Gentiles needed to obey the Law of Moses, but Paul is clear that even the influential Christians at Jerusalem “added nothing to me,” which indicates that they were in agreement on other aspects of Christianity as well. In fact, we know that they were talking about other subjects, since they wanted him to be sure to remember the poor—which seems to be the only area they were concerned he might not be on board with them—and he fully agreed.

In other words, Paul’s calling really was from Christ, because Paul is confident that the other apostles called by Christ could verify to anyone who asked them, such as the Galatians, that his message was entirely correct.

Furthermore, Paul’s letters were among the earliest books to gain widespread acceptance among Christians as being authoritative. No one in the early church disputed Paul’s apostleship. Even heretics like Marcion recognized Paul’s authority; they just interpreted him wrongly. In early Christian writings, he is frequently referred to as an apostle.

Polycarp, who knew the apostle John, calls Paul an apostle in his letter to the Philippians (9). Ignatius, who quite possibly knew the apostle John, calls Paul an apostle when writing to the church in Rome (4). He also calls Paul “holy” when writing to the Ephesians (12).3Also see Mathetes to Diognetus 12, Martyrdom of Ignatius 5, Papias 5 ANF, Irenaeus Against Heresies 1 Preface, Athenagoras on the Resurrection 18, Clement of Alexandria, Exortation to the Heathen 2

In other words, Jesus and the apostles, including Paul, were upstream from doctrine and had authority to define the faith. However, might there be other people who are upstream from doctrine can continue to define the faith?

The faith taught in the first years of Christianity cannot be changed.

In the very first years of their ministry, the teaching of the apostles contained all of Christian doctrine. Paul wrote to the Galatians somewhere around A.D. 50, within thirty years of Pentecost. In that letter, he told the Galatian church,

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Gal 1:6–9)

Less than thirty years after the apostles first preached the gospel, Paul says that not even the apostles could change the gospel with new revelation. The gospel that was preached in those first years is the one and only gospel of Christianity.

But what if it’s just the gospel that didn’t change? How do we know that other teachings might have changed since then?

In the books written near the end of the apostles’ ministry, Christian leaders frequently warned their followers to maintain the traditions that the Christians had taught. The apostles and other early leaders, likely knowing that they would soon be dead, urged their people to stay true to what they were taught.

What is a tradition?

A “tradition” could be any one of quite a few things that are handed down, such as a long-held custom, a fact that’s transmitted orally, or a historical way of thinking. But the traditions of the apostles were different.

The Greek word translated as “tradition” can be translated as “ordinance,” “precept,” or “doctrine.” The reason “tradition” is a word that can be used of what the apostles taught is that they handed down these teachings. We’re used to scoffing at traditions that aren’t necessary to the Christian faith. After all, Jesus and Paul both spoke against the traditions of man. However, apostolic traditions carry significant weight, because they come from those who had authority to define the faith.

In the first Scripture quoted below, Paul classifies the Christian woman’s head covering as one of these apostolic traditions. Other traditions can be found throughout the New Testament books.

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. (1 Cor 11:1–2)

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2 Thes 2:15)

That these traditions must be maintained and held to indicates that they cannot be changed. Paul, or whoever wrote Hebrews, also implies that these traditions were for all time when he said,

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. (Hebrews 13:7–9)

These Christians were to imitate their leaders, who had taught them the word of God, and not to follow other teachings. Within this exhortation, he asserts that Jesus Christ himself never changes. If this fact is relevant in any way to the matters under discussion before and after it, it would seem to imply that Christian teachings could never be changed.

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul tells him to “guard the deposit entrusted to [him]” and he repeats this exhortation in the second letter (1 Tim 6:20, 2 Tim 1:13-14). That he has received a deposit to be guarded suggests that it should be preserved intact without changes.

When Paul left the church at Ephesus for the last time, he told their elders that he had taught them “the whole counsel of God”:

And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. . . . I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. (Acts 20:25-31)

As you can see, Paul said that people, even church leaders, would teach things other than what he had taught, but they should remember his teachings. Previously unknown teachings are a mark of falsehood—what had already been taught was the truth.

The apostle Peter also admonished Christians to keep what they already had. He reminded them of the importance of faith, knowledge, steadfastness, and other virtues, saying,

Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. . . . I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. (2 Pet 1:5–15)

Peter told his readers that they were already established in the truth; in other words, they already had what he intended to pass on to them. His current goal was to help them recall and live out what they had already been taught.

Jude also wrote to the church to remind them to hold fast to what they were given in the beginning. He said,

I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)

Jude realized that Christians needed to be warned against moving away from their faith. Like the other writers, he does not suggest that any part of the faith had not yet been revealed—no, the faith had been delivered once for all.

In the book of 1 John, the author writes,

And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. . . . Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. (1 John 5–9)

The commandment John speaks of is “from the beginning,” and the goal is to “abide in the teaching of Christ” rather than to “[go] on ahead.” Every indication points to an already revealed body of doctrine, and no indication points to later developments.

Finally, the apostle John records Jesus’ own words in Revelation:

But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching [of the false teacher Jezebel], who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, (Rev 2:24–26)

Our Lord asked the Christians of Thyatira who had not been drawn away by a false teacher to do nothing but “hold fast what you have until I come.” They were to keep Jesus’ works until the end. This strongly indicates that they knew the whole faith and all that was required, and they were not to change any practice that had been delivered to them as an essential part of the Christian faith.

The New Testament is full of such passages, but for the sake of space, I will stop here.4See Romans 16:17-18. Another example is Col 2:1–7, where Paul encourages people not to be led away, but to continue as they had received the Christian faith. Also, 1 John 2:20, where John writes “you know all,” indicating that doctrine was complete. Some Greek texts read “you all know,” but note that the Vulgate says “you know everything.”

All doctrine was complete and public

As these passages clearly show, Christian doctrine was completely known by the end of the apostles’ lifetime; in fact, it’s most likely that it was completely known at the very beginning of their ministry. They preached these doctrines publicly, and every indication suggests that all of doctrine was well known to their followers. This leaves no room for finding out further truths that can be considered to be Christian doctrine.

Did they know all doctrine on Pentecost, or was there further revelation?

We’ve seen that the apostles knew all Christian doctrine within their lifetime—in fact, within the early years of the church—and that they taught all doctrine publicly to all the churches. However, it’s worth asking when the apostles’ came to the knowledge of all Christian doctrine? Scripture seems to indicate that this happened at Pentecost, when the Spirit filled the church, and after which the apostles could go out to spread the gospel elsewhere.

However, other possibilities exist. The Spirit did act in special ways in Acts 10, sending visions to Peter and the Gentile Cornelius. The Spirit even filled the Gentiles before their baptism, to remove all doubt that Gentiles could be saved. This was important because of the animosity that the Jews had for Gentiles. The Jewish Christians needed such a spectacular proof that God wanted to save the Gentiles as well, or they might not have been able to break through their prejudices.

But might this mean that the Spirit had not fully revealed Christian doctrine to the apostles until Acts 10 or later? I’m not sure. It is very clear from Jesus’ teachings and from the Old Testament that the Gentiles would be brought into the church. And it’s never explicitly stated that the apostles didn’t know this truth between Pentecost and Acts 10. It could even seem that Peter was aware of this—what Peter says that the vision did for him was help him overcome his taboo against associating with Gentiles (Acts 10:28), not to teach him that Gentiles could be saved. He doesn’t seem to register surprise when the Spirit falls on the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-48).

On the other hand, Peter’s words in Acts 10:34-35 could be interpreted to mean that he hadn’t realized before Acts 10 that God shows no partiality between ethnicities. Also, “the circumcision party” did marvel at this truth when it became known to them (Acts 11:1-18). The circumcision party could have included apostles, although Acts 15 seems to indicate otherwise. I tend to think that the apostles knew all of Christian doctrine on Pentecost, but there could be multiple views on the issue.

In any case, the apostles did not teach anything contrary to this truth before Acts 10, and certainly by the time the apostles were writing their letters, this truth was known by all the apostles. Thus, this issue doesn’t create a problem for the view that Christian doctrine comes from the apostles.

Were the apostles infallible in their teaching of Christian doctrine?

If someone’s definitions of the faith are authoritative, as I’ve shown Jesus’ and the apostles’ teachings are, are they therefore definitely true? In most cases authority and truth aren’t the same thing—after all, a jury has the authority to convict an accused man, but even though the man will be sentenced on the authority of that conviction, we can’t be absolutely certain that the man actually did the crime he was accused of.

However, in this case, authority and truth are the same thing. Since the God we serve is all-good and cannot lie, Jesus, who is God’s Son and authorized messenger, also cannot lie. Neither would Jesus have authorized human messengers to spread a false gospel and religion. So in the case of Christianity, authority and truth are the same. Either the apostles had both or neither. I’ve shown that they have both.

The question then arises: were the apostles infallible when they were teaching Christian doctrine? I would say yes, if by “infallible,” we mean that the apostles were assuredly correct when they intended to teach true Christian doctrine. We have assurance (the testimony of Jesus) that all their teachings about Christianity were correct, and I think we can define that as “infallibility” or “inerrancy” of some kind. If Jesus trusted the apostles to pass on his doctrine, we can too.

Demonstrating apostolic infallibility

In this section, I’ll show how we can use logical reasoning to show that the apostles’ teachings were infallible. First, note these four truths:

  1. The apostles infallibly knew all Christian doctrine.
  2. Jesus trusted the apostles to accurately deliver Christian doctrine.
  3. The writings of apostles and apostolic men are in agreement in doctrine.
  4. The apostles indicated throughout the New Testament that each other could be trusted on matters of doctrine, and never indicated otherwise.

The best explanation of these facts is that the apostles’ teachings, including their writings, are infallible. The other candidate explanations fail to fit the data:

  • “One or more of the apostles were mistaken about a Christian doctrine.” This is not consistent with 1.
  • “One or more of the apostles lied about a Christian doctrine.” Though all the apostles remained faithful, it seems to have been a real possibility that the apostles would defect (Gal 2:8, 2 Tim 4:7). However, they could not have been mistaken in Christian doctrine, because it was all revealed to them. Thus, they would have needed to intentionally commit falsehood. However, they trusted each other. Note that Paul is overstating to prove a point, not that he actually thinks that apostles did. This is therefore not consistent with 3 or 4.
  • “All of the apostles lied about a Christian doctrine.” Jesus, who knew the future, chose these men to spread his message. It is highly unlikely that he would have trusted a group of men who would all defect from the faith. This is therefore not consistent with 2.

Objection: Didn’t some of the apostles stray from Christian doctrine?

One objection that arises in many people’s minds is the controversy between Peter and Paul. If the apostles knew all of Christian doctrine, then why did Paul criticize Peter in Galatians for the way he was handling the Judaizers?

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Was Peter teaching a heresy? Certainly not. As we can see, Peter was eating with Gentiles and was living in such a way that Paul saw him as “liv[ing] like a Gentile.” In fact, earlier in the chapter, Peter and James affirmed that Gentiles didn’t need circumcision.

Paul criticizes Peter by being intimidated by men who had come from Jerusalem, ostensibly from James, and separating himself from the Gentiles. (These men were not actually from James, since the council wrote, “we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions” Acts 15:24.) In no case did Peter teach a heresy. Was Peter to be blamed? Most likely he was trying to keep peace in a delicate situation, being “all things to all men.” Tertullian, in response to Marcion’s claim that this shows that Peter and Paul differed in doctrine, said

Therefore because, in the eagerness of [Paul’s] zeal against Judaism as a neophyte, he thought that there was something to be blamed in [the other apostles’] conduct—even the promiscuousness of their conversation—but afterwards was himself to become in his practice all things to all men, that he might gain all,—to the Jews, as a Jew, and to them that were under the law, as under the law,—you would have his censure, which was merely directed against conduct destined to become acceptable even to their accuser, suspected of prevarication against God on a point of public doctrine. Touching their public doctrine, however, they had, as we have already said, joined hands in perfect concord, and had agreed also in the division of their labour in their fellowship of the gospel, as they had indeed in all other respects: “Whether it were I or they, so we preach.” (Tertullian, The Five Books Against Marcion 1.20)

There is simply no reason to believe they were teaching wrongly; in fact, there was no doctrinal disagreement recorded between them ever, certainly not at the council.5Note: James was not one of the twelve apostles, but the brother of Jesus.

What about the apostles’ fallible statements?

So the apostles were infallible with regard to Christian doctrine. However, we know that there are things they spoke or wrote that aren’t infallible. Might this pose a problem for Sola Apostolica?

One example is when Paul gives the Corinthian church a recommendation and says that “I, not the Lord” recommended that (1 Cor 7:12). Also, there were a few issues in the early church where different areas of the church practiced differently, and each side said that their practice went back to the apostles. For example, some accepted the baptism of heretics as valid, and others didn’t. There were two methods of calculating the date of Easter. And it appears that in the area where John concluded his ministry, churches held to a three-office rather than a two-office ministry. Thus, not everything they said was infallible.

But this poses no problem for apostolic infallibility, because these are not examples of Christian doctrines. The early Christians were (mostly) wise enough to recognize that, where they had differences that went back to apostolic days, this meant that they were about teachings that weren’t part of the public corpus of Christian doctrines. If they had been, all the apostles would have all publicly taught the same, and these differences would not have existed.

Were the apostles infallible in other ways?

But did the apostles know every truth that there was to know? We have no reason to think so. Did they know every truth about God? Certainly not; the human mind isn’t big enough for that. Did they never make mistakes? We have good reason to think they made mistakes (Galatians 2:11-13).

The apostles were correct when they taught Christian doctrine, but that doesn’t mean they were correct about everything under the sun.

Can There Be Further Revelation?

I said that the faith was complete and known by Christians at least by the end of the apostle’s lives. This leaves no room for adding any essential elements to the faith or taking away any elements considered essentially part of the faith. Does this mean that there will be no further revelation?

Certainly not! God still speaks to people through the Holy Spirit. There’s so much more we can learn about God and about his intentions for his church. However, there’s no further revelation that adds to authoritative Christian doctrine. All of Christian doctrine is already known.

Even so, we can find out more things about the Christian faith. Scripture shows us that Jesus is divine, but Scripture doesn’t indicate the precise relationship between the Father and the Son. Through Scriptural reasoning, we can find out more about the Trinity.

However, what we learn may be true, but it is not authoritative. It is still optional for Christians to believe it or not, and those who don’t believe it aren’t heretics. They simply disagree with us, not with the apostles.

What about the other New Testament books?

I said that the teachings of Jesus and his apostles, which are found in the New Testament, are our infallible authority for Christian doctrine. However, some of the books in the New Testament weren’t written by apostles. Are they also authoritative? I answer this question in my article on the New Testament canon. Basically, we can trust them, because their authors worked closely with the apostles.

Evaluation of Other Sources

Even though the passages above are fairly clear, the truths that I draw out from the passages could be more clearly stated. Why aren’t these truths more obvious in the New Testament?

I believe it’s because the apostles were so humble. They knew that Jesus had given them complete knowledge, but they didn’t want to brag. They preferred not to make a big deal about their authority, so they either let Jesus’ say it in his own words or said it themselves in roundabout ways.

However, the early church had no such need for humility about the apostles’ authority. That’s why the early Christians are a lot clearer on what Christians believed in this area.

If we had any doubt that the entirety of Christian doctrine was well-known to the first Christians, we can see what the pre-Nicene church on the subject. If the earliest Christians after the apostles lived had believed that more Christian doctrinal truths would be revealed, then there’s a chance my argument is wrong. On the other hand, if they simply didn’t say whether or not more doctrine would be revealed, this argument stands. But if early Christian writers specify that doctrine cannot be developed, then this argument is powerfully confirmed.

And that’s what actually happens. The writings of early Christian leaders show us that, for hundreds of years, the church believed that the faith was delivered once for all.6The early Christians also clearly believe the first three points, though that’s not usually in question. See, for example, Barnabas 5, Clement 42, 47, Irenaeus 1.8.1, 1.10.1,3, 3.12.7, 3.15.1 Here are a few relevant quotes:

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed “perfect knowledge,” as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1

For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to “the perfect” apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.1

You well understand, no doubt, that those who seek to set up any new dogma have the habit of very readily perverting into a conformity with their own notions any proofs they desire to take from the Scriptures. In anticipation, however, of this, the apostolic word marks out the case thus: “If any one preach any other gospel unto you than that which you have received, let him be accursed.” And consequently, in addition to what has been once committed to us by the apostles, a disciple of Christ ought to receive nothing new as doctrine. (Disputation with Manes, 40)

No doubt He had once said, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot hear them now;” but even then He added, “When He, the Spirit of truth, shall come, He will lead you into all truth.” He (thus) shows that there was nothing of which they were ignorant, to whom He had promised the future attainment of all truth by help of the Spirit of truth. And assuredly He fulfilled His promise, since it is proved in the Acts of the Apostles that the Holy Ghost did come down. Now they who reject that Scripture can neither belong to the Holy Spirit, seeing that they cannot acknowledge that the Holy Ghost has been sent as yet to the disciples, nor can they presume to claim to be a church themselves who positively have no means of proving when, and with what swaddling-clothes this body was established.

Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics 22 ANF

These men argued that the apostles had complete knowledge, and that their knowledge was widely known among church leaders. Multiple Christian leaders either explicitly said that all Christian doctrine was widely known in their day, or, if they didn’t answer that question directly, said that doctrine comes from the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. No suggestion is given that there are further clarifications, definitions, or developments to be revealed. For example, Ignatius, the great defender of the high role of bishops, speaks of doctrine as from the apostles and Jesus.7Epistle to Magnesians 13, Epistle to Antiochians 1 You can expand this footnote to see further statements on the same subject by early Christians.8As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.10.2)

True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God]. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.33.8)

‘faithfully and strenuously shalt thou resist them in defence of the only true and life-giving faith, which the Church has received from the apostles and imparted to her sons. For the Lord of all gave to His apostles the power of the Gospel, through whom also we have known the truth, that is, the doctrine of the Son of God; to whom also did the Lord declare: “He that heareth you, heareth Me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me, and Him that sent Me.”’ (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3 Preface)

But such people, in consequence of falling away from the right path, err in most individual points; as you might expect from not having the faculty for judging of what is true and false, strictly trained to select what is essential. For if they had, they would have obeyed the Scriptures. As, then, if a man should, similarly to those drugged by Circe, become a beast; so he, who has spurned the ecclesiastical tradition, and darted off to the opinions of heretical men, has ceased to be a man of God and to remain faithful to the Lord. But he who has returned from this deception, on hearing the Scriptures, and turned his life to the truth, is, as it were, from being a man made a god. For we have, as the source of teaching, the Lord, both by the prophets, the Gospel, and the blessed apostles, “in divers manners and at sundry times,” leading from the beginning of knowledge to the end. But if one should suppose that another origin was required, then no longer truly could an origin be preserved. (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata ?.16) [equates the apostolic tradition with church tradition]

For while the Lord has said that the nations are to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and their past sins are to be done away in baptism; this man, ignorant of the precept and of the law, commands peace to be granted and sins to be done away in the name of Paulus; and he says that this was commanded him by Paulus, as you will observe in the letter sent by the same Lucian to Celerinus, in which he very little considered that it is not martyrs that make the Gospel, but that martyrs are made by the Gospel; since Paul also, the apostle whom the Lord called a chosen vessel unto Him, laid down in his epistle:  “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the Gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” (Cyprian, Letter 22)

For which of us could have hoped that Paul, the persecutor and enemy of the Church, would prove its defender and guardian? Yea, and not that alone, but that he would become also its ruler, the founder and architect of the churches? Wherefore after him, and after those who were with Himself—that is, the disciples—we are not to look for the advent of any other (such), according to the Scriptures; for our Lord Jesus Christ says of this Paraclete, “He shall receive of mine.” Him therefore He selected as an acceptable vessel; and He sent this Paul to us in the Spirit. Into him the Spirit was poured; and as that Spirit could not abide upon all men, but only on Him who was born of Mary the mother of God, so that Spirit, the Paraclete, could not come into any other, but could only come upon the apostles and the sainted Paul. “For he is a chosen vessel,” He says, “unto me, to bear my name before kings and the Gentiles.” (Disputation with Manes 34)

Although I know, dearest brother, that very many of the bishops who are set over the churches of the Lord by divine condescension, throughout the whole world, maintain the plan of evangelical truth, and of the tradition of the Lord, and do not by human and novel institution depart from that which Christ our Master both prescribed and did; yet since some, either by ignorance or simplicity in sanctifying the cup of the Lord, and in ministering to the people, do not do that which Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, the founder and teacher of this sacrifice, did and taught, I have thought it as well a religious as a necessary thing to write to you this letter, that, if any one is still kept in this error, he may behold the light of truth, and return to the root and origin of the tradition of the Lord. . . . But if it is both enjoined by the Lord, and the same thing is confirmed and delivered by His apostle, that as often as we drink, we do in remembrance of the Lord the same thing which the Lord also did, we find that what was commanded is not observed by us, unless we also do what the Lord did; and that mixing the Lord’s cup in like manner we do not depart from the divine teaching; but that we must not at all depart from the evangelical precepts, and that disciples ought also to observe and to do the same things which the Master both taught and did. The blessed apostle in another place more earnestly and strongly teaches, saying, “I wonder that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into grace, unto another gospel, which is not another; but there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the Gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any otherwise than that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be anathema. Since, then, neither the apostle himself nor an angel from heaven can preach or teach any otherwise than Christ has once taught and His apostles have announced, I wonder very much whence has originated this practice, that, contrary to evangelical and apostolical discipline, water is offered in some places in the Lord’s cup, which water by itself cannot express the blood of Christ.” (Cyprian, Letter 62)

‘Nor do I boast of these things, but with grief I bring them forward, since you constitute yourself a judge of God and of Christ, who says to the apostles, and thereby to all chief rulers, who by vicarious ordination succeed to the apostles: “He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that heareth me, heareth Him that sent me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me, and Him that sent me.”’ (Cyprian, Letter 68:4)

“Wherefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning” (Polycarp, Philippians V)

In the Lord’s apostles we possess our authority; for even they did not of themselves choose to introduce anything, but faithfully delivered to the nations (of mankind) the doctrine which they had received from Christ. If, therefore, even “an angel from heaven should preach any other gospel” (than theirs), he would be called accursed by us. (Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics 6 ANF)

These things the apostles either neglected, or failed to understand, if they fulfilled them not, by concealing any portion of the light, that is, of the word of God and the mystery of Christ. Of no man, I am quite sure, were they afraid,—neither of Jews nor of Gentiles in their violence; with all the greater freedom, then, would they certainly preach in the church, who held not their tongue in synagogues and public places. Indeed they would have found it impossible either to convert Jews or to bring in Gentiles, unless they “set forth in order” that which they would have them believe. Much less, when churches were advanced in the faith, would they have withdrawn from them anything for the purpose of committing it separately to some few others. Although, even supposing that among intimate friends, so to speak, they did hold certain discussions, yet it is incredible that these could have been such as to bring in some other rule of faith, differing from and contrary to that which they were proclaiming through the Catholic churches (Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics 26)

Now, if this question also had entered into dispute, surely it would be found in the apostle, and that too as a great and vital point. No doubt, after the time of the apostles, the truth respecting the belief of God suffered corruption, but it is equally certain that during the life of the apostles their teaching on this great article did not suffer at all; so that no other teaching will have the right of being received as apostolic than that which is at the present day proclaimed in the churches of apostolic foundation. (Tertullian, The Five Books Against Marcion, 1.13 ANF)

Now, with regard to his statement that he “is acquainted with all our doctrines,” we have to say that this is a boastful and daring assertion; for if he had read the prophets in particular, which are full of acknowledged difficulties, and of declarations that are obscure to the multitude, and if he had perused the parables of the Gospels, and the other writings of the law and of the Jewish history, and the utterances of the apostles, and had read them candidly, with a desire to enter into their meaning, he would not have expressed himself with such boldness, nor said that he “was acquainted with all their doctrines.”  Even we ourselves, who have devoted much study to these writings, would not say that “we were acquainted with everything,” for we have a regard for truth. (Origen, Against Celsus 1.12) [Origen lists the sources of doctrine, which don’t include bishops. Note that he says Christians are too humble to say they are acquainted with everything; this could be taken to mean that not all doctrine was known, but it’s clear that he is not talking merely about the essential apostolic traditions but also other speculative truths that one can learn, doing this for rhetorical effect.]

Jesus taught us who it was that sent Him, in the words, “None knoweth the Father but the Son;” and in these, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” He, treating of Deity, stated to His true disciples the doctrine regarding God; and we, discovering traces of such teaching in the Scripture narratives, take occasion from such to aid our theological conceptions, hearing it declared in one passage, that “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all;” and in another, “God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” But the purposes for which the Father sent Him are innumerable; and these any one may ascertain who chooses, partly from the prophets who prophesied of Him, and partly from the narratives of the evangelists. And not a few things also will he learn from the apostles, and especially from Paul. Moreover, those who are pious He leadeth to the light, and those who sin He will punish . . . (Origen, Against Celsus 2.71)

In that he says there are three gates placed on each of the four sides, of single pearls, I think that these are the four virtues, to wit, prudence, fortitude, justice, temperance, which are associated with one another. And, being involved together, they make the number twelve. But the twelve gates we believe to be the number of the apostles, who, shining in the four virtues as precious stones, manifesting the light of their doctrine among the saints, cause it to enter the celestial city, that by intercourse with them the choir of angels may be gladdened. And that the gates cannot be shut, it is evidently shown that the doctrine of the apostles can be separated from rectitude by no tempest of contradiction. Even though the floods of the nations and the vain superstitions of heretics should revolt against their true faith, they are overcome, and shall be dissolved as the foam, because Christ is the Rock by which, and on which, the Church is founded. (Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse 16)

They attend to this one commandment, and do not look unto what has been spoken by the apostle: “For I testify to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.” In other respects, however, these consent to all the traditions delivered to the Church by the Apostles. (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 8.11)

Let nothing be innovated, says he [Stephen], nothing maintained, except what has been handed down. Whence is that tradition? Whether does it descend from the authority of the Lord and of the Gospel, or does it come from the commands and the epistles of the apostles? For that those things which are written must be done, God witnesses and admonishes, saying to Joshua the son of Nun: “The book of this law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate in it day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein.” Also the Lord, sending His apostles, commands that the nations should be baptized, and taught to observe all things which He commanded. If, therefore, it is either prescribed in the Gospel, or contained in the epistles or Acts of the Apostles, that those who come from any heresy should not be baptized, but only hands laid upon them to repentance, let this divine and holy tradition be observed. But if everywhere heretics are called nothing else than adversaries and antichrists, if they are pronounced to be people to be avoided, and to be perverted and condemned of their own selves, wherefore is it that they should not be thought worthy of being condemned by us, since it is evident from the apostolic testimony that they are of their own selves condemned? (Cyprian, Letter 73.2) [Note that though Cyprian and Stephen disagree, they both argue that nothing new should happen, only what was handed down from the apostles such as through the New Testament writings.]

This is He who, being from everlasting, is to-day called the Son; through whom the Church is enriched, and grace, widely spread, increases in the saints, furnishing understanding, revealing mysteries, announcing times, rejoicing over the faithful, giving to those that seek, by whom the limits of faith are not broken through, nor the boundaries set by the fathers passed over. Then the fear of the law is chanted, and the grace of the prophets is known, and the faith of the gospels is established, and the tradition of the Apostles is preserved, and the grace of the Church exults; which grace if you grieve not, you shall know those things which the Word teaches, by whom He wills, and when He pleases. (Epistle to Diognetus 11) [Note that he mentions the “grace” of the church just as he speaks of the “grace” of the prophets, while he speaks of the “tradition” of the apostles to be “preserved.” This suggests the church has Spirit-filled prophecy, but that what was taught in the beginning must continue to be taught.]

Objections

Here are a few objections that have been raised from Scripture:

  • Doctrine develops within Scripture, from Old to New Testaments. Couldn’t it continue to develop? But that’s because there was a change in covenants. We are still in the New Testament, and Scripture teaches that there is no more development.
  • Scripture mentions that Christians grow in maturity and that the church is being built (Eph 4:12-15). But just because individual Christians or congregations grow in maturity doesn’t mean that Christian doctrine does. And the church can be grow in many ways (unity, love, peace, zeal) without changing or developing its doctrine.
  • Jesus compares the Kingdom to a mustard seed that grows into a large plant (Matt 13:31-32). But the Kingdom can grow in members, size, strength, power, etc. without developing in doctrine. Consider that the U.S. could take an influx of millions of people, but that wouldn’t indicate that the Constitution changed.
  • The Spirit helps us to interpret truths (1 Cor 2:9-16). But when individuals understand the faith more fully, that’s a long way from actually changing the faith.
  • “In Acts chapter 17 verse 11, we even see an instance where Christians tested Paul’s words against the Hebrew Bible before accepting them. Does this perhaps create some principle wherein Apostolic teachings must first be tested against the words of the Old Testament before we accept them, and that they’re not actually just infallible in and of themselves? Possibly.”9From this video. (Note, in my transcription, I have removed extra words like “uh” and “right.” I believe this is substantially what Bollinger intended to be saying.) This is a misreading of Acts 17. The Bereans who were examining Paul’s words were Jews who were trying to understand whether or not Christianity was true, so they turned to the Old Testament Scriptures. Just like a Jew today shouldn’t just take our word for it, but should examine the Old Testament to see whether Jesus is truly the Messiah.
  • “We also know from 1 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 9 that Paul wrote at least one letter that never made its way into the New Testament Canon. Is it possible that Paul could have erred in that letter?”10From this video. This is a red herring—why would that letter make a difference? Of course Paul taught the same faith in that letter as in any other.
  • “I also think that the ancient Quartodecimen controversy (which, for those who don’t know that, was the controversy in the early church where there was debate about the date of Easter)—I think that reveals that different Apostles even had some different traditions. It seems that since John and Philip taught one date for Easter and Saints Peter and Paul taught another date for Easter. And now I know we all recognize this is a disciplinary issue but I mean imagine if the date for Easter was recorded in the New Testament. Clearly, that would probably be seen as binding on the Christian Church.”11From this video. This is not a matter of doctrine. The question, “What if it were in the NT?” isn’t of value, because it’s quite possible that if it had made it into the NT, the apostle writing on it would say, “Don’t judge other people for doing it differently.” Reasonable hypotheticals allow for further reasonable hypotheticals.

Summary

So, as I’ve shown by quoting the relevant Scriptures, Jesus and the apostles offered no reason to think that any further church leaders would be needed in order to develop or clarify Christian doctrines; in fact, Scripture indicates the very opposite. Remember that Jesus told the eleven faithful apostles that the Spirit would guide them into all the truth, speaking to them what Jesus wished he could say to them.

We can conclude that no further defining of doctrine is needed beyond what the apostles gave. The Spirit revealed all Christian teachings to the apostles in their lifetime. The apostles already defined the Christian faith by spoken word or by writing. They gave us one faith that was intended for all Christians throughout all time until the end of the age. In this linked article, I show that this faith can be found in the teachings of Jesus and the apostles in the 27 New Testament books. We don’t need an institutional church to know what the true faith is.

Can the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church further define the faith? Can councils be authoritative? Can doctrine develop? See this article for an evaluation.

  • 1
    Early Christian passages: Ignatius to Ephesians 9
  • 2
    See (quoted below) Disputation with Manes 34, Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics 22
  • 3
    Also see Mathetes to Diognetus 12, Martyrdom of Ignatius 5, Papias 5 ANF, Irenaeus Against Heresies 1 Preface, Athenagoras on the Resurrection 18, Clement of Alexandria, Exortation to the Heathen 2
  • 4
    See Romans 16:17-18. Another example is Col 2:1–7, where Paul encourages people not to be led away, but to continue as they had received the Christian faith. Also, 1 John 2:20, where John writes “you know all,” indicating that doctrine was complete. Some Greek texts read “you all know,” but note that the Vulgate says “you know everything.”
  • 5
    Note: James was not one of the twelve apostles, but the brother of Jesus.
  • 6
    The early Christians also clearly believe the first three points, though that’s not usually in question. See, for example, Barnabas 5, Clement 42, 47, Irenaeus 1.8.1, 1.10.1,3, 3.12.7, 3.15.1
  • 7
    Epistle to Magnesians 13, Epistle to Antiochians 1
  • 8
    As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.10.2)

    True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God]. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.33.8)

    ‘faithfully and strenuously shalt thou resist them in defence of the only true and life-giving faith, which the Church has received from the apostles and imparted to her sons. For the Lord of all gave to His apostles the power of the Gospel, through whom also we have known the truth, that is, the doctrine of the Son of God; to whom also did the Lord declare: “He that heareth you, heareth Me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me, and Him that sent Me.”’ (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3 Preface)

    But such people, in consequence of falling away from the right path, err in most individual points; as you might expect from not having the faculty for judging of what is true and false, strictly trained to select what is essential. For if they had, they would have obeyed the Scriptures. As, then, if a man should, similarly to those drugged by Circe, become a beast; so he, who has spurned the ecclesiastical tradition, and darted off to the opinions of heretical men, has ceased to be a man of God and to remain faithful to the Lord. But he who has returned from this deception, on hearing the Scriptures, and turned his life to the truth, is, as it were, from being a man made a god. For we have, as the source of teaching, the Lord, both by the prophets, the Gospel, and the blessed apostles, “in divers manners and at sundry times,” leading from the beginning of knowledge to the end. But if one should suppose that another origin was required, then no longer truly could an origin be preserved. (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata ?.16) [equates the apostolic tradition with church tradition]

    For while the Lord has said that the nations are to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and their past sins are to be done away in baptism; this man, ignorant of the precept and of the law, commands peace to be granted and sins to be done away in the name of Paulus; and he says that this was commanded him by Paulus, as you will observe in the letter sent by the same Lucian to Celerinus, in which he very little considered that it is not martyrs that make the Gospel, but that martyrs are made by the Gospel; since Paul also, the apostle whom the Lord called a chosen vessel unto Him, laid down in his epistle:  “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the Gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” (Cyprian, Letter 22)

    For which of us could have hoped that Paul, the persecutor and enemy of the Church, would prove its defender and guardian? Yea, and not that alone, but that he would become also its ruler, the founder and architect of the churches? Wherefore after him, and after those who were with Himself—that is, the disciples—we are not to look for the advent of any other (such), according to the Scriptures; for our Lord Jesus Christ says of this Paraclete, “He shall receive of mine.” Him therefore He selected as an acceptable vessel; and He sent this Paul to us in the Spirit. Into him the Spirit was poured; and as that Spirit could not abide upon all men, but only on Him who was born of Mary the mother of God, so that Spirit, the Paraclete, could not come into any other, but could only come upon the apostles and the sainted Paul. “For he is a chosen vessel,” He says, “unto me, to bear my name before kings and the Gentiles.” (Disputation with Manes 34)

    Although I know, dearest brother, that very many of the bishops who are set over the churches of the Lord by divine condescension, throughout the whole world, maintain the plan of evangelical truth, and of the tradition of the Lord, and do not by human and novel institution depart from that which Christ our Master both prescribed and did; yet since some, either by ignorance or simplicity in sanctifying the cup of the Lord, and in ministering to the people, do not do that which Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, the founder and teacher of this sacrifice, did and taught, I have thought it as well a religious as a necessary thing to write to you this letter, that, if any one is still kept in this error, he may behold the light of truth, and return to the root and origin of the tradition of the Lord. . . . But if it is both enjoined by the Lord, and the same thing is confirmed and delivered by His apostle, that as often as we drink, we do in remembrance of the Lord the same thing which the Lord also did, we find that what was commanded is not observed by us, unless we also do what the Lord did; and that mixing the Lord’s cup in like manner we do not depart from the divine teaching; but that we must not at all depart from the evangelical precepts, and that disciples ought also to observe and to do the same things which the Master both taught and did. The blessed apostle in another place more earnestly and strongly teaches, saying, “I wonder that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into grace, unto another gospel, which is not another; but there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the Gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any otherwise than that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be anathema. Since, then, neither the apostle himself nor an angel from heaven can preach or teach any otherwise than Christ has once taught and His apostles have announced, I wonder very much whence has originated this practice, that, contrary to evangelical and apostolical discipline, water is offered in some places in the Lord’s cup, which water by itself cannot express the blood of Christ.” (Cyprian, Letter 62)

    ‘Nor do I boast of these things, but with grief I bring them forward, since you constitute yourself a judge of God and of Christ, who says to the apostles, and thereby to all chief rulers, who by vicarious ordination succeed to the apostles: “He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that heareth me, heareth Him that sent me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me, and Him that sent me.”’ (Cyprian, Letter 68:4)

    “Wherefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning” (Polycarp, Philippians V)

    In the Lord’s apostles we possess our authority; for even they did not of themselves choose to introduce anything, but faithfully delivered to the nations (of mankind) the doctrine which they had received from Christ. If, therefore, even “an angel from heaven should preach any other gospel” (than theirs), he would be called accursed by us. (Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics 6 ANF)

    These things the apostles either neglected, or failed to understand, if they fulfilled them not, by concealing any portion of the light, that is, of the word of God and the mystery of Christ. Of no man, I am quite sure, were they afraid,—neither of Jews nor of Gentiles in their violence; with all the greater freedom, then, would they certainly preach in the church, who held not their tongue in synagogues and public places. Indeed they would have found it impossible either to convert Jews or to bring in Gentiles, unless they “set forth in order” that which they would have them believe. Much less, when churches were advanced in the faith, would they have withdrawn from them anything for the purpose of committing it separately to some few others. Although, even supposing that among intimate friends, so to speak, they did hold certain discussions, yet it is incredible that these could have been such as to bring in some other rule of faith, differing from and contrary to that which they were proclaiming through the Catholic churches (Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics 26)

    Now, if this question also had entered into dispute, surely it would be found in the apostle, and that too as a great and vital point. No doubt, after the time of the apostles, the truth respecting the belief of God suffered corruption, but it is equally certain that during the life of the apostles their teaching on this great article did not suffer at all; so that no other teaching will have the right of being received as apostolic than that which is at the present day proclaimed in the churches of apostolic foundation. (Tertullian, The Five Books Against Marcion, 1.13 ANF)

    Now, with regard to his statement that he “is acquainted with all our doctrines,” we have to say that this is a boastful and daring assertion; for if he had read the prophets in particular, which are full of acknowledged difficulties, and of declarations that are obscure to the multitude, and if he had perused the parables of the Gospels, and the other writings of the law and of the Jewish history, and the utterances of the apostles, and had read them candidly, with a desire to enter into their meaning, he would not have expressed himself with such boldness, nor said that he “was acquainted with all their doctrines.”  Even we ourselves, who have devoted much study to these writings, would not say that “we were acquainted with everything,” for we have a regard for truth. (Origen, Against Celsus 1.12) [Origen lists the sources of doctrine, which don’t include bishops. Note that he says Christians are too humble to say they are acquainted with everything; this could be taken to mean that not all doctrine was known, but it’s clear that he is not talking merely about the essential apostolic traditions but also other speculative truths that one can learn, doing this for rhetorical effect.]

    Jesus taught us who it was that sent Him, in the words, “None knoweth the Father but the Son;” and in these, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” He, treating of Deity, stated to His true disciples the doctrine regarding God; and we, discovering traces of such teaching in the Scripture narratives, take occasion from such to aid our theological conceptions, hearing it declared in one passage, that “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all;” and in another, “God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” But the purposes for which the Father sent Him are innumerable; and these any one may ascertain who chooses, partly from the prophets who prophesied of Him, and partly from the narratives of the evangelists. And not a few things also will he learn from the apostles, and especially from Paul. Moreover, those who are pious He leadeth to the light, and those who sin He will punish . . . (Origen, Against Celsus 2.71)

    In that he says there are three gates placed on each of the four sides, of single pearls, I think that these are the four virtues, to wit, prudence, fortitude, justice, temperance, which are associated with one another. And, being involved together, they make the number twelve. But the twelve gates we believe to be the number of the apostles, who, shining in the four virtues as precious stones, manifesting the light of their doctrine among the saints, cause it to enter the celestial city, that by intercourse with them the choir of angels may be gladdened. And that the gates cannot be shut, it is evidently shown that the doctrine of the apostles can be separated from rectitude by no tempest of contradiction. Even though the floods of the nations and the vain superstitions of heretics should revolt against their true faith, they are overcome, and shall be dissolved as the foam, because Christ is the Rock by which, and on which, the Church is founded. (Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse 16)

    They attend to this one commandment, and do not look unto what has been spoken by the apostle: “For I testify to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.” In other respects, however, these consent to all the traditions delivered to the Church by the Apostles. (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 8.11)

    Let nothing be innovated, says he [Stephen], nothing maintained, except what has been handed down. Whence is that tradition? Whether does it descend from the authority of the Lord and of the Gospel, or does it come from the commands and the epistles of the apostles? For that those things which are written must be done, God witnesses and admonishes, saying to Joshua the son of Nun: “The book of this law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate in it day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein.” Also the Lord, sending His apostles, commands that the nations should be baptized, and taught to observe all things which He commanded. If, therefore, it is either prescribed in the Gospel, or contained in the epistles or Acts of the Apostles, that those who come from any heresy should not be baptized, but only hands laid upon them to repentance, let this divine and holy tradition be observed. But if everywhere heretics are called nothing else than adversaries and antichrists, if they are pronounced to be people to be avoided, and to be perverted and condemned of their own selves, wherefore is it that they should not be thought worthy of being condemned by us, since it is evident from the apostolic testimony that they are of their own selves condemned? (Cyprian, Letter 73.2) [Note that though Cyprian and Stephen disagree, they both argue that nothing new should happen, only what was handed down from the apostles such as through the New Testament writings.]

    This is He who, being from everlasting, is to-day called the Son; through whom the Church is enriched, and grace, widely spread, increases in the saints, furnishing understanding, revealing mysteries, announcing times, rejoicing over the faithful, giving to those that seek, by whom the limits of faith are not broken through, nor the boundaries set by the fathers passed over. Then the fear of the law is chanted, and the grace of the prophets is known, and the faith of the gospels is established, and the tradition of the Apostles is preserved, and the grace of the Church exults; which grace if you grieve not, you shall know those things which the Word teaches, by whom He wills, and when He pleases. (Epistle to Diognetus 11) [Note that he mentions the “grace” of the church just as he speaks of the “grace” of the prophets, while he speaks of the “tradition” of the apostles to be “preserved.” This suggests the church has Spirit-filled prophecy, but that what was taught in the beginning must continue to be taught.]
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    From this video. (Note, in my transcription, I have removed extra words like “uh” and “right.” I believe this is substantially what Bollinger intended to be saying.)
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110 thoughts on “Who Can Define the Christian Faith?”

  1. Hi Lynn,
    I would just like to point out a common mistranslation used by Reformation types to bolster their flimsy views. In 2 Peter 3:16 Paul’s writings are not called Scripture or equated with Scripture. There is no word for scripture in Greek or Latin. What English has done is transliterate the Latin word for writings and used it as a speciality word in English.
    What 2 Peter 3:16 does is call Paul’s letters ‘writings’ using the normal Greek word for any type of writing, which is graphe. There are no capital letters either. When referring to the Old Testament often ‘holy writings’ are used, often translated into English as ‘holy scriptures.’
    What Peter is saying is that he counts Paul’s writings as authoritative not Scripture. For the New Testament Church the holy writings were the Old Testament. There is no evidence that the NT texts were equated with the Old Testament until later.

    1. Hi Stefano, thanks for pointing out this possible confusion. So far as I can see, the New Testament uses graphe (often without clarificatory words) solely of the Old Testament Scriptures, with the exception of this passage and possibly Rom 15:4. So I think that interpretation is wholly reasonable, but I edited my statement anyway just to ensure it wouldn’t be problematic.

      1. You are right that the meaning of graphe depends on context not the word itself.
        Any claim that Peter is equating Paul’s letters with the Old Testament is tenuous at best as there is no clear context. The default position is to take the Greek at its normal meaning of ‘writings.’ For all know Peter is comparing Paul’s writings to his own, James’s and Jude’s.

  2. I thought I’d make some comments about the Tradition in the Orthodox Church and the nature of authority.

    The most important thing is that the Orthodox Church does not start making definitions just because it feels like it. It is because a false teacher has proclaimed an errant belief and the Church needs to clarify things. While ‘Jesus is Lord’ works in the New Testament by the 4th century ‘Lord’ could mean to some heretics an angel, or a human adopted by God or a secondary god so something like the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is created. Once the creed is there it becomes part of the Tradition.
    Does it reflect the same faith in the New Testament? Yes.
    It is created 300 years after the Apostles? Yes.
    Is it an integral part of Orthodox worship today? Yes.

    The Reformation view depends heavily on mass literacy and printing so everyone is running around shouting Bible verses at each other and splitting when their interpretations clash. If you want to copy the early church then you have to consider the following.
    1. Christ founded the Church at Pentecost.
    2. There was no Christian writing for the first 20 years until Paul wrote Corinthians.
    3. The Gospels and other writing were written over the next 50 years. These documents were created within communities not external to them.
    4. By 100 AD all the New Testament texts were written but they were separate documents.
    5. By the time of Irenaeus in 180 AD the Gospels were gathered together with most of other key NT texts.
    6. Over the next 200/400 years the limits of the canon became solidified.
    7. During this period only 5 or 10% of people were literate and copies of the Bible were rare and beyond the affordability of most people. Most Churches only had one copy. The only was most people heard the Bible was it being read in Church. The ‘bible study’ groups of modern times would be impossible so people naturally put trust in their leaders. For most people the faith was praxis (how you act) and kerygma (or preaching).

    For the inspiration of Scripture I should note that only the Greek New Testament is considered authentic. All other versions are just uninspired translations. The minute we see teachers without a knowledge of koine we can safely ignore them. Luckily, koine is a living language in our Church, as it has been for 2,000 years.

    Due to this complex history there is no simple answer to authority in the Orthodox Church. Most Orthodox would take about the Holy Tradition (what we have received from the past and will pass on) and its sources. The manifestation of tradition are:
    1. The Bible – it holds a prime place. As it’s the Churches book we can safely ignore innovative interpretations that contradict the Tradition. As a friend on mind once said ‘The Orthodox Church believes the whole Bible, not just the bits they (his previous teachers) tell you to underline.”
    2. Ecumenical Councils and the Creeds
    3. Later Councils
    4. The Church Fathers (and Mothers). I should point out that Orthodoxy does not put a time limit like 750 AD. We have Church Fathers up to the previous generation.
    5. The Liturgy and Orthodox Worship
    6. Canon Law
    7. The Lives of Saints and Martyrs and their Iconography

    I’ve looked hard and have yet to find an Orthodox belief that contradicts the Bible. Even if (just for a hypothetical) the early church to 313 did not believe in icons or military services or participation in government it still wouldn’t make them Anabaptists as there would still be another 20 or 30 or 40 other things that don’t tally with Anabaptist faith and practice – the most obvious being infant baptism and infant communion.

    I have posted some websites that elaborate on these.

    https://churchmotherofgod.org/articleschurch/articles-about-the-orthodox-church/2577-holy-tradition-the-source-of-the-orthodox-faith.html

    http://ww1.antiochian.org/content/scripture-and-tradition

    https://www.goarch.org/-/tradition-in-the-orthodox-church

    1. Thanks for the detailed comment, Stefano. This is the one main issue that separates Anabaptism and Eastern Orthodoxy. We believe that only Jesus and the apostles had the authority to define the faith, while I understand that you believe that Jesus, the apostles, and multiple other sources had the authority to define the faith. We believe that all authoritative Christian truths were available to the church in the earliest years of the church, while you believe that there were further authoritative Christian truths to be clarified later. The question is which of our two views is better evidenced.

      From my studies, it seems that in the beginning, all churches had access to apostolic teachings, whether in written form or oral form. The earliest Christian leaders after the apostles were careful to pass on exactly what the apostles taught (which they termed “tradition”), side by side with the apostolic writings. In time, the writings of the apostles and their associates were compiled into a New Testament canon which contained basically every doctrine by the apostles. But these books had always been available to the churches in major cities. They could be used as a Christian’s primary source of doctrine, while the teachings of the church helped ensure that the apostolic writings were properly understood.

      That’s basically the view of the Anabaptists. If we could all agree on that, we would all agree on doctrine, because the doctrines taught during that period were very consistent.

      However, after the first council of Nicaea, the idea arose that ecumenical councils were definitive as well. Later on, church fathers, canon law, etc. were also considered to be definitive. However, what is conspicuously missing is anyone before these events who believed that someone besides Jesus and the apostles could declare definitive doctrines. Also missing is anyone before these events who believed that there was Christian doctrine yet to be defined (other than some heretics like the Montanists).

      But if later Christians were the first ones to believe that later teachings were definitive–then on what basis can those teachings be accepted? None that I know of. Do you know of sources predating the councils that declare councils to be definitive?

      So whether or not Orthodox beliefs contradict the Scriptures, the only way they can be authoritative is if both 1) my interpretation (based on Irenaeus’s interpretation) of Scripture, given in this article, is wrong, and 2) there’s further evidence for the authority of ecumenical councils (etc.) besides the later claims of Christians. I’d be glad to hear your input on those points.

  3. Here is what Irenaeus says “We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed “perfect knowledge,” as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God.”
    Now Irenaeus is responding specifically to the Gnostics, who were all about supposedly ‘secret’ teachings of the Apostles to justify their beliefs. One of Irenaeus’s main arguments is to stress the reliability of the Gospels and express the universality of the Gospel message. He talks about the incarnation, physical resurrection and the Holy Spirit coming, which we can all agree on today. Irenaeus is expressing the reliability of the Gospels because the Gnostics denied it. The Gnostics set themselves up as a spiritual elite as they claimed they ‘knew’ the ‘real’ teachings that ordinary Christians didn’t. You know they wrote up their own versions, which shows you the NT wasn’t yet canonised. I would dispute the translation of the word ‘Scripture’ in your version as Irenaeus says ‘writing.’
    Now, Irenaeus’s comments were written for a certain time and place but his ideas have a continuing relevance. After this context, nothing said by Irenaeus contradicts the Orthodox understanding of authority. In fact he is a Church Father and supports our view as he stresses the rule of faith, apostolic succession and the authority of the church as guardians and interpreters of Scripture.

    Tell me Lynn, is Irenaeus an Anabaptist?

    As I have said previously, Orthodoxy does not contradict the Bible. You only think it does. The issue is not with Orthodoxy but with you. You think because Orthodoxy has icons, accepts ‘just war’ and is involved with ‘secular’ government we are somehow wrong. You make a case using the NT and historical evidence but your case is generally flimsy at best (as I have shown we we talked about ‘just war.’)
    If only Orthodoxy believed in ‘just war’ and participation in secular government I might have my doubts but the fact that many, many others groups who despise and dismiss us (like Lutherans or Baptists) also follow this teaching puts the burden of proof on you.

    Another question, during the Reformation Anabaptists wrote lots of confessions like the Schleitheim Confession (1527) and the Anabaptist Confession of 1659. There are many more. Where is the New Testament or Pre-Nicene evidence for this practice?
    I’ll point out some Pre-Nicene evidence of Christians meeting in councils to sort disputes next time I post.

    1. Do you disagree with Irenaeus that ‘it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed “perfect knowledge,” as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles’?

      To clarify, Irenaeus was not an Anabaptist. He was a Christian who believed the catholic (in the original sense) faith. So are at least some Anabaptists, including my church. We don’t feel anyone needs to be Anabaptist; it’s just that we are living out the original faith in the Anabaptist tradition.

      I don’t think you’re quite getting my argument. I’m not saying that councils are bad. I’m only saying that no one after the apostles could make definitive statements on doctrine. We don’t claim that confessions of faith are infallible. They’re simply descriptions of what we believe the true faith to be. They’re helpful in communicating our beliefs, but we don’t look to them to define the faith. We look to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.

      And I am aware that pre-Nicene Christians had councils. Councils can be a good thing, and I agree with a lot of the things decided at both local and ecumenical councils. However, councils can’t define doctrine. Only Jesus and the apostles could, and all doctrine was known during their day. Councils are helpful. But they are not anywhere near as authoritative as the apostolic teachings.

      I’m not aware of any evidence from before 325 where Christians believed that councils could define doctrine. For more on this, see this article. It’s mostly on the Roman Catholic view of doctrinal development, but I’ve linked to a relevant section on councils. That’s what I’d be glad to know about.

      I accept apostolic tradition, the teaching of the apostles. However, I don’t see any authoritative reason for accepting later church traditions as definitive.

  4. Irenaeus is rejecting the idea that the Apostles started preaching before they had received the secret Gnostic teachings from Jesus. The Gnostics claimed that only an elite such as Mary Magdalene or Matthias or James really knew the true teaching of Jesus. They used this tactic to explain away why ‘simple’ Christians didn’t know secret teachings like the demiurge or the archons. As far as I can see the statement has no relevance to our debate. The Orthodox Church is the one that has preserved the text of the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament over the centuries because we trust in the Apostles. However, we don’t think that the NT is a ‘how to’ book for every aspect of Christian life or that they anticipated the nuance of every possible future heresy. Why would teachers be appointed as successors of the Apostles if they didn’t teach?

    Hypothetical
    An Anabaptist leader decides, through his intensive study of the Bible, that baptism should only be administered to people aged 30 or above. He uses a host of Bible verses to justify his views. He is very eloquent and convincing. He rapidly gathers hundreds of thousands of followers and they form congregations. They draw followers away from your church. They call themselves ‘The Jesusites’ and condemn those who regard the age of consent as 18. What does your church do?

    1. You’re right that that’s the context in which Irenaeus was speaking. However, he answered the Gnostics by saying that Christian doctrine cannot change from what the apostles delivered in the beginning. So it seems that he believes that to be true.

      In this article, I gave multiple evidences from Scripture and the early church to support my conclusion that Christian doctrine cannot be further defined beyond what the apostles taught. I’d be glad to know why some of the other evidences don’t support my conclusion.

      However, even if I’m wrong, that still doesn’t establish that councils, etc. could further define the faith. It would just establish that we don’t know whether they do or not. So I’d also be glad to have evidence for your case–evidence which predates the councils and suggests that councils can define the faith. I think this is pretty important, because unless this can be proved, we don’t have good support for the claims of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and we won’t have good reason to give it the benefit of the doubt when we’re assessing whether it has changed or not.

      I’d point out that it’s not like we’re missing anything by not defining further doctrines. All churches have teachers, but not all churches believe that their teachers can define doctrines. Much of our teaching is simply applying New Testament principles to solve issues that the New Testament doesn’t specifically address. That’s something that Orthodox teachers do too.

      Good hypothetical question. A similar situation has actually happened, where a newer church is rebaptizing people who were baptized in mid-teens in other Anabaptist churches, and their charismatic and convincing leaders draw followers from other Anabaptist churches. What do we do? We continue to hold our position and offer our reasons for it. We respect that church for their many strong points, and we have cordial relations with them. Occasionally we work together with them on projects. We’d rather advance the Kingdom of God together, and be friendly in spite of our differences, than break off relations with them and anathematize them.

      By the way, I’m glad you’re looking so deeply into Anabaptist thought. Whether we end up agreeing or disagreeing, I think we’ll both have benefited from exploring more deeply what each other’s tradition believes, and from better understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each other’s tradition.

  5. I’m not sure why you think Irenaeus was making some kind of eternal statement when he is specifically talking about the issues in dispute with the Gnostics such as Jesus having a real body and really bodily rising from the dead. As I have said his extracts are not relevant to our discussion on the authority of an Ecumenical Council. I do note that Irenaeus is the first to advocate 4 Gospels and that isn’t made clear in the NT itself so he is doing some defining there.

    Pre-Nicene councils discussed and condemned the Montanists and Sabellianism. Other councils discussed the Quartodeciman Controversy. A famous council at Antioch condemned Paul of Samosata and Adoptionism in 269 AD with 70 bishops. These were ‘local’ councils but their decrees were universally adopted in the Pre and Post Nicene Church. I mention them specifically because you value the witness of the Pre-Nicene Church. Unlike Anabaptists, these decisions were (and are) permanent.

    There is no testimony about the authority of an Ecumenical Council as Christians could not have predicted the future. That all four churches that have any link to the ancient world accept Nicene is evidence enough that the idea existed that doctrine could be defined.
    I have avoided stating the Biblical evidence of the Council of Jerusalem and the sending of the Paraclete as you have already explained them away in an earlier post but that is the evidence we use. We don’t believe the promise was just for the Apostles as non-Apostles (elders and James) were at the Council.
    Do you consider James the Just an Apostle? How about Jude?

    Tell me, What age do you baptise your members? If you give me a number then you are defining.

    1. A clarification. I know that James is called an Apostle by Paul but what I mean is do you think he is one of the 12 Apostles? If the Paraclete only goes to the disciples of Jesus how does James, Jude and even Paul fit in?

      1. Apologies for writing this in haste, since I have engagements today. If something doesn’t make sense, feel free to ask for clarifications.

        I don’t hold that Irenaeus was making an eternal statement. I simply believe that he believed what he said. If I say, “Call the fire department to put out this house fire, because the fire department is intended to fight fires,” you would be justified in thinking that the fire department was intended to fight brush fires as well as house fires. So when Irenaeus gives this as a reason for not accepting Gnostic doctrine, I accept that reason. I don’t need him to reply to every single new doctrine that arose after his day with that same reason in order to know what he would have believed about those new doctrines.

        To clarify, what I mean by “definitive” is if that statement is authoritative and binding on all Christians. We believe that bishops can teach the faith, but that they cannot define doctrines–those have been fully defined by the apostles, as they and early Christians taught. We believe that councils of church leaders can have authority, but that they cannot establish what is true or false Christian doctrine. They can only help us to know what is true or false. But they can be mistaken.

        Here are a few questions I would submit to you. If nobody before the councils believed that councils could define doctrine, where did they get their authority to define doctrine? Could an ecumenical council make a mistake in its declarations? If not, why couldn’t it? Who says? Just because people accept them after the fact doesn’t mean that they have authority. People accept all sorts of positions.

        If the Holy Spirit guides the ecumenical councils accepted by the Orthodox into new truth, why can’t he have guided the Arians into new truth? The Anabaptists? The Anglicans? The robber councils?

        James the Just and Jude were apostles in a broader sense, such as the sense in which Timothy was an apostle. But they weren’t members of the twelve. I explain why we accept their writings even though they’re not apostles proper in this post. Paul was called specially by Christ, and received his doctrines straight from Christ, as the post above explains. That’s why we accept his teachings as binding.

        And as you said, I offered some reasons why the Jerusalem Council is not a good example of what Orthodox believe happened at ecumenical councils. I’d be glad to hear your critiques of that section.

        In answer to your questions, we baptize people when they have made a commitment to Christ. We don’t have a set age. For some, that happens younger than for others. I was baptized at age 14.

  6. Hi Again Lynn,
    I’m not sure when you’re still insisting that Irenaeus that anything to say about how ecumenical councils can define doctrine. You have a very eccentric interpretation. Irenaeus is saying ‘don’t believe the false teachings of the Gnostics but put your trust in the Gospels that’s all you need to refute them.’ The title of his work is enough to show he is only talking about Gnostics. He is countering the Gnostics rejection of the gospels by stressing the reliability of them. Of course, the trustworthiness of the Gospels is conditional on the succession of bishops and the witness of the Holy Spirit. I looked at some scholarship and couldn’t find anyone who claimed that Irenaeus was against anyone ‘defining’ doctrine. I couldn’t find a clear statement the other way either but I’ll throw in this quote from Kelly. If you haven’t read it I high recommend him. Do you have any scholarship to back up your view?

    J.N.D Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 5th edition, A & C Black, London. “Irenaeus makes two further points. First, the identity of the oral tradition with the original revelation is guaranteed by the unbroken succession of bishops in the great sees going back lineally to the apostles. Secondly, an additional safeguard is supplied by the Holy Spirit, for the message was committed to the Church, and the Church is the home of the Spirit. Indeed, the Church’s bishops are on his view Spirit-endowed men who have vouchsafe ‘an infallible charism of truth.'”

    Now your questions:
    “If nobody before the councils believed that councils could define doctrine, where did they get their authority to define doctrine? Could an ecumenical council make a mistake in its declarations? If not, why couldn’t it? Who says? Just because people accept them after the fact doesn’t mean that they have authority. People accept all sorts of positions.”

    My answer.
    I never said that ‘nobody before the councils believed…’ I just said they did predict or speculate on the matter. The praxis of the Pre-Nicene Church shows the imperative to define against Montanism, Sabellianism and Adoptionism without a clear theology of the Holy Spirit to explain the practice. These heresies were manipulating Scripture. The Church never bothered to hold councils against the Gnostics because their deviation was easy to detect and refute.

    I know that false councils are the great fear of sola scriptura types. It is a great tactic to remove Christians from their roots. But honestly, it isn’t that difficult to figure out the true councils if you look. There really aren’t that many. As a council is just elaborating what you already believed, you just check to see if it matches that. The current terminology is the ‘reception of the council.’ That is why the Russian Orthodox Church can accept the 7 Ecumenical Councils even though they never sent representatives.
    Take the Robber Council of Ephesus of 449 AD. Even the modern Monophysites reject that one. The Council of Hieria of 754 was rejected because the emperor didn’t invite any leaders (Patriarchs) of the other churches and interfered by imposing his own views to win favour with God so he could defeat the Muslims in battle. We Orthodox reject the Council of Lyon of 1274 and Florence of 1439 because the imposed doctrines didn’t match Orthodoxy. Other councils like the synod of Dort, or the Westminster Assembly are so far removed from Orthodoxy that no one in our Churches has ever considered them true for a moment.
    You might be surprised to learn that no council has ever imposed infant baptism on our church. The issue has never been in dispute so there is no need. The same with a host of other things like baptismal regeneration or real presence in the Eucharist or the three fold minister or a male priesthood. There were a series of local councils responding to some of the issues raised by the Reformation and Trent (like the Council of Jerusalem of 1672) but they are currently waiting authorisation from an Ecumenical Council (not that is matters because we accept them anyway). In the end I suppose I should say we know which councils are true for the same reasons you think your interpretation of the Bible is true.

    Tell me Lynn, can you find me an example of an Arian martyr? The fact that this movement collapsed so completely is due to the Holy Spirit. Many simple people were confused by the subtleties of the Arians. Luckily homousious was used to clarify things.

    Words like Trinity or New Testament or Bible or hypostasis or physis or lateria or prokenesis have all proven useful in defending the truth of Scripture.

    Your Quote
    “We believe that councils of church leaders can have authority, but that they cannot establish what is true or false Christian doctrine. They can only help us to know what is true or false. But they can be mistaken.”
    ?????????????? What can I say?

    1. Hi Stefano,
      First, I should note what I mean by “define the faith.” I believe that bishops have the authority to teach the faith. That is, they have authority to help people understand the faith. However, whether they are right or not depends on whether they accurately represent the faith. On the other hand, I believe that the apostles had the authority to both teach and define the faith. That is, they had the authority to help people understand the faith, but the key difference is this: Whatever they said the faith is, the faith is that. So they were upstream from the faith, giving us the true doctrines as Jesus and the Holy Spirit directly revealed those doctrines to the apostles. However, bishops are downstream from the faith. They simply hand down what the apostles defined, helping us to understand what is true. It’s not true just because a bishop says it. However, it is true just because one of the twelve apostles said it. This may help you understand what I meant by the quotation that you quoted at the end of your last comment.

      I get that, since you are already convinced of Orthodoxy, it makes sense to you that councils of bishops could define the faith. However, when someone claims to speak with authority to define Christian doctrine, the natural question of anyone who isn’t yet convinced is, “Who says?”

      In this article, I offered reasons from Scripture and the early church, for why we should believe that Christian doctrine was all revealed to the apostles and the earliest churches. I also have noted that no Christian leader before 325 ever taught that anyone but Jesus and the apostles could define the faith. Before 325, their goal was always to use Scripture and tradition to find out what Jesus and the apostles taught.

      So where did the councils of bishops get their authority to define the faith? So far, you’ve offered me an alternative reading of Irenaeus that wouldn’t necessitate him believing the truth of what he literally said. But even if your reading of Irenaeus is correct, you still haven’t answered the question, “Who says?” I really would be glad to know if you have evidence to establish the idea that Christian doctrine can be defined by a council of bishops. Did an apostle ever say that?

  7. Lynn,
    I suppose my response is to say no one ever denied the authority of the church to define doctrine. There were disputes about the definitions such as at Chalcedon but not the methodology. Again, I can deny the authority of 14 fake Roman Catholic Ecumenical Councils (for various reasons) that took place after the 8th Century without denying the methodology behind what they were doing.

    The denial of the authority of the Church and the authority of councils is very much a feature of the Reformation.

    So the answer to ‘who says?’ is ‘everybody says’. It is only after 1517 with the whole ‘sola scriptura’ thing that this idea came up.

    I’ll stress again that Nothing defined by councils goes against the Bible. You have a bunch of highly subjective interpretations to support your views. I have my own on the Holy Spirit coming, the promises of Christ to the Church, the church as the body of Christ and the New Israel and the fact that the Apostles did pass their authority on to their successors (insert the various supporting Bible verses here for evidence but you already know them).

    As for your testimony from Irenaeus and Tertullian, neither of them actually say what you propose. You are forcing your modern interpretation into your reading of those extracts (as well as ignoring the rest of their writings). I do notice that you tend to interpret your extracts in isolation. As I have said, the evidence that the Pre-Nicene Church was holding councils (the praxis) is plenty of evidence.
    Can you provide me with any Pre-Nicene evidence that anyone spoke out about holding councils? Historians can identify over 20 dealing with the Montanists, Adoptionism, the Quartodecimans and Re-Baptistism so there are plenty of councils to criticise.

    1. As I said before, I do believe that councils of bishops have authority. I think that holding councils is a great idea. However, though bishops have the authority to teach and to lead their churches, no amount of bishops can add to the apostolic deposit of faith.

      As far as I am aware, none of the pre-Nicene councils claimed to be speaking definitively, making statements that are authoritative on the level of what the apostles taught. No one before Nicaea taught or even hinted that this could happen. So I hope you’ll understand if I go with what Scripture and the early church seem to teach over what later bishops claimed for themselves.

      You say I’m forcing a modern interpretation on texts, or reading texts in isolation. If that’s really what’s happening, I want to know. I take care to ensure that I’m true to the context of what the early authors are writing, but of course I can be mistaken. If you have any references to their writings that show that I’m mistaken, I will look into them.

  8. I don’t reading anything about Anabaptists holding any sort of councils. Can you enlighten me if I’m wrong?

    So, do you have a problem with the Nicene-Constantinoplian Creed? Does it contradict the New Testament?

    1. Anabaptists have held councils, though they aren’t always called that. Their results have been confessions of faith rather than decrees and canons. One such confession that many churches accept is the Dortrecht Confession. But they don’t hold it as capable of defining doctrine as Scripture does; they merely hold it as an accurate description of the faith of the apostles.

      And I believe the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (as would virtually all Anabaptists). It doesn’t contradict the New Testament so far as I can see. However, I accept it as an accurate description of what the pre-Nicene church believed rather than as a definitive statement on the level of Scripture.

  9. Thank you for information on the Dortrecht Confession. I had come across it in my research but hadn’t realised a council was involved. I read that 51 ministers were involved in drafting the confession. Great stuff. Exactly the way Orthodox do things.

    Great to hear you don’t have issues with the Creed. You say it is an ‘accurate description’ of Pre-Nicene Christianity. I think it was accurate then, accurate now and accurate in another thousand years. Why would it stop being accurate?

    So… Do you recite the Creed every Sunday?

    1. We typically use the Apostles’ Creed rather than the Nicene Creed. We don’t recite it every Sunday though. The creeds are accurate and useful for describing our beliefs. Nothing has stopped them from being accurate.

  10. Hi! I was pointed to this article by Greg in the comment thread under the article on the Assumption, and I promised to read it and give a response. I’m still digesting and thinking about the article, but I would like to ask a clarifying question to be sure that I accurately understand the position that you are defending. It seems to follow from your initial section that (part of) your thesis is “Only Jesus and the apostles can make statements about doctrine that have the authority to be binding on all Christians.” (This combines your phrasing “only statements by them [Jesus and the apostles] can be taken as definitive of Christian doctrine” with part of your definition of “defining the faith.” It also seems to follow from the statement in your conclusion that “…no further defining of doctrine is needed beyond what the apostles [and Jesus] gave.”) Is my restatement accurate?

    As a follow-up, if my restatement is accurate, could you give some clarification on what you mean by “doctrine”? You use the term throughout the article, but I couldn’t find a place where you defined it, and I would like to be clear about what you are claiming when you say things like “The apostles infallibly knew all Christian doctrine.”

    It seems by the way that you use the term that you mean roughly something like “a proposition having something to do with religious (specifically Christian) truths.” Is that accurate? If it isn’t, could you give me your preferred definition of the term? If it is, it seems to follow that you could restate your thesis as “The only propositions regarding the Christian faith that have the authority to be binding on all Christians are those stated by Jesus and the apostles.” Is that also an accurate representation of your position?

    I apologize for all the questions, but I don’t want to waste time (and annoy you!) by writing up a response to something you don’t actually believe, so I feel that it is better to clarify things in advance.

    1. Hi Landon, thanks for the interaction and the clarifying questions. I’ll try to make my position clear. By a doctrine, I simply mean a teaching, whether it is a proposition or an imperative. I should probably clarify that in my article, since some traditions make a distinction between doctrines and other types of teachings.

      Yes, both your restatements of my position are accurate, with two caveats. First, this doesn’t just apply to propositions, but also to any other teachings put forward as an essential part of the Christian faith. Second, Christian leaders do have the authority to make decisions that are binding on their flock. It’s just that their decisions don’t become official Christian teachings.

      1. If your thesis is (with the caveats you listed) “The only propositions regarding the Christian faith that have the authority to be binding on all Christians are those stated by Jesus and the apostles,” isn’t that self-refuting? As in, the proposition “the only propositions regarding the Christian faith that have the authority to be binding on all Christians are those stated by Jesus and the apostles” is itself a proposition regarding the Christian faith, and it was not stated by Jesus or the apostles. Or would you say that your proposition itself is not binding on all Christians?

        1. That’s an interesting critique, Landon, but no, this argument is not self-refuting. My argument is that the teachings of Jesus and the apostles indicate that they alone could define the faith.

          1. As I stated it, it is self-refuting (in much the same manner that logical positivism is self-refuting), unless you take the route of saying that your conclusion is not binding on all Christians. It isn’t that the argument is self-refuting, it is that the conclusion is self-refuting independent of the argument. If you still disagree about the self-refuting nature of the conclusion as I stated it (in the terms that I made sure you agreed with), I’m happy to walk through the logical steps in more explicit detail.

            However, the way that you restated things in your last comment could save your conclusion, if it is modified. This is why I asked for clarification that my restatements were accurate. You said “the teachings of Jesus and the apostles indicate [your conclusion].” So you can save your overall thesis from self-refutation by expanding it to something like along these lines: “The only propositions regarding the Christian faith that have the authority to be binding on all Christians are those stated by Jesus and the apostles, and propositions that are indicated by statements made by Jesus and the apostles.” Is this updated version of the thesis an accurate representation of your position?

          2. Ah, now I’m seeing the issue you discovered in your restatement of my position. It appears that you don’t consider it obvious that the logical consequences of a teaching are as binding as the bare statement of that teaching, which I had assumed as obvious. We can make your restatement more accurate and correct its logical flaw simply by appending it with “and the logical consequences of those statements.”

            We still might not quite have reached a restatement of my position that contains all the nuances that are logically relevant, since not all teachings are propositions (some are imperatives), but this should be getting close.

    2. Lynn,

      I’m backing out of the nested comments since I think we reached a mutual understanding on the line of thought we were pursuing. I hope that this will make sense in how it shows up in the comments (I don’t yet totally understand how the nesting works here).

      In response to your last statement that the inclusion of “logical consequences” is obvious, I do not think that it is obvious, and indeed defining further what you mean by “logical consequences” and the resulting implications gets at some quite foundational issues. And I apologize again for all of the questions and preliminary discussion, but I think that it is of central importance to get your thesis stated as clearly as possible, because I, as a Catholic, might actually agree with it in the end, depending on which meanings you intend for certain terms. And if I agree with it, there is no need for me to analyze your supporting argument in detail (I might quibble with some details of your argument, or I might think it has a fatal flaw but arrive at the same conclusion by a different method, but those issues are of secondary importance. If we agree on your conclusion I think that we both would see that as a good thing!)

      To recap, here is your modified thesis, broken down in three parts for clarity (I’m trying to use bullet points – I hope the formatting works out):

      All propositions stated by Jesus and the apostles regarding the content of the Christian faith are authoritatively binding on all Christians.
      All logical consequences of propositions stated by Jesus and the apostles regarding the content of the Christian faith are authoritatively binding on all Christians.
      No other propositions regarding the content of the Christian faith are authoritatively binding on all Christians. (Though as you said previously, and this I agree with, “Christian leaders do have the authority to make decisions that are binding on their flock,” but these just don’t become “official Christian teachings.”)

      Some further clarifying questions follow.

      First, could someone today, studying and working systematically through the original statements and consequences and consequences of consequences, etc, discover something new that had not previously been explicitly articulated in the history of post-apostolic Christianity? Would this “new” articulation (new in the subjective sense, not in the objective sense), then be authoritatively binding on all Christians? If you deny this possibility, how would you modify the terms of your thesis to prevent it?

      A second and related question has to do with the “objective” and “subjective” sense of logical implication on an individual level. Are the logical consequences authoritatively binding on me if I personally don’t grasp them? Obviously any specific proposition is in reality either a logical consequence of statements that Jesus and the apostles made or it is not. But since I as a finite being have imperfect reasoning skills, and those skills are further negatively impacted by the effects of sin (perhaps personal sin on my part for example), I might not realize (or not might want to realize) that a certain proposition is indeed a logical consequence of statements made by Jesus and the apostles. Or I might not even have the reasoning capacity to follow the complex argument that leads to that consequence. Is that proposition still authoritatively binding on me?

      For a specific example here, take Unitarians. Some Unitarians would agree with your thesis in the terms that I outlined it above, but would deny that Christians must assent to the proposition “Jesus is God.” I think that you and I would both agree that they are mistaken about this, and that all Christians are bound to assent to the proposition “Jesus is God.” If you agree, would you also agree that it could be the case that there is some logical consequence which you personally do not think is a logical consequence, but that you could still be authoritatively bound to in reality? If not, how would you modify the terms of your thesis to rule out this possibility?

      There are many more questions I could ask about what you would see as the nature and definition of “logical consequences” – what types of propositions can enter the major and minor terms of the syllogisms, how one would obtain the definitions of those terms, etc. but I think the above two issues are sufficient for now. Depending on how you answer them and modify your thesis to take them into account, your thesis might actually be compatible with the Catholic view (or at least roughly compatible with it).

      1. Hi Landon,

        I’m glad we found agreement on that point.

        The way you distance logical consequences from a proposition is strange to me—I can’t imagine a situation in which a proposition is authoritative, but its logical consequences aren’t.

        Let’s take an example: Suppose that I tell my son not to drive over the speed limit. The road on which he is driving has a posted speed limit of 35 mph. Is my son required to drive below 35 mph, even if that exact speed wasn’t explicitly spelled out in my command? Certainly. The logical consequences of my command have the same authority as the bare statement of the command.

        It seems to me that all communication, all legal codes, and all church teachings would be rendered almost meaningless if the logical consequences of a statement don’t carry the authority of the bare statement.

        You have several questions about how the logical consequences of the apostolic deposit might work under my view. However, I think that’s the wrong angle to take. The laws of logic are universal. Therefore, the logical consequences of the apostolic deposit work in the same way that the logical consequences of any other system of doctrine do. Therefore, my answer to the theoretical question should be precisely the same as anyone else’s answer to that theoretical question, whether they hold to my theological views or not.

        So I don’t think we should get too hung up on that question. Instead, I think we should discuss the differences between the ways our traditions interpret the evidence.

        God could theoretically have set up the apostolic deposit in such a way that further essential truths could be discovered through revelation or logic as time goes on. However, my exegesis of the relevant Scripture and patristic texts shows that all teachings that are binding on Christians were complete and public during the time of the apostles.

        Therefore, those Christians were bound to believe the exact things that we are bound to believe. Also, since those Christians knew all authoritative Christian truths, that means that there aren’t any authoritative truths that can only be known by means of a lot of difficult logical inferences.

        Any logical inferences that yield authoritative Christian truths therefore must follow straightforwardly from any bare statements of Jesus and the apostles, using inferences that untutored people can follow themselves.

        1. Lynn,

          I’m making a big deal about logical consequences because if you include that in your original thesis, you can no longer make some of the statements you make in the article (if you want to be logically consistent). If your answers are the same as mine to the questions I asked, then your position is at least roughly compatible with the Catholic view (probably the biggest difference at that point would be the inclusion of the Old Testament books – we view them as part of the revelation of God). But you state your thesis in some places in the article in ways which are not compatible with the Catholic view. So that is why I’m pressing you to clarify the specific statement of your actual thesis by addressing the two issues I brought up – your answers do matter if we want to address some of the foundational issues! If we jump ahead to arguments about “interpreting the evidence” we will just end up back at the starting point – if your approach to “interpreting the evidence” completely rules out the Catholic position on what is called “fundamental theology” from the start, then the discussion won’t be very fruitful – it isn’t where the real difference is. But right now your thesis (as I rephrased it) is broad enough that it could either rule out the Catholic position (and the position of many Protestants) or be compatible with it. Does that make sense? For that reason, I would like to know your answers to the questions I asked. Specifically, I think that my Unitarian example is quite important – do you believe that all Christians today (including Unitarians who self-identify as Christians) are bound to confess that Jesus is God?

          As a side note, when you say that “there aren’t any authoritative truths that can only be known by means of a lot of difficult logical inferences,” you contradict your (modified) thesis, which as I represented it had the phrase “All logical consequences of propositions stated by Jesus and the apostles regarding the content of the Christian faith are authoritatively binding on all Christians.” It didn’t say anything about the subjective ease or difficulty of discovering those logical inferences (which is why I asked you the question about the objective/subjective nature of logical implication!). I hope that this makes clear why I thought my question was necessary. If you want to include this modification as part of your thesis as well, could you formulate your newly-modified thesis in terms that you find acceptable? It seems that it would have to end up something like this: “All propositions stated by Jesus and the apostles regarding the content of the Christian faith, and all logical consequences of those propositions, except for those logical consequences that are arrived at by ‘difficult’ logical inferences, are authoritatively binding on all Christians, and no other propositions regarding the content of the Christian faith are authoritatively binding on all Christians.” This seems pretty shaky to me. A Unitarian could just claim that the inference “Jesus is God” is too “difficult.”

          And your statement that “all teachings that are binding on Christians were complete and public during the time of the apostles,” just seems obviously false (so I don’t agree with the rest of your argument because I deny this premise). There are, for example, bioethical issues today that did not exist at the time of the apostles. There were no public statements about these issues during the time of the apostles. But I believe, and I think you would agree with me, that there can be statements made today regarding these issues that all Christians should assent to (regardless of whether they want to or not). Now, I agree that these current propositions are logical consequences of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles (and the divine revelation of the Old Testament), and you might even call them “easy” logical consequences (though bioethics can get complex pretty quickly). But we are not restricted to just repeating the public statements made during the time of the apostles in stating Christian teachings, otherwise we could never actually address these new issues as Christians. Do you agree? (And the same goes for your statement that “those Christians were bound to believe the exact things that we are bound to believe.” There seem to be obvious counterexamples along the same lines.)

          1. Today’s “bioethical issues” are totally outside of the Gospel expressed by Christ and the Apostles (and, I might add, the RCC for 1900+ years) and are not a part of the Christian faith once delivered, so they are not a valid part of the Christian faith today (despite what Francis says). It is hard to imagine a worse illustrative choice for the point you alleged, for this is an obvious late accretion to the true faith. I personally find it beyond the pale that a leader of a major denomination would deviate so markedly from the propagation of the Gospel; it is utterly inappropriate.

        2. Lynn,

          I also realized upon further reflection that you seem to have forgotten our discussion about self-refuting statements. You agreed that you needed to add “and the logical consequences” to your original thesis in order to avoid this. But in your last comment you are still saying things like “all teachings that are binding on Christians were complete and public during the time of the apostles,” which seems equivalent to your initial formulation “The only propositions regarding the Christian faith that have the authority to be binding on all Christians are those stated by Jesus and the apostles.” And we agreed that this latter formulation is self-refuting.

          1. Landon, I think we are talking on different wavelengths.

            God created humans with the ability to communicate through language. Our language and cognitive skills are quite complex. So there is no way to rephrase my argument to list exactly what inferences we may make from the teachings in the apostolic deposit. Even if I were to write an entire book on hermeneutics and logic, I couldn’t answer all the questions that could be raised.

            However, if you disagree, and you believe that this would be feasible, we can easily overcome our disagreement. Simply answer your own questions regarding the way Roman Catholics can infer truth from the statements of the Roman Catholic Magisterium. If you do that, I’ll look over your answers and let you know if there’s anything I would disagree with.

            But can you do such a monumental task? I doubt it. So instead, I suggest that we rely on the language skills that God gave us. We can use the ordinary methods of language and cognition, the methods that we use every day in understanding what people say to us. That’s what my arguments on this website are predicated on.

            You might argue that this is subjective. If so, every legal code, every statement you make, and every statement in the Roman Catholic Magisterium must be understood subjectively in the very same sense. It is true that some people are better or worse at exegesis and logic, and that many people have biases that will keep them from understanding the truth. But, generally, if we can understand any of the texts that I listed in this paragraph, then we can understand the apostolic deposit in the same way.

            Now to your reformulation—does it adequately describe my thesis? I hope your reformulations of my thesis are helpful to you, and I appreciate that you are attempting to use them to understand my position. However, what I am prepared to defend is not your reformulation of my thesis, but my thesis itself. So when I say things that contradict your reformulation, I’m not contradicting my thesis.

            My argument, as it is in the article, can be summarized basically as follows. This is what I’m prepared to defend:

            (1) Jesus and the apostles can define authoritative Christian doctrine.
            (2) All authoritative Christian truth was complete and public during the time of the apostles.
            (3) No one besides Jesus and the apostles can define authoritative Christian doctrine.

            Since you were unsure of how the apostolic deposit can be applied, I’ll also state the following:

            (4) As is typically the case in legal and religious codes, any inferences that are discovered by using ordinary methods of exegesis and logic, correctly applied, to interpret the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, are as binding as the bare statements themselves.

            Now to your objection. You objected to (2) by arguing that, given our situation today, there are things that we know to be binding on Christians that the apostles would not have known. This is, of course, trivially true. The apostles did not know that Christians in 2023 should follow the speed limit on public highways. However, this is not an addition to the apostolic deposit—it is simply applying the apostolic command to obey the government, but within our specific context.

            This doesn’t create a problem for my argument, since applying commands to one’s own context is part of the ordinary methods of exegesis and logic mentioned in (4). That’s why my son should drive below 35 mph, when I tell him to drive below the speed limit and when the speed limit, in his context, is 35 mph.

            However, if this troubles you, we can simply rephrase (2) to say, “All authoritative Christian truth (doctrine, non-situational inferences, and relevant situational inferences) was complete and public during the time of the apostles.” By relevant, I mean those applications of doctrine that each church and each individual must make to their individual situation. However, it’s important to note that some decisions require wisdom and can’t be directly inferred from the apostolic deposit (or any other set of religious tenets).

            This should cover your objection.

            Let me close by clarifying a few things:

            • Anabaptists view the Old Testament as part of divine revelation.
            • It is part of the apostolic deposit that Jesus is God.
            • You said in your last comment that one of my recent statements makes the error that you had found in your earlier reformulation of my thesis. As you can see from point (4) above, my statement does not make that error.
          2. Lynn,

            (Looks like I can’t directly reply to your last comment because the nesting is too deep – sorry about that.)

            I think you are missing my points and that is probably because I’m not being clear and direct enough. I’ll try to make my comments shorter and more concise.

            So here is something quite direct. In your numbered argument, number 2 contradicts number 4. Both of those statements cannot logically be true at the same time. I’ve tried to say this in different ways previously, but I’m still not sure that you recognize it. Do you think that number 2 does not in fact contradict number 4?

            If number 4 is your conclusion, then I agree with it (with some small caveats that aren’t really necessary to go into right now) and it is roughly compatible with Catholicism.

          3. Thanks for clarifying, Landon. No, (2) and (4) are not contradictory. (4) is simply describing the way we are to interpret the truths described by (1), (2), and (3). I’m sure (4) is roughly compatible with Roman Catholicism—it is broad enough that it should be roughly compatible with any belief system!

            Just to clarify, my points are not intended to form a deductive argument; they could, however, provide premises for deductive arguments. So (4) is not my conclusion. I think this would all make more sense if you reread my article.

          4. Lynn,

            I have read the article. Nothing in it changes the fact that (2) and (4) contradict each other. This doesn’t have anything to do with “evaluating the evidence” – it is just an issue of logic.

            I realize that an assertion is not an argument, so I’ll give a short proof.

            (2): “All authoritative Christian truth was complete and public during the time of the apostles.”

            (4) “As is typically the case in legal and religious codes, any inferences that are discovered by using ordinary methods of exegesis and logic, correctly applied, to interpret the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, are as binding as the bare statements themselves.”

            Using (4), Christians today can make the binding statement B: “It is wrong for Christians to use biomedical technology X that did not exist at the time of the apostles.”

            Statement B is a true, authoritative, and binding statement that was not made public at the time of the apostles, because technology X did not exist at that time.

            Therefore the existence of statement B contradicts (2).

          5. Landon, you must have missed that, in my comment, I clarified (2), since what I meant by it didn’t seem obvious to you:

            I said that, ‘we can simply rephrase (2) to say, “All authoritative Christian truth (doctrine, non-situational inferences, and relevant situational inferences) was complete and public during the time of the apostles.” By relevant, I mean those applications of doctrine that each church and each individual must make to their individual situation. However, it’s important to note that some decisions require wisdom and can’t be directly inferred from the apostolic deposit (or any other set of religious tenets).’

            This removes any potential formal contradiction.

            This discussion has helped me think through clarifying (2), and I’m considering a slight edit to my article. I could separate the inferences implicit in (2) into a separate point, so as to be more explicit. This could yield something like the following:

            (2.a) All authoritative Christian doctrine was complete and public during the time of the apostles.
            (2.b) Application of Christian doctrine to discover binding inferences is straightforward enough that Scripture does not distinguish it from the understanding of doctrine itself.

            Alternatively, I could say (2.c) All authoritative Christian doctrine was complete, public, and understood during the time of the apostles.

            Any of these formulations, however, wouldn’t yield a contradiction and would accurately describe what Scripture says.

          6. Lynn,

            Your clarification does not remove the formal contradiction. It still states that all of the subcategories you listed (doctrine, non-situational inferences, and relevant situational inferences) were complete and public at the time of the apostles. My argument above for the contradiction thus follows through with exactly the same steps. The example statement B that I gave in that argument is a statement that might be classified under your category of “situational inferences.” But that more detailed classification does not change the fact that it still was not public at the time of the apostles, and thus is a still a counterexample to your clarification of (2).

          7. Landon, all this is really trivial, since I doubt that most people will read (2) in the wooden way that you’re reading it, and since it is quite easy to word (2) in such a way as to remove any possible contradictions. I’d suggest that we move past this point and on to the actual argument that I present in the article.

            Still, if it’s important for you to make the language absolutely clear, let me clarify why there is no logical contradiction. Clearly, there is no contradiction in saying that all doctrine and all non-situational inferences were complete and public at the time of the apostles. So the question is if there is a contradiction in saying that all “relevant situational inferences” were complete and public as well.

            What I mean by that, as I tried to clarify, is that Christians at the time of the apostles had access to any situational inferences that were relevant to them. Your example statement B would be a situational inference that is not relevant to them (since it’s not part of their situation), so it doesn’t provide a counterexample. Thus, this is not a contradiction either.

            So far, we haven’t at all addressed the exegesis or inferences on which my argument is founded. Instead, we’ve merely discussed ways of finding better wording for the conclusions that I draw from that evidence. If you have any objections to my actual argument, I’m ready to hear them at any time.

          8. Lynn,

            It is not trivial if you don’t recognize the contradiction, and if it is easy to reword the statement (that you claimed did not have a contradiction), then why not do so?

            You are now making a distinction that you did not make before. You now have 3 categories of authoritative Christian teaching in your system: doctrine (by which now you seem to mean only the direct statements of Jesus and the apostles, whereas before you said it was “a teaching, whether it is a proposition or an imperative”), non-situational inferences from that doctrine, and situational inferences from that doctrine. For the sake of (my current) argument I’ll accept your statement the first two were complete and public at the time of the apostles, and that all statements in the third category that were relevant to the apostles were also complete and public at that time. That leaves a subcategory of your third category: situational inferences from “doctrine” that can be made in the post-apostolic age that are authoritative and binding for Christians. This thus constitutes a set of authoritative and binding statements regarding the Christian faith that was not complete and public at the time of the apostles.

            So, using your new definition of “doctrine,” if by the statement “All authoritative Christian doctrine was complete and public during the time of the apostles.” what you mean is “all public statements of Jesus and the apostles were complete and public at the time of the apostles,” then I agree with you.

            I don’t think it makes sense to find objections to your argument if you can’t state the conclusion in a way that avoids logical contradictions.

          9. Landon, as we’ve seen, no logical contradictions have arisen from this article’s conclusions when they are defined according to the way they were intended to be understood.

            And no, I haven’t defined Christian doctrine as the direct statements of Jesus and the apostles. I would define Christian doctrine as the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians. This article shows that the teachings of Jesus and the apostles are the source for Christian doctrine. It’s probably unhelpful to use the term “direct statements.” Jesus and the apostles used direct statements in order to convey tenets of the faith to us. However, those tenets can be expressed in other direct statements as well as the ones Jesus and the apostles used.

            And yes, there are situational inferences that are relevant to post-apostolic Christians. However, this is a trivial point that leaves no room for doctrinal development. These situational inferences flow directly and obviously from the doctrines themselves. Examples would be as follows: “Lynn should obey U.S. laws.” “William should be intimate with his wife Kate.” “Russian soldiers should not kill Ukrainian soldiers.” These inferences are just how we apply all statements and commands.

          10. Lynn,

            The statements were misleading if you intended them to be understood in a way that contradicts the actual phrasing of your original statements.

            If Christian doctrine is “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians,” and some of those teachings develop in the post-apostolic age, and you say that is not “doctrinal development,” then I agree with you that doctrinal development does not exist.

          11. As for your exegesis in the article, I actually agree with it (with small caveats about what you mean by things like “the faith” that aren’t important for this discussion), in so far as it supports your main points which I have summarized below. I agree with all of these points:

            Jesus, the apostles (including Paul) had the authority to define the faith.
            The faith taught in the first years of Christianity cannot be changed.
            All doctrine was complete and public at the time of the apostles (if by “doctrine” you mean the set of teachings that were binding on all Christians at that time as you just expressed in our discussion).
            The apostles were infallible in their teaching of Christian doctrine.
            After the death of the apostle John there is no more objective, public, and universal divine revelation.

          12. Then it looks like we will only disagree on two or possibly three things that my article argues for.

            First, recall that the definition I gave for “doctrine” is not “the set of teachings that were binding on all Christians at that time.” Instead, I said merely “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians.” My article argues that this set cannot change from what Jesus and the apostles taught. Any logical inferences from this set of teachings are binding, but I am categorizing them as inferences rather than as teachings.

            As I’ve stated in previous comments, any binding inferences from Christian doctrine are very straightforward. In fact, they are so straightforwardly able to be understood by anyone who understands the doctrine itself, that Scripture doesn’t use a separate category for them. I’m only using a separate category since it seems that it’s necessary for our conversation. This straightforwardness leaves no room for later discovering new non-situational binding inferences.

            • So the first thing we may disagree on is (A) that Christian doctrine, or “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians (considered apart from the logical inferences of those teachings)” cannot change from what Jesus and the apostles taught.
            • The second thing we may disagree on is (B) that any binding inferences from this set of teachings are so straightforward that anyone who understands the doctrine understands all non-situational and all relevant situational binding inferences from it.
            • The third thing, which we will disagree on is (C) that no one besides Jesus and the apostles can infallibly define Christian doctrine.

            If (A) and (B) are both true, or if (C) is true, then it would appear that the development of doctrine, as understood by the Roman Catholic Church, is impossible.

          13. Lynn,

            I’m sorry that I’ve come across as “lawyering.” I do want to find our actual disagreement, and that is why I’ve been so interested in the actual terms you use and their logical implications. And in this area of fundamental theology, those things matter for finding the truth. I’ve said it before, but sometimes you phrase things in a way that is entirely compatible with my beliefs, and other times you don’t, and you seem to think that you are making equivalent statements. So can you understand why I’m pushing you to think about the logical structure and the terms that you are using? Do we disagree or not? I would like to find out, and to figure out the exact location of this disagreement if it exists.

            And I’m sorry that you felt that I was changing what you said. You had said previously that doctrine is “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians,” and had said that you viewed “situational inferences” as a subcategory of doctrine. And you agreed that some of these situational inferences could be formulated in the post-apostolic age. And you said that in the apostolic times all relevant situational inferences were known. So I truly don’t understand how I was changing what you said. Again, I’m sorry if it came across that way – I certainly was not attempting to change what you said and was not attempting to be dishonest or uncharitable.

            If you need to drop out of the conversation, I understand. I would encourage you, if you want to keep writing about fundamental theology in public, to read some books by theologians on this topic. And they don’t have to be Catholic theologians (though that would be useful if you want to understand the Catholic position)! There are Reformed theologians who have done good work in this area. But I think that just interacting with a systematic account would help you in your desire to clearly state your views.

          14. Thanks for the kind reply, Landon. I’m ready to put this behind us and continue the conversation.

            I’ll just note that both of us are intelligent enough to be uncharitable and/or to twist the truth in such a way that it appears like we are doing the exact opposite. I think that both of us are perceptive enough to know when that is happening.

            Let’s not do that.

          15. Lynn,

            I hope this doesn’t come across as “lawyering” given the previous comments. So I apologize if it does – as I said in my previous comment, I’m just trying to think through and understand what you are saying.

            In case that it does seem like too much, I’ll only address (A). You said that you are defining “doctrine” as “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians (considered apart from the logical inferences of those teachings).” And you said that doctrine cannot change from what Jesus and the apostles taught. So what, in your view, distinguishes “doctrine” from “what Jesus and the Apostles taught”? What would be an example of something that is in your mind “doctrine” but is not something that Jesus and the apostles taught (because you are not including logical inferences in the definition). It seems to me that you are not allowing any room for difference in the two sets, but I could be mistaken. If you are not allowing a difference in the definitions, that is fine with me, but then it seems you have to say that “doctrine” is equivalent to “what Jesus and the apostles taught.” If you are using this definition of doctrine and saying that doctrine cannot change, than I agree with you. Again, I’m not trying to misconstrue anything or “twist” it.

          16. Great question, Landon, and it comes across as a very fair question.

            I define “doctrine” as “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians” (with the caveat that you quoted) because it is theoretically possible that it could be different from “the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.” For example, it could theoretically be that the Bodily Assumption of Mary becomes part of the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians, because it is infallibly defined by the Pope.

            After knowing what we mean by the word “doctrine,” we can move on to the question of who is “upstream” from doctrine (has the authority to establish doctrine). I argue that (though the two could theoretically be different), in fact, Scripture and the early church show us that “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians” is equivalent to “the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.”

            So I’m not saying that “the teachings of Jesus and the apostles” can’t change—that is obviously true. The controversial claim that I am making is that “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians” can’t change.

            Does that clarify things for you?

          17. Lynn,

            Not really. It seems to me that you are including the caveat “apart from the logical inferences of those teachings” at the beginning and then dropping it to get your conclusion. Your example of the Assumption doesn’t make sense to me without that caveat – we would say it is an implication of other teachings, so it wouldn’t get included in your definition of “doctrine” (the one with the caveat). And at the end you say that “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians” can’t change, but again you don’t include the caveat of “apart from the logical inferences” that would seem necessary to conclude that “doctrine” as you defined it doesn’t change. I thought (though I’m beginning to question my reading skills at this point) that you earlier agreed that there could be binding teachings on Christians that develop after the apostolic age, but that you aren’t including those in your most recent definition of “doctrine.” So there is a difference between saying “doctrine” doesn’t change and saying that “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians” doesn’t change (again using your up-to-date definitions for both, as clearly as I am able to understand them).

            Since you brought up the Assumption, perhaps another specific example will be helpful for me to explain why I’m confused. Take the idea of believer’s baptism (or credobaptism, whichever you prefer). It requires inferences to arrive at this idea from the teachings of Jesus and the apostles (and let’s assume for the sake of argument that the inferences are completely correct). So it seems that believer’s baptism would not be included in your definition of “doctrine,” because you are separating out inferences into a different category. But I assume you would view this as a valid inference from the teachings of Jesus and the apostles that is binding on Christians, so it would be included in “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians.” But this seems to me to contradict your statement that your argument from Scripture and the early church proves that “‘the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians’ is equivalent to ‘the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.’” Do you see why I’m confused? Am I missing something important?

          18. Sure, Landon, let me clarify.

            Yes, I’m including that caveat when I define the word “doctrine” throughout. So yes, when I say that “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians” can’t change, I am excepting the relevant situational inferences, which are of course different for each person. So, as I have defined the terms, there is no difference between saying “doctrine” doesn’t change and saying that “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians” doesn’t change.

            And no, I do not agree that there are any binding teachings on Christians that develop after the apostolic age. Recall that I’m separating “teachings” from the inferences of those teachings. And just take the example of the Assumption as an example of how it could theoretically be—I’m not saying that that is precisely how the Roman Catholic Church understands it. I recognize that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Magisterium doesn’t add teachings, but merely clarifies what was in the apostolic deposit. My position, however, is that the developments of doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church are much more expansive than “relevant situational inferences.”

            To get farther on this particular point, we will need to discuss my claim (B) that any binding inferences from this set of teachings are so straightforward that anyone who understands the doctrine understands all non-situational and all relevant situational binding inferences from it.

            If the Roman Catholic Church were to teach only the teachings of Jesus and the apostles and the logical consequences of those teachings, then I would accept all that the Roman Catholic Church teaches.

            In re credobaptism (both terms are fine to me), if what you granted for the sake of the discussion is true, it could be looked at in two ways. It could be merely a part of the doctrine of baptism, since (credobaptists believe that) the apostolic writings explicitly link belief and baptism. In that case, it would be a doctrine. Or, it could be an inference from doctrines of baptism, salvation, etc., that (credobaptists believe) presume that the subjects believe. In one case, it would be a doctrine. In the other case, it would be a binding inference from a doctrine.

          19. Lynn,

            Can I ask for a clarification? Is it correct to say that your definition of “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians” includes both doctrine (as you have defined it) and logical implications of doctrine (excluding what you are calling “situational inferences”)? And you are saying that you have proved that this “set of teachings that are binding on all Christians” is equivalent to to “the teachings of Jesus and the apostles”, so that no other teachings can be binding on all Christians (except, again, situational inferences)?

          20. Landon,

            Since I’m using “doctrine” as a synonym for “teaching,” I’m not including logical implications of that doctrine or teaching as part of Christian doctrine or teaching. One could perhaps include it, but I think it will help simplify this conversation if we don’t.

            And yes, I believe Scripture and the early church teach us that “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians” is equivalent to “the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.” The only other propositions and imperatives that are binding on all Christians are logical inferences from those teachings (whether situational or non-situational). Again, I’m not categorizing those inferences as “teachings,” for the sake of clarity in this particular discussion.

          21. Lynn,

            I’m glad I asked for the clarification! I think things actually get much simpler and more logically plausible if you do include this! If you include “logical inferences from the teachings of Jesus and the apostles” as part of “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians,” then I would roughly agree with you that “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians” does not change, at least not in an objective sense. And this addition removes the main logical issue with your definition. For example, the credobaptism example now makes sense in your formulation – you don’t have to claim you get credobaptism with no inference from the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, as you would have to do otherwise (you are forced to this in both of the branches you presented if you don’t include this clarification). You can now just say that it is a doctrine that is logically implied by those teachings.

          22. Lynn,

            After reflecting some more on the conversation, I think I understand something better about what you are trying to say. Would it be correct to say that in your view a “doctrine” or “teaching” is something like a “source”? So that you can derive other things from that source, and some of those things might be “binding,” but no new sources can be added? The teachings of Jesus and the apostles are then the “source” from which everything else flows.

          23. Hi Landon, I like where you’re going with this. I do think there are reasons for sticking to what I proposed, however.

            I think that Scripture and the early church indicate that the teachings communicated by Jesus and the apostles make up the whole of Christian doctrine. I don’t see anywhere indicated that the inferences from those teachings join the body of Christian doctrine, and it would seem strange if “Lynn should obey the U.S. laws” would be a Christian doctrine. Besides, as you’ve pointed out, inferences change and therefore could not entirely be described as complete and public in the way that Scripture and the early church describe them. So I think we have good reason to exclude inferences from the body of Christian doctrine.

            In any case, what I do see from Scripture is that we need to correctly understand Christian doctrine, as well as to “apply” it, as Anabaptists would say. This would be the inferences from Christian doctrine that we’ve discussed earlier. My point (B) above was that these inferences flow so straightforwardly from Christian doctrine that anyone with the knowledge of doctrine could fully understand them. I think that is also indicated from Scripture.

            Just to clarify, I gave one method by which credobaptism would be part of a doctrine, and another one where it would be the application of a doctrine, in which case there would be an inference. So no, I didn’t claim that credobaptism requires no inference. It’s possible that it does and it’s possible that it doesn’t.

          24. Lynn,

            If you take your other branch of calling credobaptism a “binding inference from a doctrine,” then it has to be part of the “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians.” But you claimed to have proved that this set is equivalent to “the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.” So on either branch, you are forced to say that no inferences are necessary for belief in credobaptism. Unless you say that on this branch credobaptism is not a teaching that is binding on all Christians? Again, am I missing something?

          25. Okay, I believe you’ve spotted some imprecise language in what I’ve been saying. I’ll try to correct it.

            I’ve been distinguishing two types of inferences from Christian doctrine (situational and non-situational), and I think I’ve been using imprecise terminology for them. Instead, I should distinguish “logically equivalent” inferences and inferences that merely follow logically. Logical equivalences would be inferences that have the same value as what is stated to be doctrine, taken a priori. So what I’ve been calling “non-situational” inferences actually are Christian doctrine, because that’s what logical equivalence means. Credobaptism would be an example of this in either case that I mentioned, since, if it’s true that it logically follows from what is doctrine, without any reference to truths that aren’t Christian doctrine, then it add no new information to the set of Christian doctrine.

            However, inferences that merely follow logically would be the application of doctrine to current reality. So here’s what they would look like in a syllogism:

            1. Premise: Christians should obey the government of their nation (Christian doctrine, because it is logically equivalent to what Paul teaches)
            2. Premise: The U.S. is Lynn’s nation (fact about current reality)
            3. Conclusion: Therefore, Lynn should obey the U.S. government (application of Christian doctrine)

            So, having made these distinctions, we can define as follows:

            • “Doctrine” is the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians.
            • This set contains only the teachings of Jesus and the apostles (what they said and what is logically equivalent to what they said).
            • “Binding application of doctrine” is the set of inferences that logically follow from Christian doctrine and facts about one’s current reality.
            • (A) now states that Christian doctrine, or “the set of teachings that are binding on all Christians (considered apart from the application of doctrine)” cannot change from what Jesus and the apostles taught.
            • (B) now states that any binding application from this set of teachings are so straightforward that anyone who understands the doctrine can correctly apply it to any known facts about their current reality

            I like this, because I feel it has clarified what I’m saying and brought some healthy precision to it. I’ve been thinking of two things that are logically equivalent in separate ways, but haven’t given a good enough reason to consider them separately. In that case, I should just consider them together. My apologies for the confusion!

          26. To be clear, there would be two other ways of going about this, both of which you had mentioned. First, one could define Christian doctrine as “source” teachings, from which other teachings could be inferred. Second, one could define Christian doctrine as the statements made by those who have authority to define Christian doctrine, and then other teachings could be inferred from that. I took the route I did because I felt it was simpler, as well as closer to the text of Scripture. But no matter which route is taken, we will get forms of (A) and (B) that are essentially the same and still support the argument I’m giving in this article.

          27. Ok, now I think we are getting somewhere. This does avoid the logical issue I kept bringing up. And I roughly agree with (A) now (modulo some ideas about logical equivalence that I don’t think are important now), with one major addition. You may or may not agree with parts of this addition – I would be interested to know which ones. And you might think that some of them are implied by what you already said: I’m not trying to say you are not including these, I just want to be clear about my position.

            I would extend your “source” of “the teachings of Jesus and the apostles” to include the entire witness of Sacred Scripture (including not just propositions/spoken words but the very narratives of Scripture), the person of Jesus Christ (the Word made flesh), every word and act of Christ Himself, and some of the acts of the apostles as well as the words they spoke (by this I mean specifically to include in the tradition they passed down things like their prayers, the liturgy/worship practices they taught the Church, the examples of their lives etc.) I guess you could make an argument that these are roughly equivalent to their spoken words, and I would be fine with that. And I’m not sure that I’m comfortable using the term “source” for all of these (I do realize that I’m the one who brought it up). For example, I’m not sure that I would call Sacred Scripture a “source” of divine revelation, rather it is God speaking through human authors so more of a “channel” of divine revelation. Jesus Christ is the only true “source” of divine revelation (and by Jesus Christ I’m not excluding the Father and the Holy Spirit). But that is a side issue/small clarification. My main point is that I view the “deposit of faith” as much more than a set of propositional teachings, and I think you would at least partly agree with that.

          28. Great, this does feel like progress. I apologize for any lack of clarity on my part that made progress difficult.

            Let me respond to the things you’d add:

            • “the entire witness of Sacred Scripture (including not just propositions/spoken words but the very narratives of Scripture)” Scripture isn’t part of doctrine. Scripture is a set of authoritative texts, some of which contain doctrine, some of which contain history, and all of which helps us understand God. The narratives in Scripture are for our edification, and they support Christian doctrine. However, they need to be applied according to the teaching of Christ and the apostles, since people have mined them to support ideas not present in the apostolic teaching.
            • “the person of Jesus Christ (the Word made flesh)” The person of Jesus is not Christian doctrine, but Jesus is of course the ultimate source of Christian doctrine, as you said. We should emulate Jesus and seek to be like him because he is the best example—but that principle is itself part of the apostolic deposit (mentioned specifically in their writings), so it’s not an addition to it.
            • “every word and act of Christ Himself” Yes, the teachings of Jesus are the source for doctrine. As for other words and acts, see my points above.
            • “some of the acts of the apostles as well as the words they spoke (by this I mean specifically to include in the tradition they passed down things like their prayers, the liturgy/worship practices they taught the Church, the examples of their lives etc.)” Anything that the apostles taught as Christian doctrine is of course Christian doctrine. As holy and worthy men, their acts deserve emulation, although of course they were fallible in their actions—but that is also mentioned specifically in their writings, so that’s not an additional source of doctrine. Finally, note that “tradition” as you used it is different from the way the apostles used it in Scripture. They appear to have been speaking of specific teachings.

            So none of this changes the fact that Christian doctrine is the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. This is simply to note correctly that we should emulate Jesus and the apostles (mentioned in their teachings), and that the narratives in Scripture support the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.

            Finally, you said, “My main point is that I view the ‘deposit of faith’ as much more than a set of propositional teachings, and I think you would at least partly agree with that.” Yes and no. If we define the “deposit of faith” as “Christian doctrine,” then no. If we define it as “all that Christians have been given to learn from or emulate,” then yes.

          29. Lynn,

            I disagree with most of what you said in the last comment, but probably most strongly with your statement that “the person of Jesus is not Christian doctrine,” so I’ll start there. St. John writes that “the Word [Logos] became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus Himself is the teaching of God. This is made quite clear by the author of Hebrews: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” St. John of the Cross comments on this passage:

            “In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word ­and he has no more to say . . . because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son.”

            Jesus Himself is both the Word of God and the source of “doctrine” in the sense of “the things we can say about God.” His teaching is not the source of our doctrine, He Himself is (you said this both ways – I just want to emphasize the latter). D.C. Schindler puts it this way in his book The Politics of the Real:

            “As the Orthodox continue to recognize in their esteem for the feast of the Epiphany, the very flesh of the wordless child (in-fans) is the essential revelation of God. Let us be clear about what is being said here: there is not only a place, but an utterly indispensable one, for subjective judgment, propositions, and the recognition that the revelation of God is also an intelligible content. The point is simply that these all have their sense-giving foundation in the fact of the Incarnation. The idea of Christianity is originally a reality, without ceasing to be an idea: the Word made flesh.”

            The “deposit of faith” starts here, and would be meaningless without this foundation. And this deposit is not “Christian doctrine” in the sense that you mean it, nor is it “all that Christians have been given to learn from or emulate.” Those two options both “flatten” the reality.

            In a similar way, Scripture is doctrine. Scripture is the word of God! It is God teaching us, and, as you said it is “authoritative,” it is certainly binding on Christians. No part of it can be neglected. I’m somewhat surprised that you disagree with me on this. I’m not saying that Scripture should be applied apart from the teachings of Christ and the apostles – that would be somewhat odd, as the entirety of Scripture, including the teachings of Christ and the apostles recorded there, is the word of God. As Dei Verbum puts it: “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit” (emphasis mine). We cannot even understand who Jesus and the apostles are apart from the entirety of Scripture, and we cannot expect to truly comprehend any of the teachings of Christ (or the apostles) isolated from their specific place in the broader salvation-historical narrative that they are placed in (by the providence of God) and that is proclaimed to us in Scripture.

            And Scripture is all doctrine, in the sense that the very words and narratives, as we both communally and individually meditate upon them and use them in prayer and read them in the public worship of the Church, guide us in the processes of analysis, synthesis, comprehension, drawing inferences, connecting things together, noticing details that seem irrelevant at first but are actually telling us something, etc. It is not just that “the narratives in Scripture support the teachings,” it is that you can’t properly understand the bare statements of Jesus and the apostles in the first place without this context, as they presuppose the rest of Scripture. And you certainly can’t move outward from those statements into the set of related things that flow from them without Scripture. Again, I’m not denying the possibility of making propositional doctrinal statements, they just must of necessity be normed and informed by Scripture. Sacred Scripture is an essential part of the deposit of faith.

            I disagree with your statement about tradition as well, but that is an even longer discussion, and this comment is long enough already.

          30. A clarification – if you want to say that Scripture contains the deposit of faith, and that the deposit of faith is not one-to-one equivalent to Scripture, I would partly agree. The statement I would agree with is that the deposit of faith is contained in Scripture and Tradition. But I don’t agree that you can cut out the parts of Scripture that are the statements of Jesus and the apostles and say that those parts are the deposit of faith.

          31. Landon, earlier in the conversation, you were pressing for clarification. Now I think the concepts you’re proposing are pretty muddy.

            There are two issues with what you’re proposing. First, they do not accurately reflect the way the Scriptures I cited speak of Christian doctrine. Second, they rely on category errors.

            If a doctrine or teaching is a proposition or an imperative of some form, then it cannot be a person. Nor can it be a narrative.

            Jesus is certainly the Word of God. He is the perfect exemplar of God’s communication with us and of the Scriptures. The relationship between a person and his words is much like the relationship between God and Christ. However, Jesus is not a doctrine or a teaching. To say so would be a category error. One could say that Jesus is the source of doctrine or that Jesus is the exemplar of doctrine, but not that Jesus is doctrine.

            The deposit of faith would be meaningless without the foundation of Christ. Of course. But the foundation is not the same thing as the house that is built on it.

            You said, “In a similar way, Scripture is doctrine. Scripture is the word of God! It is God teaching us, and, as you said it is ‘authoritative,’ it is certainly binding on Christians. No part of it can be neglected. I’m somewhat surprised that you disagree with me on this.” Of course I haven’t disagreed on any of these statements other than the first one. Scripture is not doctrine. Not all of what God communicates is doctrine. Some of it is history. Some of it is prophecy. Some of it is wisdom literature. Some of it is doctrine. All of it is authoritative.

            In fact, it is a doctrine of the faith that Scripture is authoritative. We are taught that Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. The propositional content of Scripture is true. The commands in Scripture are binding on those to whom they are given. The narratives of Scripture are deeply meaningful and teach us the truth about God. We don’t need to expand the definition of “doctrine” to meaninglessness in order to consider Scripture authoritative.

            If you disagree, then I’d be glad to hear a definition of the word “doctrine” that can encompass all the things you say are doctrine. Also, whatever that concept may be, do you think that the Scripture passages in this article are employing it?

          32. Lynn,

            Yes, you are right, and I apologize. I was trying too hard to “force” a match between your system and the Catholic way of viewing things. I’ll respond in more detail after I think through the mismatch.

          33. Would you say that the account of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane is part of the apostolic deposit or not?

          34. Good question, and it all really depends on how “the apostolic deposit” is defined. The entirety of what the apostles passed down has authority over all Christians, which is why we consider the New Testament as a whole to be authoritative, not only the doctrines contained in it. However, not every narrative or narrative element is a doctrine. For example, is the raising of Jairus’s daughter a doctrine? I would summarize by saying that we must believe that which the apostles intended to communicate through what they said or wrote.

  11. Lynn,

    I’m starting a new thread because the other one is getting unwieldy. I would like to better understand how you think of the apostolic deposit and how it relates to the “inputs” for doctrine. You said that not every narrative or narrative element is a doctrine. Would you say that some narratives are doctrines? In terms of “propositions and imperatives,” it seems to me that you can recast a narrative into propositional terms.

    Here is what I’m driving at – I would say that the entire New Testament (forget the Old Testament for now) is a “source” for doctrine (in your terms). Here is a possible rough chain of reasoning. I believe the New Testament is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and certainly the Holy Spirit has the authority to define the Christian faith. So for a proposition contained in the New Testament like “Jesus was in agony in the garden of Gethsemane” I would say that I, by faith, believe that proposition on the authority of God revealing it. So in your framework of initial “imperatives and propositions” and any logically equivalent inferences to those as comprising doctrine, I would say “Jesus was in agony in the garden of Gethsemane” could be validly used in arriving at those equivalent inferences. And even if I don’t use it for some inference, it seems wrong to me to say that it is something that I should not assent to by faith. In that sense it might be called a sort of “mystery” of the faith – something that God intended to reveal and that I should believe, reflect on, pass down as part of the faith, etc even if I don’t grasp the full meaning of what happened.

    Would you agree with this? If not, where would you differ? (And if I haven’t accurately represented anything in my restatements, please correct me.)

    1. Yes, I think we’re running into another definitional hurdle. I don’t think a doctrine can be defined as simply any proposition or imperative that’s binding in any way, although that was a good working definition. A doctrine or teaching would seem more to be a “tenet” or “principle” of some kind. So while we need to believe the New Testament, not all propositional content in it will be a doctrine. For example, “Jesus raised Jairus’s daughter” doesn’t seem to be a doctrine, though I should believe it, but “Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead” would seem to be a doctrine, given that it is so central to the apostolic teaching and to the gospel itself. And we could know this without knowing that Jairus’s daughter was one of those raised from the dead.

      So I would distinguish between the broad category of what is revealed through authoritative sources (doctrine, prophecy, history, wisdom, etc.) and the more narrow category of what one needs to know in order to know the entire Christian faith.

    2. Lynn,

      I’m not sure that I quite understand this definition of “doctrine.” Would it be correct to say that in your view God reveals many truths to us, but some of these truths are more “central” than others? All of the truths revealed by God are binding on us, but the more central ones are called “doctrines” to distinguish their centrality?

      If it is the latter, I agree with you that there is a hierarchy in the truths that God has revealed to us, and that “Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead” seems more important in that sense than does “Jesus raised Jairus’s daughter.” And someone who was just told the former wouldn’t be missing a central part of the Christian faith (like the Incarnation) if they didn’t explicitly believe the latter (for example if they are a new Christian and they just haven’t read that part of the Bible yet). In that sense I agree with you that there are distinctions that can be made among what might be called the material objects of faith. Hebrews 5:12 talks about the “basic principles of the oracles of God” and Hebrews 11:6 indicates two of the most basic principles: “…whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

      So if we refer to “apostolic doctrine” we might in one sense be talking about some of the most central truths, and not necessarily every truth that is either explicitly revealed or can be derived from those that are explicitly revealed. For example, the content of Paul’s explicit “deposit” to Timothy would have contained “the whole faith” in the sense of “all of the most central truths,” but it probably would not have explicitly contained, for example, the entirety of the book of Revelation which was likely written after that point. So Timothy, if he ever read the book of Revelation in his lifetime, would likely have added some particular new truths that were revealed to John on Patmos to the set of material objects of his faith, but everything thus added would have been implicitly contained in what Paul had personally conveyed to him before.

      Would you agree with that formulation or not?

      1. Landon,

        No, I’d define it quite differently. It’s not so much that doctrines are the central truths, while other revealed truths are less central. It’s that some revealed truths are not necessary in order to know the whole Christian faith (system of belief and practice). Each of the churches that the apostles founded probably heard slightly different stories about Jesus, and we of course hear the ones that are recorded in the four Gospels. However, each church knew the whole Christian faith, and we can as well.

        1. On first glance that seems nearly identical to what I said. I’m interested to hear more about where you think we differ. Perhaps we are defining the material objects of the Christian faith differently? I would say that the material objects of the Christian faith include everything that God has revealed to us. Do you believe that there are some supernaturally revealed truths that are not part of the Christian faith? To be more explicit, we can restrict the source of these truths to the New Testament, and make the question more precise: do you believe that there are truths that God has revealed to us in the New Testament that are not part of the Christian faith?

          1. Perhaps a good distinction would be this: All divinely revealed truth belongs to the Christian faith, but not all divinely revealed truth is a constituent tenet ofthe Christian faith.

        2. Would you make a further distinction between “constituent tenet” and “central truth”? I’m still not sure how this is different than what I said, but maybe I’m still not understanding you.

          1. Sure. If one uses the phrase “central truth,” it could sound like the distinction between doctrines and other truths is a matter of which truths are more basic or more certain; a distinction of degree. Instead, I’m making a distinction of category. I think that we see, in the New Testament, some truths as being a constituent part of the faith and necessary for all to understand in order to know the faith; while other truths are simply true. There may be some truths for which it is not obvious which category they belong to, it seems clear that the categories exist, and we can often know which category a particular truth belongs to.

          2. Ah, that makes sense. And I agree that your distinction exists: I wouldn’t say that someone has to know that Jesus raised Jairus’s daughter in order to “know the faith.” (As a side note, by “central truth” I didn’t mean to imply something more certain (as it is believed with the same faith as any other supernaturally revealed truth), though I did mean something more basic, in the sense of Hebrews 5:12.)

            I think that my previous formulation still makes sense if you replace my “central truths” with your “constituent tenets.”
            Then “apostolic doctrine” in one sense would be the “constituent tenets.” And the content of Paul’s explicit “deposit” to Timothy would have contained “the whole faith” in the sense of “all of the constituent tenets,” but not, for example, the entirety of the book of Revelation. But those “constituent tenets” would have implicitly contained anything new revealed to Timothy if he read Revelation.

          3. Regardless of whether or not you agree with my prior formulation if I replace “central truths” with your “constituent tenets,” I think that there is a broader methodological issue you run into if you more precisely define what you had previously called “doctrine” or “teaching” as “constituent tenets.” Earlier you had allowed for the possibility of “non-situational inferences” in arguing theologically from “doctrine” to “logical equivalences” to doctrine. And you said that such reasoning has to be done “without any reference to truths that aren’t Christian doctrine.”

            This runs into at least two problems. The first is that if you have some supernaturally revealed truths which you aren’t sure are in the set of “constituent tenets” or not, then you won’t know what supernaturally revealed truths are allowed in your reasoning, and so won’t know if your arguments are “introducing new information” into the set of Christian doctrines or not. You might try to fix this by only using those revealed truths that you are completely sure are “constituent tenets” as premises, but I don’t think you can get very far with this, especially if you are arguing with someone who isn’t already convinced of the same initial set. You might try to make some sort of historical argument about what the initial set is, but that sort of argumentation would seem to fall under the category of “situational inferences” (or “inferences that merely follow logically”) you defined earlier that involve as a premise facts about current reality, and that you thus said produce a “binding application from this set of teachings,” not one of the original teachings.

            The second problem is similar. If you don’t allow any reference to truths that aren’t “constituent tenets” in defining logical equivalents, you seem to remove any possibility of stating the “constituent tenets” in different terms. Because to state something in different terms requires the information that the previous term X has essentially the same meaning as the proposed new term Y. But this information is not part of the set of “constituent tenets.” So it seems that you must allow some possibility of “outside information” if you want to allow the possibility of stating things in different terms. (If you don’t allow the possibility of stating things in different terms, I don’t see how you can do much of anything unless you somehow have access to an exhaustive list explicitly defining all of the “constituent tenets.”)

            On both of these grounds, I can’t see how you would get something like credobaptism into the set of “constituent tenets.” I’m actually not sure how you would get beyond just repeating verbatim the explicit statements of Jesus and the apostles (or only using those exact statements as premises), and even then you would still have the first problem. But maybe I am misunderstanding the sort of restrictions you are placing on the types of reasoning you allow?

          4. Hi Landon,

            There’s a lot to reply here. I hope I hit everything:

            I think I would mostly agree with what you said in your earlier comments, if we replace “central truths” with “constituent tenets.” However, I would disagree that anything new revealed to Timothy in Revelation would be implicitly contained in Christian doctrine. Revelation is a book of prophecy, so it could contain quite a bit of prophecies that couldn’t have been known any other way. On the other hand, any doctrines that it contains are previously revealed doctrines. The prophecies wouldn’t necessarily be implicitly contained in Christian doctrine. And the doctrines would be obviously contained in Christian doctrine.

            The fact that we cannot always be certain whether a truth is a doctrine or some other form of revealed truth may seem concerning, but it’s actually not:

            1. I can’t currently think of any truths that I’d place in this category. I suggest this possibility mainly to be sure that we’re covering every contingency.
            2. Anything that’s logically equivalent to a revealed truth is a revealed truth, so the set of revealed truths is not going to grow larger if we use logical inquiry on these truths. It’s not a problem if I “don’t allow any reference to truths that aren’t ‘constituent tenets’ in defining logical equivalents,” since the logical equivalent of a constituent tenet is just a constituent tenet. There’s no need to state only the bare statements of Jesus and the apostles.
            3. There is no problem with application either. Whenever something is uncertain, we err on the side of safety. So we would treat any of these revealed truths that may be doctrines as though they are doctrines. We would use any application from these possible doctrines as though they are binding, even if we aren’t sure.

            Finally, I would make two points:

            • First, I don’t think that what I’m arguing is strange. My point is that not every revealed truth is a doctrine, and I think most people would agree with me on that. After all, I don’t know that anyone would consider the prophet Agabus’s prophecy (Acts 11:28) to be Christian doctrine. In fact, prophecy occurs today, but we don’t consider it to be Christian doctrine.
            • Second, even if my understanding of the meaning of “doctrine” is incorrect, we at least know from the Scriptures I cited that whatever it is that makes up the Christian faith is already entirely revealed.
          5. Lynn,

            By “implicitly contained” I meant something like this: Paul could have told Timothy that apostles could speak infallibly regarding the Christian faith. So then Timothy would have believed by faith whatever John wrote (for example the prophecies). I wasn’t saying that you could somehow logically derive the exact prophecies from whatever Paul told Timothy, if that makes sense.

            I don’t think that your responses to the problems I pointed out actually address the problems. For the uncertainty issue, do you claim that credobaptism is a constituent tenet? If you do, I obviously disagree. So how would you argue for credobaptism, using only premises that are already constituent tenents? And given that the debate is often over the meanings of specific words, you need to bring in some way of defining those words.

            And you didn’t address the issue I brought up about restatement. If you are going to restate a constituent tenet in different terms, you need some information from outside the set of constituent tenets. I don’t see a way around this. You have to know that the words you are using for the restatement carry essentially the same meaning as the original. (And you have to know that there are ways to restate things that distort the original meaning – so that some restatements are not valid.)

            On your final point, I might or might not agree, depending on what you mean by “whatever it is.” I get the sense that by “whatever it is” you have a mental picture of Paul, for example, giving Timothy an explicitly written down and rigorously defined list of, say, 20 constituent tenets that completely define the Christian faith. (I apologize if you are not thinking of things that way, that is just an impression I’m getting.) If that is what you mean, then I disagree, because I don’t believe that such a list exists or that it is even possible for it to exist. I do agree with phrasings like: “the Apostles received and preached the whole Gospel and there is no other Gospel apart from that,” or that “the Apostles promulgated the whole truth of Christian revelation,” or that “the specific nature of the apostolic deposit cannot change,” or that “there can be no objective increase in doctrine beyond the apostolic deposit” (using “doctrine” in your sense). All of these phrasings are entirely compatible with the Scriptures that you cited, and they avoid the methodological issues that I see with your position.

          6. Landon,

            Sounds good on the first point.

            I really don’t understand the objection; perhaps you could explain it more fully. It doesn’t seem problematic in any way to suggest that some revealed truths are doctrine, some aren’t, and there might be some about which we can’t be certain.

            It seems like you’re suggesting that, if that suggestion is true, then the only truths that are doctrine are the bare statements as they proceeded from the mouths or pens of Jesus and the apostles. Why would that be the case?

            To clarify, credobaptism would be a doctrine if it is logically equivalent to something Jesus or the apostles taught as doctrine.

            Could you clarify what you mean by, “If you are going to restate a constituent tenet in different terms, you need some information from outside the set of constituent tenets”? It seems to me irrelevant that we need to know what words mean in order to know the concepts that are being communicated by means of words. We use words for communication every day. Maybe that’s not what you’re saying, though?

            My final point was simply that the whole of the Christian faith was complete and public. Whether that is made up of “all of Christian doctrine,” as I suggest, or something else, that point doesn’t change. This discussion is an interesting one, but I don’t see that it affects the points I made in my article.

          7. Lynn,

            My objections had to do with the restrictions you earlier indicated on the types of arguments you considered valid and the terms allowed to enter those arguments. It seems to me from your last comment that you are fine with dropping some of those restrictions, in which case my objections wouldn’t apply. I just couldn’t see how you could even formulate an argument for credobaptism while respecting those restrictions.

            On your final point, it depends on what you mean by “the whole of the Christian faith.” I’m still not sure what you mean by this. So perhaps I do agree with your article. I’m just worried that a later conversation might route back to this point, where you say that something I believe is contrary to what you said in the article. Perhaps I can ask the question this way: do you think that is there anything in the Catholic faith that contradicts what you said in the article?

          8. Hi Landon, I don’t remember creating the restrictions you mention, so I don’t see that I’m dropping any restrictions. I’m fine with moving on from this point, but if any of my previous statements seems contradictory with what I just said, feel free to point it out.

            I would say that the Roman Catholic view of development of doctrine would conflict with my argument that all doctrine was complete, public, and understood in the time of the apostles. I’d also see an infallible Magisterium as contradicting my argument that only Jesus and the apostles can authoritatively define doctrine. Does this help you understand what I’m driving at?

          9. The Roman Catholic view of development of doctrine does not conflict with your argument. No new “constituent tenets” are added to the faith – the faith remains the same in specific nature as that promulgated by the apostles. And the Magisterium is bound by the apostolic deposit – it cannot define a new objective doctrine.

          10. “objective doctrine” is roughly similar to your “constituent tenets” – we use the word “doctrine” differently

          11. I would disagree. Let’s just take Mary’s Assumption as an example. This is a dogma that all Roman Catholics must accept as a part of the faith, and yet it was not known in the time of the apostles.

            And whether or not the Magisterium is saying precisely what the apostles said, it cannot infallibly define the faith, since only Jesus and the apostles can.

          12. Lynn,

            Your argument was about the “constituent tenets,” not every supernaturally revealed truth. You are equivocating on “define the faith.” Earlier you said that “All divinely revealed truth belongs to the Christian faith, but not all divinely revealed truth is a constituent tenet of the Christian faith.” As Catholics, we believe that the Assumption is a divinely revealed truth, but you can certainly preach the Gospel without mentioning the Assumption.

          13. Landon,

            Several things:

            1. While I think my discussion of doctrine works, it’s really incidental to this question, since I pointed out that the entirety of the Christian faith, whether it is made up of doctrines or not, was fully known at the time of the apostles. The Assumption wasn’t known in the time of the apostles; therefore, it is not part of the Christian faith.
            2. There can be further revelation after the apostolic age, but it is not binding on all Christians. The Assumption is said to be binding on all Christians. Therefore, it cannot be further revelation after the apostolic age.
            3. It is my understanding that the development of doctrine, as understood by the RCC, is not about further revealed truths, but about the entailments of doctrines that were preached by the apostles. Therefore, it cannot be further revelation after the apostolic age.
            4. The previous two points show that the Assumption must have been part of the apostolic deposit, or it is not binding. Yet it is not part of the apostolic deposit, so it isn’t binding.

            Feel free to correct me if I got anything wrong.

          14. Yes, the last point. We believe that it is part of the apostolic deposit, so it is binding. I know you disagree with this, but that is the Catholic view. So your argument doesn’t work against it. (I’m sure you have a bunch of arguments for why you believe it isn’t part of the deposit, but it is not ruled out by this specific argument you are making in the article.)

          15. Lynn,

            Another point – you can point out that “the entirety of the Christian faith, whether it is made up of doctrines or not, was fully known at the time of the apostles,” but this does not make it a true statement. If by this you mean that every divinely revealed truth as well as every implication that follows from those truths was explicitly and publicly known at the time of the apostles, this seems like an implausible statement. First, the number of truths implied by all of the divinely revealed truths is surely nearly infinite. Second, Scripture contains many subtle truths that are only revealed after close study. Are you claiming that all of these were explicitly and publicly known at the time of the apostles? Third, the book of Revelation was only written near the death of the last apostle, and it was not immediately accepted by all Christians as part of Scripture. So this would give a counterexample. Finally, the statement that every divinely revealed truth as well as every implication that follows from those truths was explicitly and publicly known at the time of the apostles does not in any way follow from the Scripture passages you quoted in the article.

          16. Landon,

            You’re right that if the argument is that the Assumption was part of the apostolic deposit, then it’s beyond the scope of this particular discussion. Except that I wonder whether we mean the same thing by “part of the apostolic deposit.” I use the term to refer to teaching that is logically equivalent to the teachings that the apostles taught. If you mean instead that the apostolic deposit contains implicit teachings that people might not have been aware of until later, then my argument would still apply.

            Of course, even if the argument is that the Assumption was taught by the apostles, this article still critiques the claim that it can be infallibly established by the magisterium.

            When I say, “the entirety of the Christian faith, whether it is made up of doctrines or not, was fully known at the time of the apostles,” I’m simply describing what Scripture and the early church teach (see quotes in the article). I leave it to them to determine what they mean, but I think that a reasonable interpretation is the one that I gave earlier. In no case, however, would I believe that “every divinely revealed truth as well as every implication that follows from those truths was explicitly and publicly known at the time of the apostles.” That would not only be false, but also ridiculous, as you point out.

          17. Lynn,

            Ah, there might be a mismatch in what we mean by “deposit.” As Catholics we would say that the “deposit of faith” is contained in Scripture and Tradition. A specific part of the apostolic deposit in the sense of the exact words that Paul spoke to Timothy we would classify as a subcategory of Tradition (perhaps even a sub-sub-category depending on the distinctions you want to make). I don’t think any Catholics would argue that Paul explicitly taught the Assumption to Timothy (especially since it probably hadn’t yet happened at that point in time!).

            I do think that the exact words that Paul spoke to Timothy had implicit implications that Timothy might not have realized until he later reflected on them, if that makes sense. As I mentioned earlier, one thing implied by Paul’s teaching would surely have been that the book of Revelation was inspired by the Holy Spirit, even though again that wasn’t something that had happened yet. But all of this is a little speculative, as we don’t know exactly what Paul told Timothy. The thing that we are sure about, and I think you would agree with me on this, is that Paul communicated the specific nature of the Christian faith to Timothy, so in that sense he communicated the “whole faith” or the entirety of the Gospel to Timothy.

            How does the article critique the claim that the Magisterium could infallibly proclaim that a specific proposition is in the deposit of faith? I don’t see how that follows. Like I said, the Magisterium is not introducing a new “constituent tenet” of the faith or a new “objective doctrine.” I didn’t see anything in your article that logically ruled out this possibility. I agree that the only people who can (could) “define the faith” in terms of “constituent tenets” were Jesus and the Apostles (including Paul with the Apostles, and the Holy Spirit with Jesus). And I agree that, as someone else put it, “revelation, constituting the object of Catholic faith, was completed with the Apostles.”

            For your final paragraph, by the “reasonable interpretation” are you referring to your original definition of “doctrine” or to the refinement in terms of “constituent tenets”? The “constituent tenets” interpretation is one that I roughly agree with (we might differ somewhat on the details of what that means). And to be clear, when I say I agree with that interpretation, I mean that I agree that it is a reasonable way to interpret the Scripture passages you cited. I don’t agree with the framework of theological reasoning you are proposing.

          18. Good to have that cleared up. My argument shows that the Assumption is not binding on Christians to believe, if the apostles didn’t teach something logically equivalent to it. So if the Assumption occurred and the apostles taught its occurrence publicly to all the churches, then we must believe it. If not, then we have no need to.

            Exegetically, I don’t think that a case could be made that “the specific nature of the Christian faith” is an adequate descriptor for what Scripture and the early church speak of in the passages above. They seem to be speaking of the totality of Christian teachings.

            Because only Jesus and the apostles can authoritatively define the Christian faith (as my article shows), the Magisterium cannot.

            I don’t think that I’ve successfully communicated to you what I mean by “doctrine.” Possibly a better way of going about it would be to define it as “a teaching that all Christians must affirm or obey as part of the Christian faith.” I’ll leave it open as to whether all of Scripture can be doctrine in that sense, since my argument works either way.

          19. Lynn,

            I think we are going around in circles a bit. I thought you earlier agreed that all divine revelation is binding on Christians. And I also thought that you just said that: “In no case, however, would I believe that ‘every divinely revealed truth as well as every implication that follows from those truths was explicitly and publicly known at the time of the apostles.’” (And you are again equivocating on “define the Christian faith.”)

          20. Landon,

            I don’t recall saying that all divine revelation is binding on all Christians, but if I did, then I was wrong. Some is binding only on the people to whom it is revealed. As for the teachings that are part of the Christian faith and binding on all Christians, Scripture and the early church show that that was complete and public in the time of the apostles.

            And I have always meant the same thing when I said “define the Christian faith,” so as far as I can see, no equivocation has occurred. Only Jesus and the apostles can define the Christian faith.

          21. Lynn,

            I guess I have to backtrack. Is the fact that the book of Revelation is inspired by the Holy Spirit a teaching that is binding on all Christians?

          22. Landon,

            The fact that we use words differently makes it difficult to communicate some of these concepts. I appreciate you as an interlocutor, because it makes me think through how to define my terms with more precision. I think the term “binding” has been causing some confusion between us, because there are several different ways that a divinely revealed truth can bind us. I’m going to try to stay away from it in future. I also think that I was wrong to suggest that it isn’t necessary to contrast doctrines with other teachings. It may be necessary for this conversation.

            The entire Christian faith was defined decades before the Book of Revelation. However, we can learn three things from the book:

            1. The book contains doctrine that we should believe/obey, since it is by an apostle, who know it infallibly.
            2. The book contains history that we should believe, because it is by an apostle, who was there.
            3. The book contains prophecy that we should believe, because it was revealed to an apostle.
          23. Would you agree that the book of Revelation contains divinely revealed truths that we should assent to by faith? (I would call such truths the material objects of Christian faith.)

          24. Ok, so would you agree with the statement that there are material objects of the Christian faith (supernaturally revealed truths to which we must assent by faith), that were not explicitly stated by Paul when he communicated “the deposit of faith” to Timothy?

          25. Ah, and I not trying to sneak something in with “should/must.” The formulation would be something like, if you come to know that those truths are divinely revealed, you must assent to them. But before Timothy read Revelation, for example, there was no must in his assent to those truths.

          26. Sure, but (1) those new truths are prophecy, not doctrine (all of which was already revealed), and (2) those truths were directly stated by an apostle, so they possess apostolic authority.

  12. Lynn,

    I’m again starting a new thread to avoid lengthy scrolling.

    Conditional on your two caveats, would you agree that Paul did not communicate to Timothy the entirety of the Christian faith, in the sense of explicitly stating every supernaturally revealed truth to which we must assent by faith?

    1. I do believe that Paul communicated all teachings that are definitive of the Christian faith to Timothy. However, I agree that not all divinely revealed truth was known then.

      1. Ok, so would you agree that the entire New Testament is a source for divinely revealed truths, to which we must assent by faith?

  13. Lynn,

    I thought of a good way to try to communicate the “mismatch” in how we are using different terms. The method proceeds by way of a toy model. The toy model sweeps many things under the rug, and feels a bit sacrilegious to me because of that, but I think that it will help to pin down some key logical points.

    Assume that Paul, instead of talking with Timothy and communicating the “deposit” he refers to in I and II Timothy orally, handed to Timothy a stone tablet with 50 propositions engraved upon it that “define the faith.” These propositions are what make the Christian faith the Christian faith – they encode the specific nature of the Christian faith. (And an imperative can be restated as a proposition, so I’m not leaving out imperatives.) For brevity, let’s refer to them as The Fifty. Each of the other apostles passes down an exact copy of The Fifty to every local church that they start or preach to. Only the apostles can generate copies of The Fifty – they are the only ones who can so infallibly “define the faith,” and of course they received this authority from Christ Himself.

    As time goes on, the Holy Spirit continues revealing other specific truths to the apostles that they communicate through their preaching and writing, but none of this changes The Fifty. Nothing is added and nothing is taken away from the definition of the faith, though of course all are bound to believe by faith the further specific truths that are revealed. Fast forward a few years, and on the isle of Patmos St. John scribbles the last few words of his Apocalypse on a papyrus, breaths his last breath, and as his soul leaves his body, BOOM! The stone gates slam down, and all public objective revelation is now ended until the eschaton. If you will pardon the bad metaphor, the cherubim with the flaming sword is now facing inward instead of outward – no more shall pass.

    Now, where are we after “the closing of the gates”? We have The Fifty engraved in stone. But a list of 50 propositions in isolation is going to quickly give rise to a host of competing interpretations and thus various sects will arise, each proclaiming their own preferred reading of The Fifty. Is this all we have? No! Thanks to divine providence, it is either a direct statement within The Fifty, or it is implied by two or three of them taken together that the entirety of Sacred Scripture is inspired by God – that it is God speaking through human authors, and thus that the truths found in Sacred Scripture must be given the assent of faith, and can illuminate The Fifty and guide us as we interpret the propositions and apply them to contemporary situations. If someone comes up with an interpretation of The Fifty that leads to a contradiction with what is taught in Sacred Scripture, we can reject that interpretation and conclude that it does not truly convey the Christian faith, even if the proponents of that interpretation still nominally adhere to The Fifty.

    Scripture is thus part of the “deposit of faith,” even though it is only implicitly part of the specific “apostolic deposit” of The Fifty (all of Scripture is not repeated verbatim on the stone tablet). And Scripture helps us to view the “apostolic deposit” as a true deposit in the sense of a treasure, a treasure from which we can bring forth “things new and old.” Guy Mansini remarks on how St. Gregory the Great had “a vivid sense of the inexhaustibility of the things hidden in scripture, which he compares to a vast sea. Within this ocean there are magna volumina sententiarum and cumuli sensuum—great volumes of propositions and vast heaps of meanings.” The deposit of faith thus has an inexhaustible depth. ( Tradition also plays an essential role, which I am neglecting for brevity.)

    Now, after “the closing of the gates,” who can define the faith? No one – The Fifty are fixed for all time and no one after the death of St. John has the authority to append one to the list or to chop one off. Can the number of truths that we are to believe by faith (the material objects of faith) increase? Yes, of course. There is no new revelation, but as we reflect upon Sacred Scripture and the pattern of words and deeds revealed to us therein, and reflect on the interplay between Sacred Scripture and The Fifty, new revealed truths can come to light. Now, to be clear, these “new” truths are not really new – they are implicitly contained in what was given before – implicitly contained within Sacred Scripture, which is implicitly contained within The Fifty. And in some cases we might come to understand individual elements of The Fifty more clearly, and pin down more precisely the range of meaning of a word or phrase. (This might happen, if, for example, someone tries to interpret one of The Fifty in a way that distorts the true meaning and thus undermines the Christian faith. We can then use Scripture to “guard the deposit.”)

    Now, as I understand it, and in the context of this toy model, you claim that your argument proves that no one besides Jesus and the Apostles can infallibly define the Christian faith. They are the only ones who could write down The Fifty. No one else can add to or take away from that list. I agree with this conclusion. What the Magisterium of the Catholic Church does when it infallibly proclaims that a dogma is contained within of the deposit of faith is not “defining the faith” in this way. It is not adding a new proposition to The Fifty or taking one away. It is not changing the definition of the faith given by the Apostles. This is why I said that your argument in the article does not logically rule out the possibility of the Magisterium. So when you say something like “Because only Jesus and the apostles can authoritatively define the Christian faith (as my article shows), the Magisterium cannot,” I agree with you. The Magisterium cannot define The Fifty (the apostolic deposit that in this model defines the Christian faith once and for all), but the material objects of the Christian faith extend beyond The Fifty propositions engraved on a stone tablet, and it is in this realm that the Magisterium operates. Now, of course this is not any sort of positive argument for the Magisterium, it is just to point out that logically speaking you have not ruled out the possibility of the existence of such a thing.

    1. Landon,

      In answer to your first question, yes. However, some of those truths are history and prophecy, not doctrine.

      I like your story, and there are certainly aspects of it that I would agree with. However, I don’t think it entirely reflects what was taught in the beginning. Here are a few points where the apostles and the early church seem to differ with you:

      • Since Christian leaders knew and understood the entirety of “The Fifty” (which I take to be the doctrines of the Christian faith), no competing interpretations arise. Instead, competing teachings arise. Fortunately, however, all Chistian doctrine is preserved in “The Fifty” and in the apostles’ writings (the New Testament). So we can refute all heresies. Which, incidentally, is why we never needed them on stone tablets, and why we never needed an infallible Magisterium.
      • Since Christian leaders knew and understood the entirety of “The Fifty,” there remain no implicit authoritative teachings that Christians aren’t aware of. Of course, Christians can speculate from the contents of “The Fifty” and Scripture, but that just remains speculation.

      Now to the question of whether the Magisterium can speak infallibly. Of course, the fact that “The Fifty” is already defined doesn’t itself contradict the claim of an infallible Magisterium. The argument against the Magisterium’s infallibility is a separate argument, though it draws from the same premises, with one additional one. Scripture and the early church teach that Jesus and the apostles are upstream from Christian doctrine, but that no one else is.

      In theory, this wouldn’t preclude individuals in the Magisterium from having some sort of prophetic capacity, sort of like the chief leader of the LDS. But their statements about doctrine are subject to the same review and potential correction that mine would be.

      1. Lynn,

        At this point I really don’t understand what you mean when you say “doctrine.”

        Your last paragraph just repeats the earlier argument. If by “Christian doctrine” you mean “that which defines the Christian faith,” or the “constituent tenets” of the Christian faith or “The Fifty” in my toy model, then I agree with your statement that “Scripture and the early church teach that Jesus and the apostles are upstream from Christian doctrine, but that no one else is.” But this conclusion does not logically rule out the existence of an infallible Magisterium.

      2. On your bullet points regarding history – put alongside the historical developments in the early Church, the second bullet point would rule out any authoritative correction of Arianism, as well as any authoritative proclamation of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. These were both implicit authoritative teachings that were not explicitly stated until after the time of the Apostles. And your statement not only fails historically, it also fails logically. Given a set of 50 propositions or however many propositions were contained in what Paul told Timothy, a huge number of implications could be drawn from them after reflection, study, combination, analysis, etc. I don’t find it plausible to say that there was nothing implicit that was not explicitly known at the time of proclamation even within this restricted set, even without considering the entirety of Scripture. And I’m not sure how you could even start to go about proving that logically. Perhaps we have different ideas about the nature of a logical proof and what is required to prove something in that manner?

      3. Another way to put my point about history is this: you would presumably want to say that credobaptism is one of “The Fifty.” But to get there you have to argue that credobaptism is implied by Scripture. But then according to your second bullet point, credobaptism is just a speculation. (Which argues against your first bullet point – it sure would be convenient to have “The Fifty” on a stone tablet so that all arguments from Scriptural implications aren’t reduced to just speculation in your schema.)

        1. Hi Landon,

          We may be close to reaching an impasse, so I think I will just throw my cards onto the table. Possibly in a future conversation, we would be able to get further, but I don’t think we’ll be able to here. I will at least summarize my case for any poor person who might be following these threads. 🙂 Feel free to do the same for your case. Then I think we should call a hiatus for now.

          First, in the idea of doctrinal development, you’re proposing (as does your church), a set of truths that are authoritatively discovered after the time of the apostles. Yet the Scriptures and early Christians in this articles seem to show that they cannot be newly discovered doctrines, nor can they be newly discovered authoritative inferences from doctrines, since all this was public in the time of the apostles. Are these new truths prophecy, something that the apostle John gave us in Revelation? Might it be a “New Prophecy,” of authoritative post-apostolic truths, like the Montanists claimed for themselves? If I am correct, your church rightly repudiates this view.

          So in other words, you’re proposing a set of truths that Scripture and the early church had no category for. I think that reading through the texts I cite, setting aside previous biases (like the mindset of the modern Roman Catholic Church), will confirm this point.

          Second, in the idea of an infallible Magisterium that can continue to make authoritative pronouncements, you’re proposing (and your church) something unknown in the early church. All the texts that cover the sources of what Christians must believe, list only Jesus and the apostles as authoritative sources. Again, you’re proposing a source of authoritative truth that Scripture and the early church had no category for. Again, I think that reading through the texts I cite, without bias, will confirm this point.

          None of the texts that I cited appear to reflect a mindset with any room for later development of doctrine or a later infallible source of Christian truth.

          Finally, in response to what you’ve said here, I think that the reason for some of your critiques is that you have difficulty fully entering the argument I propose. That could well be due to a lack of good communication skills on my part. In any case, let me clarify:

          • The word “doctrine” is very hard to define, especially as it differs from truths like prophecy. I will leave you with my best shot at defining it: “the set of teachings that are definitive of Christianity and that make up the tenets of the Christian faith.”
          • You’re correct that this view would render the Council of Nicaea to be fallible. However, we don’t need that council to refute Arianism. Scripture, as understood by the consensus of the early church, does so quite well.
          • It’s true that a huge number of truths logically follow from any statement, but that is no reason to believe that we don’t know them. For example, if my car is red, any number of truths follow from that: “This square inch of my car’s exterior is red,” “That square foot is also red,” “The paint on my mirrors is red,” ad infinitum. However, if I know my car is red, I know all that. Similarly, as I’ve pointed out before, when Scripture and the early church teach that all Christian doctrine was known, it suggests that any kinds of logical inferences would be simple enough to be understood if the doctrine itself was understood.
          • You suggest that there were further “implicit” truths. This word is quite muddy, since it can cover both logical implications and speculative implications. As I said above, I’m suggesting that the actually binding implications (logical ones) were simple enough to be fully known, but the speculative ones weren’t binding.
          • And finally, I believe that credobaptism logically follows from truths in “The Fifty,” such that it would be understood by the apostles and the earliest Christians. Of course, that issue is one for which the evidence is complex enough that there are multiple different views. But if it does logically follow, it is also binding, and not a speculation.

          I really appreciate this conversation, Landon, and I’d be glad to have more in the future. I’m grateful for your humility as we worked through some of our differences.

          1. Lynn,

            If you think we are at an impasse, then I don’t think repeating my arguments will help anything. In summary: I believe that the system you are developing contains logical flaws in its foundation, and thus 1.) I can’t seriously consider it as a theological option, and 2.) I don’t see how it “gets off the ground.” It was in part consideration of foundational issues such as the ones addressed in your article that led me away from Anabaptism and to the Catholic faith.

            In the future I might write up in more syllogistic form the logical issues in order to present them as clearly and directly as possible. In the case that I do so, would you prefer that this system be identified as “sola apostolica,” or is there a different name you would prefer?

          2. Sure, you’re welcome to call this view Sola Apostolica. And if you ever do write up about the logical flaws that you’re seeing, I’ll be very glad to see it.

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