Sunday, 2 July 2006
Heavy canon fire
LCG web commentator and church history buff Bob Thiel writes: "one of the reasons that the COGs are NOT Protestant is that we believe the Bible and do not believe that anyone... is entitled to change it."
Which led me to think again about the whole canon issue.
To provide a bit of an introduction, Bob regards the Bible - his non-Protestant canon (which actually is the Protestant canon) - as a given. It kinda dropped out of the sky one day, intact, fully formed and fluttering gaily down beneath a Holy Spirit parachute. Those nasty Church Fathers and proto-Catholics had nothing to do with it. If I understand Bob correctly, he champions a reconstruction where the Eastern church created the current canon before it invented ikons, pillar saints and liturgical chants, and was still under the influence of those mysterious and mythical COG leaders of the apostolic age.
I disagree with Bob, though I don't doubt his sincerity (as the old refrain goes, folk can be "sincerely wrong.") For me, this was a real "trunk of the tree" issue several years ago, as it affects the whole underpinning of fundamentalist and evangelical belief. I even wrote a short article on the subject which attracted a bit of attention. It sorely needs a rewrite, which I'm hoping to get done later this year (then it'll appear as a PDF file on otagosh.) Currently the New Testament paper that I'm doing touches on this issue, and there's more to add. But despite the fact that it's a little dated, I stand behind what I said then.
Bottom line: for centuries the canon was subject to change after change as Christians of all hues and stripes debated what to include. And in some cases they got it terribly wrong in the final cut. The article explains this in some detail. I'll expand on this theme in later postings.
Labels: Bible, Thiel (Bob)
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Bob Thiel is correct that Armstrongian groups aren't Protestant, but believing that no one has a right to change the Bible has got nothing to do with the reason they're not Protestant.
It's because historical "orthodox" Protestantism includes belief in the Christian doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and Luther and Calvin's doctrines of "sola fide" and "sola scriptura." In Armstrongism you find a belief in "sola scriptura," but all those other doctrines are rejected. Thus, even though Herbert Armstrong's religion is historically an offshoot of Protestantism and therefore has a lot of things in common with historical Protestantism, doctrinally it's not Protestant.
Now, regarding the question of the biblical canon, you're right that Bob Thiel and his co-religionists accept the Protestant biblical canon without acknowledging that it IS the Protestant biblical canon. Thiel doesn't like it that Luther came mighty close to expelling some books from the New Testament, but he's just fine with Luther and Calvin's expulsion of the Old Testament "deuterocanon" or "apocrypha."
The truth is, if Herbert Armstrong had shared Luther's negative opinion of several New Testament books, Thiel would share that opinion too, regardless of what historical Christianity has believed about the biblical canon. At the end of the day, Thiel's rule of faith really isn't "what does the Bible say?" (oh, it's partly that), but "what did Armstrong say and what is Meredith saying?"
It is my understanding that it was not just Luther and Calvin who rejected the apocrypha as Old Testament Cannon, but the Jews also reject the apocrypha. Paul writes in Romans 3:1-2 that the Oracles of God were committed to the Jews. This would establish the authority of the Jews to determine Old Testament canon, which means that the apocrypha should not be included. Therefore, it is not because of a decision by Luther or Calvin that the Churches of God do not accept the apocrypha. Bob Thiel is right that one of the reasons the Churches of God are not Protestant is that we get our beliefs from the Bible, not Protestant tradition or the teachings of Protestant leaders like Luther or Calvin.
Paul wrote before Jamnia, which was when the current Jewish canon was settled. The church was using the Septuagint (which included the apocrypha) well before then. Until Jamnia, which occured after the destruction of the temple, the Hebrew canon was apparently still under discussion. NT writers refer to disputed writings like Sirach and Enoch.
That's without even mentioning the process by which the NT canon was decided.
I took a look at your website, ptgbook.org ... nice to see a classic COG believer dropping by :-)
"It is my understanding that it was not just Luther and Calvin who rejected the apocrypha as Old Testament Canon, but the Jews also reject the apocrypha."
That's correct. However, Christians were using the "apocrypha" and quoting from them as inspired scripture at the same time that the Jews were still unsure which books belonged in the Bible.
A bit of a correction for Gavin: Jamnia (Yavneh) wasn't really when the Jewish canon was settled, although it the debates among the rabbis at Jamnia did further the process a great deal of determining the Jewish canon. Even in the second, third, and fourth centuries, the status of the book of Esther and a few other books remained in doubt, and in the second century at least one important Jewish rabbi classified Sirach as one of the Ketuvim and quoted it as scripture. It wasn't until the third century that most Jews began to accept Esther as divinely inspired.
Anyway, the short answer to the contention that "to the Jews were committed the oracles of God" is that St. Paul said "were committed," not "are committed." Christians do not consult rabbis about how to interpret the Bible or how or whether to obey the Law of Moses, and Christians do not consult rabbis about which books belong in the Christian Bible. Rather, they consult Christian authorities.
Armstrongians, however, have inherited a biblical canon from a tradition passed on to them by Herbert Armstrong, who got his tradition from Protestants, who carry on a tradition received from Reformers such as Luther, Calvin, et al. Therefore, it is because of a decision of Luther and Calvin that Bob Thiel and ptgbook.org reject the apocrypha.
The NT writers also quote the poorly translated Septuagint. They even used some mistranslations to establish doctrine, for instance, "...behold a virgin shall conceive..." should be"....behold a young woman shall conceive...." which changes the meaning substantially.
What is interesting in LCG circles, is that when the question of canon of the scriptures came up over a year ago , interjected in sermons and commentary from the leaders was that "the apostles were responsible for the canon of scripture", and when pressed for the "proof" they would say that the Pauline letters were going all over the different churches and such. Dr. Bob opened a can of worms and initially it got a bunch of the sheeple to think before damage control was done by LCG. Just like old times.
I take your point Jordan. There's quite a good discussion of the Jamnia "council" at Wikipedia:
"The NT writers also quote the poorly translated Septuagint."
That once was the consensus of scholars, but these days the consensus has shifted, on account of the study of the Qumran scrolls, which support many of the Septuagint's readings (while also supplying many readings that differ from both the LXX and the Masoretic). The consensus now seems to be that the Septuagint isn't a faulty translation, but a faithful and accurate translation of a Hebrew/Aramaic text from a different family or stream of tradition than the Hebrew/Aramaic text that eventually evolved into the Masoretic text. In fact, in some cases it's clear that the Septuagint reading is superior to the readings of the Masoretic, the Qumran scrolls, or other ancient versions.
"They even used some mistranslations to establish doctrine, for instance, '...behold a virgin shall conceive...' should be '....behold a young woman shall conceive....' which changes the meaning substantially."
Sorry, that's not a mistranslation at all. Koine Greek "parthenos" carries the same range of meaning as Hebrew "almah." For example, in the story of Dinah in the Book of Genesis, the Septuagint uses "parthenos" to refer to Dinah after she'd already been deflowered by Shechem (though in that passage it's a different Hebrew word for "virgin" or "maiden," not "almah").
Really, what doctrine do you think the Jewish translators of the Septuagint were trying establish?
_Really, what doctrine do you think the Jewish translators of the Septuagint were trying establish?_
It was the NT writers who took that verse which is not about a divine messiah and applied it to their fictional virginal birth story.
"It was the NT writers who took that verse which is not about a divine messiah and applied it to their fictional virginal birth story."
Okay then, that position makes more sense. It's in St. Matthew's Gospel where Isa. 7:14 is applied to the Virgin Birth story, whereas the Septuagint passage had been rendered that way by Jews who would have been most unlikely to have believed in anything like the Christian Virgin Birth doctrine.
"Bob Thiel is right that one of the reasons the Churches of God are not Protestant is that we get our beliefs from the Bible" was written by one of your correspondents. This is not entirely correct. The canon and scripture were what HWA said they were. During my brief tenure at Big Sandy, I discovered that HWA had actually taught against some of the ideas of Paul about marriage. HWA felt he could do this because he was an Apostle, was of the same rank as Paul, and could disagree with Paul or even abrogate Paul's teaching.
The Sola Scriptura concept of the reformation was not retained by the armstrongites, in contravention to what one of your correspondents wrote. The armstrongite view is that scripture is not in the domain of the individual believer but must be interpreted, and, perhaps, modified by HWA. To my knowledge, the armstrongites were, during HWA's lifetime, the only religious body, claiming Christianity, that had an active mechanism for revising scripture. This is hardly an organization that respects the traditions of the Bible.
Several posts, past and current, seem to find a proximity between armstrongism and the Christian religion. Armstrongism is characterized, because of this proximity, as a sect rather than a cult, for instance. It is called a lineal descendent of Protestantism. But this is based on cosmetic similarities between armstrongism and Christianity, mostly vocabulary, although much redefined by armstrongites. At the level of substance, armstrongism is a religious philosphy that is connected with the non-Christian religions of this world.
To make the distinction between armstrongism and true Christianity clear, just ask an armstrongite what he or she thinks of orthodox Christianity. The separation (lack of proxmity) will be dramatically described for you.
"The Sola Scriptura concept of the reformation was not retained by the armstrongites, in contravention to what one of your correspondents wrote."
It was retained as much by the Armstrongians as it has been by any other Christian or self-professed Christian group. That is, it is officially on the books as their doctrine, but of course "sola scriptura" has never been a workable doctrine. In practice, every Christian group functions epistemological principles that put the lie to the "sola scriptura" claim.
"The armstrongite view is that scripture is not in the domain of the individual believer but must be interpreted, and, perhaps, modified by HWA."
True. But at the same time, the Armstrongian view is that Scripture IS in the domain of the individual believer. "Don't believe me! Believe the Bible!" Armstrong liked to say. More Armstrongian "cognitive dissonance."
"To my knowledge, the armstrongites were, during HWA's lifetime, the only religious body, claiming Christianity, that had an active mechanism for revising scripture."
Don't forget the Jehovah's Witnesses and their New World Translation, or the Mormons and their prophets.
"Several posts, past and current, seem to find a proximity between armstrongism and the Christian religion."
Certainly it cannot be denied that, although Armstrongism is certainly not a form of orthodox Christianity, it did derive from orthodox Christianity.
"It is called a lineal descendent of Protestantism. But this is based on cosmetic similarities between armstrongism and Christianity, mostly vocabulary, although much redefined by armstrongites."
On the contrary, it's based on the simple, undeniable facts of history. The Worldwide Church of God, formerly called the Radio Church of God, broke away from the Church of God (Seventh-Day), formerly called the Church of God (Adventist), which broke away from the Seventh-Day Adventist denomination, which arose from the chaos of the Baptist-inspired and Baptist-imbued Adventist movement. The Baptists, of course, originated from the English Puritans, a faction of the Church of England. So the lineal descent from Protestantism is there for all to see, even though Armstrongism is not a form of Protestantism in the proper sense of the term.
I cannot speak for other COG believers for the reasons why they believe what they believe. Some may indeed believe COG doctrines because they accept what HWA taught without proving those things from the Bible. I can only speak for myself. I believe what I believe because I have proved that the Bible is God's word, and I choose to believe what God says, and I have proved the major COG doctrines from the Bible. I never attended Ambassador College. I found the Plain Truth magazine working in the Post Office when I was a teenager.
When I first began to study the Bible seriously after I came into contact with the teachings of HWA, I considered the canon of the Old Testament. I knew there was a difference between Protestant canon and Catholic canon because I was raised Catholic and the first Bible I read was the Knox version, a Catholic Bible. But part of my effort to prove the truth of the Bible involved checking a Jewish Bible, and that is how I learned that the Jews do not include the apocrypha, and that is the reason I chose not to regard the apocrypha as trustworthy. My personal decision to not accept the apocrypha was based on Jewish canon, not on the teachings of Luther or Calvin. You may disagree with my decision, but I know the reasons why I made it. And that is why I do not consider myself Protestant.
"But part of my effort to prove the truth of the Bible involved checking a Jewish Bible, and that is how I learned that the Jews do not include the apocrypha, and that is the reason I chose not to regard the apocrypha as trustworthy."
Okay then, by those lights you could also choose not to regard Jesus as the Messiah.
I primarily based my belief in Jesus as the Messiah upon the seventy week's prophecy and other Old Testament prophecies that prove that Jesus was the Messiah. Whether Jews are willing to believe their own scriptures or not is irrelevent to me as far as my personal beliefs are concerned. I believe that God entrusted the preservation of the Old Testament scriptures to the Jews, and along with the preservation, the canonization of what books are scripture. That does not mean that the Jews correctly understand those scriptures, or that they believe even what they understand, or that they obey what they believe. That is a choice each individual must make. Historically, I think some Jews have accepted Jesus as the Messiah, and those individuals that did became known as Christians and not Jews. But the majority have not accepted Jesus, though the proof of Jesus as the Messiah is in their own scriptures. Most are blinded at this time, as Paul said in Romans 11:25. The fact that most Jews did not believe doesn't change the fact that the Old Testament scriptures were committed to them for preservation. As Paul says in Romans 3:1-4, "What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not!...".
My point is still that my fundamental beliefs on major doctrines as a member of the Church of God are not based on Protestant traditions, or even Herbert W. Armstrong's traditions. They are based on what I have been able to prove for myself from the Bible. I have certainly studied the teachings of HWA, and I used his teachings as a source of ideas, but I did not accept any major doctrine HWA taught before I proved it from the Bible. I followed the advice HWA gave on the radio, "don't believe me, believe your own Bible". How many other COG members followed that advice, I do not know. But I did. And in proving that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, I used the Jewish text.
There is no way that I am Protestant. If I were, I would still believe the Protestant teachings about the Trinity, the immortality of the soul, Sunday as the Christian sabbath, and a whole list of doctrines that Catholics and Protestants share. The fact is, I knew almost nothing about Protestantism until after I was a member of the Worldwide Church of God and Mr. Tkach began making changes. A decade after Herbert W. Armstrong died and the dust had begun to settle, I had learned a great deal about Protestant thinking. But not when I became a member of the Church of God or when the beliefs that I hold now were being formed.
In reply to Jordan Potter, Armstrongism does have a traceable genetic connection to Protestantism from the organizational perspective. It does not have a theological or doctrinal connection to Protestantism, other than a gloss of terminology. So there is a connection and a disconnection.
Herbert Armstrong renounced the principle stated as "Don't believe me! Believe the Bible!" During the time when GTA was introducing new doctrinal concepts back in the Seventies, Herbert stated that we were not to question the doctrines he established. The aforementioned slogan was not for veteran WCG members but was intended for people who were making initial contact with the WCG.
The result was that there were some people in the WCG who read the Bible, believed it and were promptly disfellowshipped.
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