Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Extra Biblical Teachings

I've had this post sitting on the back burner for a while now but because of my previous post I felt it would be a good time to post this and clear up some possible misconceptions about what I'm saying. In my previous post I made the statement that the doctrine of the 'immaculate conception' (that Mary was born without original sin) is an entirely extra biblical doctrine. That is: it is not implicitly taught anywhere in the 73 books of the canon. This is not asserting that it is contradictory to Scripture, just that its not implicitly taught.

At first, (especially to a Protestant) this may seem like a huge problem for a doctrine. Yet it isnt as big of a problem as one might assume. There are many widely accepted doctrines (common to all Christianity) that are extra biblical. Here are some:

1. The Trinity (this doctrine originated in the 2nd century. Paul most certainly didn't believe in (at least not the way you and I do) as is evident in his writings. Every single one of his greetings are in the name of the Father and The Son but not the Holy Spirit. Now who of us would greet someone that way?

2. Prohibition against premarital sex (though the Church has pronounced this doctrine, it is not found anywhere in Scripture) The word fornication found in some New Testaments is a poor translation of the Greek word that we also get the word "pornagraphy" from and clearly means sexual immorality as it is correctly translated to in nearly all modern versions. Some claim that this is a violation of 'thou shall not commit adultery'. This is a glaring error as A) the word adultery here has a very specific meaning in OT context. B) the punishment for adultery was death while the 'punishment' for premarital sex was having to marry the person or pay the dowry. Also, the word in question here 'fornication' is the same word used in the sermon on the mount as the only allowable reason for remarriage. Now how could 'premarital sex' be a valid reason for ending a marriage? Doesnt make any sense. So we have shown that it is not prohibited in the Law, (it is mentioned once with stipulations on what should take place if you do it and this eliminated all confusion concerning the adultery law) and the word(s) in the New Testament translated as fornication mean something much closer to sexual immorality than
premarital sex.

Now, again... I'm not advocating premarital sex. It is a sin according to the Church. In biblical times, the union was created by sex not the union for the purpose of sex. You become one flesh when you 'consumate the marriage' (before the Church, Im not really sure what the Church teaches) But now because of the existence of the Church, there exists some legitimate claims to earthly moral authority and therefore the Church has the authority to wed two individuals. Do you think Abraham had a wedding ceremony when he took Hagar? Lets cut the bs. They barely had a concept of 'premarital sex' (especially in the patriarchal period) but rather considered the act of sex the taking of a wife (or at least a concubine). Sure for important marriages there were wedding ceremonies...

The reason I brought this point up was that I was very suprised to learn that the Church taught this as a mortal sin. I found it hard to believe that a prohibition not found anywhere in Scripture could be a mortal sin. I thought that explicit teaching of the sin must be found in Scripture in order to qualify. Nevertheless, this certainly makes my list of extra biblical doctrines widely accepted in the Christian faith.

3. Prohibition against polygamy - The bible, of course, never prohibits the marrying of multiple wives. In fact, in some cases it explicitly commands it! (1) Some may ask how this is compatible with the 7th commandment. The Hebrew dictionary in my printed version of Strong's Concordance defines adultery as: 'a woman that breaketh wedlock'. It would make very easy work of explaining the 7th commandment if the word used here was gender exclusive. This explanation would also not fail to account for the fact that men also can certainly be guilty of adultery as detailed in such places as the sermon on the mount. This can be reconciled with the traditional definition of the word by noticing that each time the man is guilty of adultery by sleeping with an adulteress or causing a woman to commit adultery and therefore guilty of the same sin.

In verse 28 we see the only explicit prohibition against lust in Scripture. It could be argued (and most seem to believe this way) that any act of lust would be adultery according to this verse. However, we all will agree on at least one exception: one's wife. We all believe 'sexual desire' to be permissible within the context of marriage so we have to admit at least this one exception. So clearly Christ isn't saying exhaustively 'if you have sexual desires for a woman you have commited adultery with her' since you can have sexual desires for your wife and the carrying out of those desires certainly wouldnt be adultery. Rather, I believe He is saying 'if you lust for someone with whom sex would be adulterous then you are already guilty of adultery'. The spirit of the law is clearly - if you fantasize about a sin it is the same as actually committing the sin.

All of this is compatible with the traditional definition of the Hewbrew word for adultery (na'aph - Strong's Word #5003) as stated above. However, the online version of Strong's and (I suspect) publications of it more recent than mine apparently do not translate it as gender exclusive. I don't pretend to know enough about Hebrew to even come close to making an argument either way but I would strongly suspect that the reason for the difference in the more recent editions has more to do with being politically correct than with actual scholarship.

Regardless, I am simply throwing this on the table to illustrate how easily (with the acceptance of the 'traditional' definition) polygamy can be reconciled with the 7th commandment (thou shall not commit adultery). Now this definition of the word really only assists us in explaining why it was permissable only for men to take multiple wives and not for women to have multiple husbands. Apologist Greg Koukl explained to a caller once (who was concerned that men could have multiple wives but not vice versa) that it wasn't prohibited for either party its just that the men of the day wouldn't have it. I disagree based on the assumption of the above definition of the word. This definition makes perfect sense of the entire issue. But again, assuming the more modern definition (not gender exlusive), we can still see how polygamy is compatible with this commandment as taking of multiple wives (or husbands) doesn't necessarily violate wedlock.

We know of the great fathers of the faith who were polygamists (Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon to name a few) and they are never scolded for this. It is pretty much undebatable that before the Church we have no prohibition against polygamy whatsoever. We do see in the New Testaments that pastors and elders should only have one wife (2) (3) (4) but we still see no universal prohibition against it. Yet both Catholics and Protestants accept this.

Now those three are certainly not an exhaustive list of the extra biblical doctrines common to all mainstream Christians. I would argue that they are probably the top 3 though. There are plenty of other extra biblical teachings common to only some Christians (Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura, Immersion only baptism etc...) But what I'm really interested in is showing that just because a doctrine is extra biblical doesnt mean its false or that we can or should reject it based on that piece of evidence alone. Church authority has allowed me to accept these teachings and some others with some level of believability.

Now most of Mariology, I would argue, is entirely extra biblical. Here are some of the main points of Mariology:

1. Immaculate Conception - In my previous post I gave a partial explanation why I believe this is extra biblical. The Catholic Encyclopedia says on the subject: "No direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture."(5)

2. Assumption into Heaven - No argument here.

3. Mary as the Queen Mother - This one actually has some very thin (but arguably legitimate) claims to a marginal level of biblical support. Here is my blog on the subject.

4. Co-Redemptrix - Again no argument here. St. Paul would be turning in his grave if he heard about this one.

At the risk of sounding redundant, this is not to say that these doctrines are false, just that they aren't taught in Scripture (just like the 3 above). Now of all 7 of these doctrines, all of them are pretty much on the same level except for #1 - the Trinity. The Trinity, while yes extra biblical,
is superior to all the other 6 doctrines. I am most concerned with it's superiority over Mariology however. Here are my reasons:

The Trinity is superior to Mariology because:

1. It appeared earlier (early 2nd century) and became authoritatively pronounced dogma much earlier (Nicaea 325 AD)

2. It is virtually static (that is: as soon as it appeared, it remained the same even to this day)

3. It was and is accepted nearly universally by all Christians (even today Protestants believe it)

4. The rejection of it would cause serious theological problems with the rest of Scripture & all revelation.

In contrast, Mariology is inferior to the Trinity because:

1. It appeared later and wasn’t pronounced dogma until 1854 (the Immaculate Conception).(6)

2. It’s importance & implications gradually grew (To the point of having shrines built to Mary) This becomes evident when you look at early Popes like Clement (who a group of friends and I are studying now) who never mentions Mary even once in his epistle to the Corinthians and a Pope like John Paul II who seemed to have trouble saying a paragraph without mentioning her. (I'm exaggerating of course)

3. Notable saints (like St. Thomas Aquinas) have rejected much of it and a huge chunk of Christianity rejects it to this day.

4. The rejection of Mariology (Mary as anything more than a great person) causes no theological problems whatsoever.

Just thought I would toss all this out on the table. It is signficant however, to note that many early Church fathers made some very strong statements about Mary. St. Irenaeus said the following in the year of our Lord 190:

Eve was...the cause of death...; so also did Mary...become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race...The knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.

Just my thoughts.


Dave Gudeman said...

Maybe you should add to your big three: sex with children. I don't believe that this is anywhere specifically condemned in the Bible, yet all Christians agree that it is wrong.

I hope you can't come up with a counter-example since I like to use this as a quickstop to avoid debate on the scriptural attitude towards homosexuality. Someone says that homosexuality isn't explicitly condemned in the Bible and since I don't want to get into an argument about exactly what the Bible says about it, I just say, "neither is child molesting".

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Thats true. Like I said the list isnt exhaustive but there are explicit prohibitions against homosexual acts in the Law. There are also reaffirmations that this behaviour is not condoned in the New Testament. (See Romans, I dont have time to pull up the reference now)

But along those same lines, I often like to say this (albeit a bit harsh) when someone argues that homosexuality is ok: There is far less in Scripture written against beastiality than homosexuality so as soon as you can convince me that its ok to rape a donkey I'll listen to what you have to say about sodomy. Until then hold your breath.

Thanks for the comments.