Collapsing contexts

In his excellent book, Scripture Twisting, James Sire addresses the common error of “collapsing contexts.” Sire describes this error as follows:

When two or more unrelated texts are treated as if they belonged together, we have the fallacy of collapsing contexts. This reading error can be especially knotty because it is the corruption of a perfectly good principle of reading: to compare Scripture with Scripture (James Sire, Scripture Twisting, p. 58, L. 533)

On a recent exchange on this blog, a Mormon (LDS) commenter called the apostle Peter “the seer of the church.” To which I responded that “Peter was never described as a seer,” but that this was “an idea that the LDS church is forcing back into the history so they can say that their current structure is just like that of the very early church.” This was when this Mormon demonstrated perfectly how to collapse multiple contexts to make up the Bible say anything you want:

No, he [Peter] wasn’t. However, it is perfectly agreeable to the text [Matthew 16:17-18] to say that he was the leader of the church, and since prophets have led the church of God from the time of Adam it is in keeping with the text to say he is a prophet. Cephas means stone, and the Urim and Thummum were two stones used in the Old Testament by Seers. Then there is 1 Samuel 9: 9 “Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he spake, Come, and let us go to the seer: for he that is now called a Prophet was beforetime called a Seer”. So to call him a seer is not entirely without support in the Bible as you claim (LDS blog commenter).

Actually, this single paragraph demonstrates a lot of the Scripture Twisting errors described by Sire in his book. But, let’s focus on just the error of “collapsing contexts.” Look at all of the (supposed) parts of the Bible that have to be brought together to get this idea to fit together:

  1. Matthew 16:17-18. The church is built on Peter. This is a New Testament passage.
  2. The Urim and Thummum were stones used by seers in the Old Testament.
  3. Peter’s name (also called Cephas) means stone or rock.
  4. Therefore, Peter  the rock was a seer.

So, Peter means rock, special rocks were used by prophets, prophets have always led the churches, prophet also can mean seer, therefore Peter was a seer. It is clearly all in the Bible, right?

No, of course not. It is a house of cards. It is coming to the Bible with a preconceived notion and then cherry-picking verses and ideas from all over the place. And, just in case you are wondering about the other errors in this paragraph:

  1. The Urim and Thummum were given to the priests (see Exodus 28:30) not the prophets. Also, most priests were not prophets and most prophets were not priests.
  2. The claim that prophets have been the leaders of the church since the time of Adam is not supported by the Bible.
  3. The claim that Peter is the leader of the church based upon Matthew 16:17-18 is one also made by the Roman Catholic church. However, it is not supported by the evidence of the rest of the Bible or history. The church is not built upon Peter the individual but on the faith that Peter articulated in verse 16, “Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Collapsing contexts

  1. The church is not built upon Peter the individual but on the faith that Peter articulated in verse 16, “Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

    FWIW: Nobody claims that the Church is built upon Peter the individual (cf. CCC 551-553). But the Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). And Scripture is clear that Peter had a special role among the apostles. And Matthew 16:17-19 is certainly not the only passage in support of that (though that passage is quite explicit).

  2. Scripture is also clear that John and Paul had special roles, but no one is arguing for them to be the first pope. It is only by assuming the teaching of Rome and eisegeting that back into the text can you make a case for Peter as the first pope based upon Matthew 16:17-19 or any other texts. You know, doing exactly what the LDS commenter did.

    And, when it comes to modern extra-Biblical revelation and supposedly infallible proclamations from their leaders, the Roman Catholic and LDS churches have a lot in common – you even appeal to the same verses. Not to mention the many various works/activities you must perform to merit and keep your salvation. But I digress…

    • the many various works/activities you must perform to merit and keep your salvation.

      You keep saying that, but that’s not what I believe nor what the Church teaches.

      Scripture is also clear that John and Paul had special roles, but no one is arguing for them to be the first pope.

      Yes, they did, and they both are greatly honored. All of the Apostles had equal authority; but plainly Peter was the leader. All four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles plainly present Peter as the foremost and most prominent (cf. Matthew 17:24; Matthew 10:2, Peter named as the “first” [πρῶτος]; Acts 1:15; Acts 2), the spokesman and authority among them. It was Peter alone that Christ asked to feed his sheep (John 21:15-19). None of this rests on Matthew 16:17-19.

      It is only by assuming the teaching of Rome and eisegeting that back into the text can you make a case for Peter as the first pope based upon Matthew 16:17-19 or any other texts. You know, doing exactly what the LDS commenter did.

      Okay, several plain facts, apart from any “eisegeting”:

      1. Bishops (ἐπίσκοποι) and presbyters (πρεσβύτεροι) were the officers the apostles appointed as leaders over the local churches (cf. Titus 1:5, 7; 1 Timothy 5:17). The offices of bishop and presbyter overlapped and were nearly synonymous at the time the New Testament was written (“Appoint presbyters in every town, on condition that a man be blameless . . . For a bishop as God’s steward must be blameless. . .”).

      2. Peter was a presbyter (cf. 1 Peter 5:1).

      3. Peter served as presbyter and lived out his days in Rome (cf. 1 Peter 5:13, in which “Babylon” is a cryptic reference for Rome).

      So, there can’t really be any doubt that Peter was a bishop/presbyter in the first century Church at Rome. Most historians acknowledge that the monoepiscopacy — the leadership over a local church by a single bishop — was probably not the situation in Peter’s lifetime; but this leadership was certainly in place by the end of the first century, and Peter’s successors in office as bishop of Rome appealed to his apostolic authority as early as the earliest documents of the Church outside the New Testament (cf. the Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians, for which a strong argument can be made to date as early as A.D. 70).

      And this hasn’t even touched Matthew 16:17-19 — though that is a passage you cannot simply dismiss. Jesus plainly refers to the prophecy of Isaiah in his speech to Peter (which even many Protestant editors acknowledge in cross-reference): “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open” (Isaiah 22:22). The context is plain: in investing Peter with the “keys,” he strips the authority of the Old Covenant from the Pharisees and Sanhedrin and gives it into the hands of a new steward over His house.

      And that still hasn’t brought in or “assumed” any “teaching of Rome.” We can say without a doubt, from Scripture, that Peter was a bishop/presbyter in Rome; that he gave the authoritative opinion at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15); that Jesus asked him to pastor (ποιμαίνω) His sheep (John 21:16); that He — regardless of how one interprets the passage — singled Peter out as a special authority, invoking the language of the Old Testament stewardship.

      Now, unlike the Mormons, the Church of Rome has much more support even beyond Scripture for her claim that Peter was her founding pastor, in the testimony of history and archaeology. Stressing sola scriptura as the rule of faith and source of doctrine is one thing; the Catholic Church also holds Scripture as a very high authority. But to ignore and even dismiss the testimony of other ancient sources — not as the source of doctrine, but as the source of basic facts — is to found one’s church on a very shaky foundation indeed.

      • Joseph,

        Despite your claim, it is not plain that Peter was the leader of the apostles. Yes, he was very vocal – but that was as often to his detriment, as it was to his honor. For example, just a few seconds after you want to claim that Jesus has bestowed upon him the keys of the kingdom where in Matthew 16:23 Jesus has to rebuke Peter:

        “But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man’.”

        I, of course, acknowledge that Peter was an presbyter. But, in 1 Peter 5 even Peter himself acknowledges the others as presbyters. He does not consider himself above them in some type of hierarchy. He does not encourage them to look toward him or his successors for guidance and leadership. And, in 2 Peter 1:19, Peter points away from himself and to something more sure, the word of God.

        Again, you like to throw around the idea that things are “plain” when they are not. You reference Isaiah 22:22 with regards to the key of David. Yet, Revelation 3:7 shows that it is Jesus who has that key. It is not plain from the context of Matthew 16:17-19 that (1) Peter alone is getting the keys to the kingdom or (2) that they keys were even distributed at that time. Rather, Jesus bestows the keys on all of the disciples later in Matthew 18:18:

        “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

        Finally, to claim that “without a doubt” that he he gave the authoritative opinion at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) is not supported by the text. Peter certainly provided key input, but it was James who provided the final judgment to be distributed to the Gentiles (Acts 15:19ff).

        I have never once declared or demonstrated that I ignore or dismiss the testimony of ancient sources. Rather, I rejoice in the testimony of history where it is consistent with Scripture. But, as you rightly noted, I view Scripture as the final rule of faith and only source of doctrine. You, on the other hand, view the Roman Catholic church as the final rule of faith as it selects from and interprets multiple sources of doctrine.

        Again, I have too many things to do to continue this dialogue, so I will let you have the last word, if you desire.

        Regards,

        Dale

      • Whatever you want to call it, Peter was the leading (first, foremost, most prominent, most outspoken, most vocal, most likely to put his foot in his mouth, etc.) apostle. His role and his closeness to Jesus are emphasized by all four Evangelists. Of all the apostles who abandoned Jesus at his arrest (which is apparently all of them, save John), it is only Peter whose denial and reinstatement the Evangelists pay any attention to. It is Peter who speaks for the Apostles throughout Christ’s ministry and who preaches at Pentecost. No other disciple of the twelve is as mentioned as often as Peter or given as prominent a role in the narrative of the Gospels. I won’t belabor the point to you, if you are determined to dismiss plain facts.

        And yes, Peter was flawed. Christ rebuked him, rightfully. But the fact that the Evangelists thought this was an especially notable event is by itself yet another indication of Peter’s prominence among the Apostles. It is in our weakness that strength is made perfect (2 Corinthians 12:9).

        And, let me understand correctly: are you denying the plain words of Christ in Scripture? “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Are you denying that Jesus spoke these words to Peter? You are, of course, free to debate the meaning of these words, but you can’t deny that Jesus said them, and said them to Peter.

        But, in 1 Peter 5 even Peter himself acknowledges the others as presbyters. He does not consider himself above them in some type of hierarchy.

        Yes, of course the other apostles were presbyters — that is the whole idea! But remember the context: Peter is writing his “fellow presbyters” a letter, in which he enjoins them and exhorts them. Of course there was not a rigid church hierarchy — that is a medieval development, and no one claims otherwise. But Peter wrote to the other presbyters of the Church as someone with authority, as the first among the apostles. People listened to him. He charges them to “tend (ποιμάνατε, or pastor) the flock of God that is your charge” — the same verb with which Jesus urged Peter to tend his sheep. In modern Reformed claims, of course, no church or presbytery has any authority or business over any other — and yet we have these letters written by apostles to other churches, urging them to do things. Did they have authority, or didn’t they?

        You reference Isaiah 22:22 with regards to the key of David. Yet, Revelation 3:7 shows that it is Jesus who has that key.

        So, when the king gives a key to his steward, you think the king no longer has power over the key? A steward is charged only to keep the key in the king’s absence; all power is and remains the king’s. Again, are you denying the words of Scripture? Jesus speaks to Peter alone (using singular pronouns and verbs and a singular form of address) in Matthew 16:17-19. I am curious what other way you would like to interpret this passage — and why you are so determined to oppose Catholic claims that you would subvert the very words and sense of Scripture.

        Yes, Jesus gives the power to bind and loose to all the apostles. But he only gives “the keys” to Peter (cf. CCC 553, 881).

        Finally, to claim that “without a doubt” that he he gave the authoritative opinion at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) is not supported by the text. Peter certainly provided key input, but it was James who provided the final judgment to be distributed to the Gentiles.

        Well, why don’t we look at the text?

        “The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. … We believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them. After they had fallen silent, James responded, “My brothers, listen to me. Symeon has described how God first concerned himself with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name. … It is my judgment, therefore, that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God…” (Acts 15:6–7, 11–13, 19).

        Yes, James had the final word. He was the president of the council, as it was held in his Church. Even Protestant scholars accept that James the Just was the bishop of Jerusalem. But quite plainly, Peter gave the opinion that people stopped to listen to, which James followed with his decree.

        I have never once declared or demonstrated that I ignore or dismiss the testimony of ancient sources. Rather, I rejoice in the testimony of history where it is consistent with Scripture.

        But, what about when historical fact contradicts your reading of Scripture? Do you dismiss historical testimony then?

        But, as you rightly noted, I view Scripture as the final rule of faith and only source of doctrine. You, on the other hand, view the Roman Catholic church as the final rule of faith as it selects from and interprets multiple sources of doctrine.

        That’s not the way I would have put it, but okay. Protestants often behave as if the Magisterium of the Church is free to pull doctrine out of a hat, to “invent” it at a whim, and to dismiss Scripture when it contradicts other teaching. None of that is true. The Word of God is the only source of doctrine, the only source of Divine Revelation. Period. All doctrine, all Scripture, all Tradition, proceeds from Christ, the Word of God made flesh, and Him alone. All Catholic doctrine comes first and foremost from Scripture, the written and infallible Word of God, put to paper by and through His Apostles. The only other source of doctrine is Sacred Tradition — which Scripture supports and verifies. Tradition with a big-T is not something nebulous and undefined that the Magisterium is free to say is whatever they say it is. It is those things, and only those things, that we can say with certainty came from the mouths of the Christ and the Apostles themselves, just as surely as the books of the New Testament came from their mouths and their hands. It was the Early Church in the first place — its leaders, the Church Fathers, the early pastors and bishops and theologians — who arrived at certainty about what books should be a part of the New Testament, what books were truly apostolic in origin, and were part of the revelation of Sacred Scripture. It is by absolutely the same process — the same actions by the same people — that the Church decided what other teachings were apostolic in origin and were a part of Sacred Tradition. So, to your charges that Catholic doctrine is “man-made”: by the same challenge, you are challenging the authority of Scripture itself. For it was “men” who assembled the canon of Scripture, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit — the same men who, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, received and passed on the Tradition we have received from the Apostles. Teachings from Tradition cannot and do not contradict Scripture — if they did, those men, who valued Scripture as the infallible Word of God, would not have retained them and passed them on. If they seem to contradict your interpretation of Scripture, then perhaps it’s your interpretation of Scripture — which postdates anything the Church Fathers said or conceived of by a thousand or more years — that needs to be examined.

        The reason why I am Catholic, more than any other, is that the facts of history compel me. The claims of the Protestant Reformers have no foundation in history. The doctrines they espoused, asserting were held by the Early Church, were never held by the Early Church. And every time anyone has challenged me with some fact or question which would undermine the claims of the Catholic Church, upon examination, the facts vindicated the Church.

        (And you know, you make me wince every time you insist on the term “Roman” Catholic — as most of the sources and concepts and men we are talking about here were not even Roman! The Roman Church was not the only Church in the ancient world, nor did other Churches in the ancient world belong to the Church of Rome. You seem, by your language, to be giving some kind of authority to the Church of Rome that not even I am claiming it had. I do not think the early Christians of Africa or Asia would appreciate being called “Roman” Catholic.)