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Irenaeus' Portrait

Irenaeus and the Apostles’ Creed

Many readers will know the Apostles’ Creed, either from reciting it in more traditional church services, or perhaps from singing the recent song “This I Believe” from Hillsong. If you check wikipedia, you’ll read that this creed dates back (at the earliest) to the late-300s AD.

I’m now reading Irenaeus’ book “Against Heresies”.  It has a statement of faith in it that is remarkably close to the Apostles’ Creed (even in the order of doctrines stated).

A snippet from Irenaeus “Against Heresies” Book 1, Chapter 10 (~180AD):

The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection of the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one” and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race…

It’s not identical to the Apostle’s Creed, but it sounds pretty darn familiar right?  Irenaeus tells us that in his day, this set of doctrines was already held and taught by churches across the known world, including Spain, Gaul (France), Egypt and Libya.  Next time someone tries to tell you that Christianity as we know it was invented in 325AD by Constantine, you’ll know better!

Shh Finger

Declining to Answer: The Hallmark of Inconsistency

Thinkers can be divided into two groups.  The first group positively insists upon “straight” answers to questions.  The second group does not.  What is a “straight” answer?  It’s not always as simple as “yes” or “no”, because sometimes neither of those is most accurate.  There are five basic responses to a propositional question:

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. I don’t know
  4. I don’t accept one or more premises inherent in the question
  5. I decline to answer

The first four responses are “straight” answers, the fifth response (“I decline to answer”) is the essential non-straight answer.  To show you what I mean, let’s take an example question: “are there any cats in this room?”  Either there are cats in the room or there are not – but it can’t be both.  Based on the five categories above, here are four straight answers:

  1. “There are three kittens in the corner.” (Yes)
  2. “The room is completely empty.” (No)
  3. “I am wearing a blindfold.” (I don’t know)
  4. “We are outdoors.” (I don’t accept the premise that we are in a room)

The only other possible response is some form of “I decline to answer the question”.  One example might be “it doesn’t matter whether there are any cats.”  I have not asked whether it matters, I have asked whether they are there.  Maybe I’m allergic to cats, so it matters to me!
Declining to answer is always an attempt to deceive.  If there’s no structural flaw in the question, but a person still doesn’t want to answer, it’s because they know they’ve been caught out.  Thinkers who regularly decline to answer direct questions should make you very suspicious.  Either they are confused by their own self-contradictory views, or they are actively trying to manipulate you.  The one thing they are not doing is looking for the truth.

Reading a Hebrew Scroll

Two Serious Problems for Presuppositionalism

The Canon of Scripture

How can a presuppositionalist decide which books belong in the canon of scripture? The typically-accepted canon does not contain an authoritative list. What if I were to “presuppose” that 1 Maccabees or the Book of Enoch belonged in the canon? What if I wanted to eliminate Jude, Hebrews, Esther and Obadiah? It doesn’t seem like these changes would cause any great, internal inconsistency. If we say that some new book is inconsistent with the other canonical books, first we must ask how we know that our existing books are canonical? How can we use the Deuteronomy 18 test for prophets without first assuming that Moses was a prophet? Determining the canon by strictly presuppositional methods is the height of circularity. I realise that staunch presuppositionalists are not necessarily opposed to this. But I live in optimism that every person’s tolerance for irrationality must have a breaking point.

Hermeneutical Principles

Where does a presuppositionalist get their hermeneutical principles from? From scripture? What hermeneutical principles were they using to interpret those scriptures? They cannot have been scriptural principles, because scripture had not been read yet! The presuppositionalist wishes to believe that they only use the words of God as their axioms. But in practice this simply cannot be true. The words “hear O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one” mean nothing at all, unless they mean that Israel does not have 2, or 20, or 200 gods. But the denial of many gods is not stated explicitly. For these words to have that meaning, the speaker and hearer must have a prior commitment to the law of non-contradiction. Logical axioms are absolutely required to do even the most basic hermeneutics. That is to say, the very act of reading scripture must presuppose certain logical axioms.