Triablogue’er Steve Flails About Impotently Yet Again

In my previous post about one recent Triablogue’er attack on Orthodoxy, I failed to note the post’s author: Steve. Their site is so visually poor and poorly done, that it’s often laborious to make out who is saying what.

Well, Steve couldn’t resist rising to the challenge of my post and so responded, sort of–actually he practices a bunch of diversion, but more on that anon–in his post: A fallen seraph (get it? nudge nudge!).

First some comments on the Triablogue’ers. They’re a group of Reformed polemicists whose trade in stock is ad hominem, diversion, appeal to authority and question begging. You’ll see some of these tactics as we go through Steve’s reply (after the jump). Oh, and they’re never wrong. They’re always right. If you think they’re wrong, you’re wrong. (And, by the way, the previous comments will be one more example of their use of diversion when they use them to attack my own argument.) Now that’s not to say they can’t make some valid arguments. And it’s not to say they don’t do some good work–particularly in apologetics. But most of what they do is in the arena of religious criticism, and they attack anything that doesn’t conform to their Reformed ideology.

Well, let’s to it, shall we?

Steve starts with a diversion:

It’s funny how some men react when I simply quote someone without any editorial commentary on my part.

My reaction has no bearing whatsoever on any argument I could be making. I could have ranted, raved and otherwise behaved badly, but the point is quite simple: has Steve successfully made his argument and/or has my argument refuting/denying his been successful? I am arguing that he has not. This post is a continuation of that argument.

But Steve wants to make irrelevant hay of my reaction.

When they take exception to the quotes, they first have to draw certain negative conclusions for their own position from the cited material, then try to refute the conclusions they themselves had to draw for purposes of criticizing the post. So I can just sit back and watch them do my job for me.

Here Steve is playing false. He’s pretending that his mere citing of the quotes is not meant to make an argument: he’s just citing sources, not arguing anything. But then notice that he’s clearly being disingenuous because he has a purpose: cite the quotes, draw a response necessitating negative conclusions, note that one’s interlocutors “do my job for me.” In other words, readers react to his implied “argument,” thus demonstrating his “argument” to be “true.”

And in any case, as we will see, he later says: “The question at issue is whether the Orthodox Church enjoys an epistemic advantage over the Protestant rule of faith. Can the Orthodox be certain of their canon? Can they be certain of their text?” So, the “hidden” argument ultimately comes out in the open. Which of course, was no surprise.

Steve continues:

Notice that our fallen seraph doesn’t challenge the substance of the quotes. Indeed, he admits as much. All he can do is to challenge their relevance, and he does so in a very concessive manner.

Of course the quotes are irrelevant to the question of an/the Orthodox canon. The quotes are similarly irrelevant to the discussion of any canon: a text critically satisfying document does not a canon make. We could come to near-absolute certainty on the text of Barnabas. But that does not make Barnabas part of the canon. I pointed out the non sequitor of this tactic in which Steve engages in my first post. Here he simply ignores the non-link between text criticism and canon, and proceeds as though that linkage has happened.

This is one of the five Agrippan modes: assume one’s conclusion is true and then proceed as if it’s already been established. It is a logical fallacy and the central failure of Steve’s criticism of the Orthodox. We should simply end things here, but why miss out on the fun of gutting Steve’s “argument” like a bloated fish?

“First of all it begs the question of a need for a standard critical edition of the set of books that are the Orthodox canon of Scripture.”

I’m not begging any question. Rather, I’m simply pointing out (albeit implicitly) that certain consequences flow from certain facts.

Whether or not these consequences are acceptable to our fallen seraph is beside the point.

And just what are the consequences of not having a text critically satisfying text? Watch the polemical legerdemain or you’ll miss it.

If he admits that the Orthodox have no official canon of Scripture, or official edition of the text, then, indeed, the Orthodox cannot be sure of what constitutes their Bible.

Steve moves, without any argument, from the lack of text critically satisfying documents to the lack of a canon. Did you see it? He tries to be slick about it, but we’re on to him. How does the Orthodox lack of an analogous Nestle-Aland in any way follow into the conclusion that the Orthodox do not have a canon of Scripture? Answer: it doesn’t.

Let’s keep going, there’s more to see.

“Critical editions of texts are a uniquely modernist development based on Enlightenment epistemological presuppositions not shared by either Jesus or the Apostles.”

Several problems:

i) He’s a little shaky on his grasp of relative chronology. For example, does he think the Massoretes represent “a uniquely modernist development based on Enlightenment epistemological presuppositions”?

This is a prime example of a straw man. Steve is attributing to me a position I do not hold, nor is it anything I said in my original post, nor, for that matter, does it follow from anything I said. For the Masoretic text is not a text critical document. It is the basis for text critical editions of the Masoretic text, but it is not an example of modernist text criticism.

So add to Steve’s straw man either a gaping ignorance about what text criticism is, or a rather less than virtuous attempt to deceive his readers.

But wait: there’s more.

ii) In addition, such concerns also go back to the Renaissance, not the Enlightenment. Remember Lorenzo Valla (15C) on the False Decretals?

Another diversion. My point is quite simple, clear and perspicacious: text criticism, whatever it’s precursors as far back as Origen et al, is an Enlightenment development. Yes, the Enlightenment itself is a development of the Renaissance, so it’s no surprise that one would find Enlightenment precursors among Renaissance thinkers. For pity’s sake, it’s no secret that manuscripts of texts were weighed against one another prior to the modernist era, but it took modernist thinking to turn such things into the science of text criticism. And there’s a reason an edition like Nestle’s did not arise until the nineteenth century, and a reason why the use of such an edition did not become pervasive until then.

“To be sure, Origen’s Hexapla and Jerome’s Vulgate are something of precursors to modern text criticism, but the two efforts (Origen/Jerome over against modern text critics) are not the same, and Origen’s and Jerome’s texts (assuming Origen’s could be recovered) would fail most text critical standards today.”

The fact that Origen’s textual criticism “would fail most text critical standards today” is irrelevant to the fact that both are concerned with recovering the Urtext.

And in playing catch with my friends I find myself concerned with force, velocity and gravitational attraction. But that doesn’t make throwing a football the equivalent of the practice of physics.

But Steve is welcome to make an argument demonstrating that the text criticism of Nestle is precisely the same thing as what Origen, Jerome, et al, did.

“It also presupposes and imposes on the biblical canon an understanding of accuracy that is predicated upon the original texts and the individual words and particles of that text.”

How does what is predicated on the original text thereby *impose* on the biblical canon?

Here Steve is playing dumb. He knows full well the answer to that question: his implied argument necessarily assumes a connection between text criticism and the construction of a canon. It is that non-linkage that makes such impositions. And, furthermore, it is just historically backwards. Only a canon makes it necessary to recover the original wording–which is the aim, or at least once was the aim, of text criticism. Apart from the canon there is no necessity to establish the “urtext” of, say, the epistle to the Laodiceans.

“The non sequitor, of course, is that absent a standardized text critical edition of the Scripture that utilizes modernist presuppositions about accuracy of the text, no group can claim a canon of Scriptural texts.”

i) Even if this were so, our fallen seraph is missing the point. For in that event, Orthodoxy has no epistemic advantage over Evangelicals.

Indeed, it’s at a disadvantage because it also rejects (according to him) modern textual criticism.

Here Steve attempts a few things: none of which establish his argument. He is once again diverting from his failure to link the text-critical problems asserted in the cites from his “show me your bible” post with the asserted lack of an Orthodox canon. His diversion about epistemic advantage is wholly beside the point–unless he can provide that phantom enthymeme linking his point about text-criticism and the Orthodox canon.

Secondly, he also assumes that all his and his pals’ previous arguments about some purported “epistemic advantage” they have over Orthodox are true simply because they’ve all bloviated endlessly about such matters and because they will not admit that any Orthodox has bested their argument. (And even is such really is the case, I suspect it’s because they don’t have a lot of Orthodox visitors, which is just as well.)

That’s fine if they’re attacking some Orthodox comments in their comboxes or even attacking one of my posts from afar. But if Steve and any of his buddy’s are going to respond to a post on my blog, then they’re going to have to argue their points for me and my readers. I for one deny their purported epistemic advantage. But such arguments are, as I’ve said, beside the point here.

And finally Steve once again engages in a straw man by ascribing to me a position I do not hold: “[Orthodoxy is] at a disadvantage because it also rejects (according to him) modern textual criticism.” I never said that. It does not follow from any comments I made, and, in fact it is false.

Orthodoxy does not reject text criticism, as, in fact, the cites he gives in his “show me” post themselves demonstrate.

ii) At the same time, his comments are also out of step with the examples of Orthodox textual criticism that I’ve quoted in the past from standard reference works on Orthodox and Eastern Christianity.

Hmmm. I wonder which “comments” of mine “are also out of step” with the previous cites. Oh, but wait. I just addressed that, didn’t I?

But the final phrase of the above is, in fact, Steve’s and all the Triablogue’ers huge failure when it comes to Orthodoxy. They think they can come to understand Orthodoxy–and Orthodoxy’s biblical canon–by quoting “from standard reference works on Orthodox and Eastern Christianity.”

First of all, which “standard reference works”? Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant? Simply because a Protestant can get enough facts about Orthodoxy right does not mean that he understands Orthodoxy. Furthermore, even if one cites a Zizioulas, a Nellas or a Yannaros, that doesn’t mean a) that the person citing really gets what the Orthodox writer is saying, and b) (more importantly) that Orthodoxy can be understood via “standard reference works.”

Orthodoxy is a living faith, not an dead thing stuck to a board and liable to dissection. If you want to know about what Orthodoxy believes and lives regarding it’s canon, you’ll have to start worshiping regularly at an Orthodox parish. And that’s only for starters.

Steve goes into some brief responses to some of my comments about the lack of linkage of a text critcially satisfying set of documents and a canon, and I’ve already hit those above. So I’ll excise a few words and get to the next point he asserts.

The question at issue is whether the Orthodox Church enjoys an epistemic advantage over the Protestant rule of faith. Can the Orthodox be certain of their canon? Can they be certain of their text?

And here it is: Steve’s “hidden” argument. Here, too, is the proof that I have his argument right, and that he still fails to make the linkage.

What does Steve mean by “certain”? Any bets on whether such “certainty” is guided by modernist presuppositions about epistemological claims and evidence?

To answer his question: Yes, Orthodox can be certain of their canon and certain, too, of their texts. The difference is going to be, however, what constitutes “certainty” and for the Orthodox, it is not going to be the standard argued by a basketball team of modernist Reformed ideologues. For Steve to assert that Orthodox are at a disadvantage as to epistemic claims for their canonical texts is to use a rule the Orthodox do not use, and to assume that such a rule is itself valid. I know he thinks he’s argued for such, but he’s never faced the appropriate counterargument. All I have to do is point him to Sextus Empiricus.

“The Old Testament canon is, seemingly, a bit more so [i.e. problematic]. Are 4 Maccabees and Psalm 151 in or not? What about the ‘additions’ to Esther? And so on?”

Good question! And what’s the answer?

Go to Divine Liturgy and there you’ll find the answer.

“Unlike Protestants, Orthodox do not believe that Scripture alone establishes doctrine and Tradition.”

Yes, we understand that. But saying that there is more to the Orthodox rule of faith in Scripture doesn’t allow you to escape the issue of where to find the Orthodox Bible. To take his own example, did Jesus say the things attributed to him in the long ending of Mark? Or is that an apocryphal interpolation?

If I were to answer Steve’s question, I would concede his argument: which I don’t. It’s sort of like answering the question, “Yes or no: Have you stopped beating your wife?” Any answer concedes the question’s accusation.

“Of course, looking at Orthodoxy from the lense of Protestantism further assumes that Protestantism is the standard by which the historical Church is to be judged. “

The T-bloggers make no such *assumption*. Rather, we *argue* for our standard of comparison.

I’m sure he does. But neither I nor my readers are going to dive into the vast bloggorheal pit that is their blog to find such an argument. Let him manfully step up to the plate and make his argument here–or in a post directly replying to this one. After all, if he has, indeed, made such an argument before, he surely is able to again present it with eloquent concision.

“And when you add the lense of modernism that the Triablogue’ers to a man also ubiquitously use, well, the resultant view is distorted in the extreme.”

To the contrary, our disputant’s anachronistic grasp of textual criticism creates a myopic view of sola Scriptura. He needs to schedule an eye examine with a good ophthalmologist like John Calvin or Benjamin Warfield to correct for his astigmatism, lest he mistake his wife for a hat.

And Steve ends as he’s begun: with vacuous polemic.

2 thoughts on “Triablogue’er Steve Flails About Impotently Yet Again

  1. Seraphim,

    Read myself into Calvinism as an undergrad, attended a Calvinist seminary, and eventually went off for more grad work. In finishing my dissertation I had the grand epiphany about Prots: they are all canonical revisionists (in liturgy, authority, theology, inter alia et intra alia). This helps greatly in explaining the morass of contradictions not only among Prots, but even within single Prots themselves (and of course tells us why there are 30K Prot denoms around the world all with epistemic certainty that the others err). Thus Calvin could be at once a Platonist and an Aristotelian, a voluntarist and an idealist, an Ockhamist and a realist, and all within his mature writings. This is why we see such a fight now over the Finnish Luther. Yet the very notion that Luther embraced a realist notion of cognition (the presupposition that we embrace the ‘real’ Christ in faith–which now must be a mental cognition) is something he himself flatly denied. At least St. Augustine had the good sense to realize his many contradictions, never raised his own insights to dogma, and at life’s end published his reconsiderations. Pope Benedict has rightly recently noted that schismatics are those things which emphasize things that may have a semblance of validity, but then make them the sine quo non of the Faith (shades of the filioque!). Whether Ps 151 is in or out does not change the faith. I still read the prayer of Manasseh at times in preparation for Holy Communion.

    Christ is Ascended!


  2. Wow. I think, Benedict Seraphim, a proper label for your interlocutor is “A Piece of Work.” He should really learn more about textual criticism itself before claiming that you don’t know anything about it. It’s quite clear that his own understanding of it is based more in apologetics than work with texts.

    There is no critical text of the Hebrew Bible yet. Another diplomatic text is under production, the Biblia Hebraica Quinta, but even so, the apparatus includes the variants, and these are not incorporated into the text, which is simply a corrected text (over that of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) of the Leningrad Codex. Also, only one volume, the Megillot (Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Esther and Lamentations), has been published, though I think another is coming this summer. There is also the Hebrew University Bible (doing the same as the BHQ but with the Aleppo Codex as base), but with only a few volumes published. The Oxford Hebrew Bible will be an eclectic text, but no volumes have yet been published. There is simply nothing equivalent to the Nestle-Aland eclectic text of the New Testament for the Hebrew Bible. If a Protestant claims that he possesses a critical text of the Hebrew Bible, I’d like to know what that text is, as would every Hebrew scholar in the world! He claims to possess something that he criticizes us for lacking, but has only wind in his hands.

    The eclectic approach used in the Nestle-Aland/UBS NT text is also taken in the preparation of the Goettingen Septuaginta, which is still lacking a number of volumes, and which project was initiated by Eberhard Nestle himself. Rahlfs continued the project and his manual edition has been the standard since the thirties. The use of this edition is almost universal, as it is affordable and complete, neither of which apply to the Goettingen Septuaginta series. Rahlfs’ manual edition has recently been corrected under the editorial supervision of one of the Goettingen team, Roger Hanhart, published as Septuaginta Editio Altera. There are roughly one thousand corrections to Rahlfs text.

    And while the Nestle-Aland is a standard text, there are numerous points where the rationale behind a particular reading in its eclectic text is supported by some questionable reasoning. Most translations, and certainly all the major ones, dissent from the Nestle-Aland at some point or another, for very good reasons. Needless to say, there is no manuscript, nor has there ever been, which contained the Nestle-Aland/UBS text not only of the entire New Testament, but of any entire book, or even any full page thereof.

    Your interlocutor should have stuck to arguing about the canon, which was weakly enough done. His textual criticism jabber is just embarassing.

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