Gene and Jason Tag Team Me, to Little Effect

[Note: I just noticed the Triablogue’ers stripped my trackback from the post linked in the first line below.  Must not want anyone to come here and see their fallacies and ignorance exposed for what they are.] 

In the comments to my response to a recent post, the Triablogue’ers, Jason and Gene, attempt to go after my critique of their position regarding their babbling on about the lack of an Orthodox canon. They continue to deny that their argument is based on modernist text critical arguments, while appealing to textual criticism to make their case.

(Warning: A plethora of informal fallacies from Gene and Jason ahead. Much diversion apparently, in their minds, equates to an argument. Drown them in bloghorreal miasma is seemingly the order of the day. Remove all potibles from the vicinity of your computer screen. Some of this is unbelievable. But we’ll document it.)

Take for example Jason’s response to me:

Benedict Seraphim writes:

“You also demonstrate the non sequitur leap by assuming that textual criticism settles the question of the canon. This, too, is a pretty typical Protestant move. In point of fact, Orthodox are united in ascribing canonicity to the longer ending of Mark….This pericope is read in cycle every 12 weeks (unless other feasts change the readings), and has been so read all around the world since the earliest centuries.”

You’re raising objections that I’ve already addressed, at length, in my discussion with Orthodox [another commenter on their blog; not the Orthodox Church–cdh] in the thread I linked to in my post above:

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2007/05/fallen-seraph.html

As I document there, sources such as Eusebius and Jerome tell us that the earlier manuscript evidence is against the longer ending to Mark. That’s why Orthodox [another commenter on their blog; not the Orthodox Church–cdh] is now arguing that there may have been a “prolific copier” of Mark early on who made a large number of errant copies of Mark, thus explaining why the ante-Nicene manuscripts supported the short ending for Mark. The reason why Orthodox has to use such an (unreasonable) argument is because the longer ending of Mark was widely absent early on. The longer ending was circulating in the ante-Nicene era, but it wasn’t included with Mark by most sources. Thus, your claim that the longer ending was used as part of Mark “since the earliest centuries” is dubious.

Notice what Jason did. He completely avoided my evidence for the proof of the canonicity of the Mark’s longer ending (i.e., it has been read for centuries as part of the cycle of Resurrectional Gospel readings during Matins), and then went on to deny the canonicity of the longer ending based on text critical evidences.

But text criticism (certainly not the sort that Jason appeals to) did not and does not establish canonicity. Text criticism can be a witness to a manuscript tradition, but of itself cannot definitively prove canonicity. The reason why is that canonicity is not bound up with a text critically perfect text. As I put it to the Triablogue’ers before: we could come up with a text critically perfect (we are definitively assured that the text is precisely the original wording of the autograph) manuscript of, say, the Gospel of Thomas. It would not make Thomas canonical. As Eusebius notes (HE 3.3.5-7 and 3.25.1-7) the use of a work in the Churches (publicly read) is one of the primary characteristics of a work in determining its canonicity. And while it is true that some works were read in some of the Churches, but were not accepted as canonical, in the case of the longer ending of Mark, it is universally read in the Orthodox Churches as the same Holy Gospel as any other portion of the Gospels.

Now, whatever one might one to argue as to its originality in the Markan text, that question is separate from its canonicity.

Jason, and the rest of the Triablogue’ers continue to equivocate on this matter, because they lose their argument if they do not.

Jason then tries to pull himself out of the ditch of his own making.

My comments regarding the ending of Mark weren’t limited to “whether or not Orthodoxy had a united witness as to the canonicity of the longer ending of Mark”.

That’s what he says, but . . .

As I explained to Orthodox [another commenter on their blog; not the Orthodox Church–cdh] in the other thread, whether the longer ending was part of the original gospel of Mark is relevant even if Eastern Orthodox were to argue that we should accept the longer ending on the basis of Eastern Orthodox authority. If the evidence suggests that the original Mark didn’t include the longer ending in question, as is the case, then we would need some other reason for accepting that longer ending. If that other reason is the alleged authority of Eastern Orthodoxy, for example, then those appealing to such authority would need to make a case for it. Even if an Eastern Orthodox scholar who thinks that the longer ending wasn’t included in the original gospel of Mark accepts the ending as scripture anyway, his admission that the original Mark didn’t include it would be significant.

And why would it be significant? Because Jason thinks text criticism determines canonicity. So if he can pull out several Orthodox scholars and cite from their works demonstrating that all the scholars cited agree that the longer ending is not likely part of the Markan autograph, he can claim that Orthodox are contradictory on their canon.

(More on why he wants to do that in a moment.)

Now, his argument with the commenter Orthodox notwithstanding, Jason is clearly being disingenuous as his own words clearly show. He claims he’s not using textual criticism to determine canonicity, but then pulls out references to Orthodox scholars textually critical of Mark’s longer ending to prove that the Orthodox are confused on the canonicity of the longer ending.

In point of fact, canonicity is not determined by text critical considerations, as I’ve shown. They are not completely unrelated, but it is the canon that gives the motive for text criticism, not text criticism that energizes the determination of the canon. Jason attempts to argue backwards from the historical realities. The causation goes in the other direction.

Now, why does Jason, and the Triablogue’ers generally, want to strum this one note? Because it’s all they have. Even though they are parasitic off the historic Church’s tradition about the canon, they want to deny the Church any authority to determine the canon, and therefore the only thing they have left to determine the authoritative text of the canon is the modernist science of textual criticism.

Now despite the fact that the modernist text critical edition of the New Testament does not represent any one single manuscript tradition or even a tightly related group of manuscript traditions, they want to claim that the NA27 essentially represents the autographs. But of course, the only way we can get back to the autographs is through the manuscript copies, if there is no manuscript tradition that we know of that represents the NA27, then how can it be argued that the NA27 is essentially the autographs? Is that having faith in something that doesn’t exist?

But I digress.

Jason attempts to press me on my claims about the Orthodox witness to the canonicity of Mark’s longer ending.

You write:

“All Orthodox everywhere for centuries upon centuries have always read the longer ending as a specific part of the twelve-week cycle of Gospel readings dealing with the Ascension.”

And the evidence suggests that the Christians of the earliest centuries didn’t include the longer ending of Mark in the gospel. Why should we think that a later popular acceptance of that longer ending is to be followed?

Hmmm. So when did “evidence suggests” become “evidence definitively proves”? And how does Jason know definitively that the popular acceptance of the longer ending was later. Irenaeus alludes to the longer ending (2.20.3) and explicitly quotes from it (3.10.5) in the last half of the second century. Sure Alexandrinus and Sinaiticus do not have the longer ending, but their fourth century documents.

But all this notwithstanding, still, once again, Jason is reverting to text criticism to settle canonical issues. But this is fallacious.

He goes on:

You write:

“That longer ending is introduced the same way as all the other canonical texts: ‘The Holy Gospel according to _____.’ There is no question whatsoever that the universal Orthodox Church considers the longer ending canonical.”

How do you know that everybody is interpreting those readings of Mark the same way you are? What if some Eastern Orthodox interpret the reference to “the Holy Gospel” as only requiring that the book in question is canonical, not the text of the book used at a given time? Are you suggesting that every text read, including every word, is infallible, that it must be accepted by all Eastern Orthodox? Why should we believe that?

Jason is going to have to be excused his ignorance here. He has never been to an Orthodox Liturgy, and seems to think he can “know” Orthodoxy from reference books and scholars.

We’ll do our best to walk backwards and drop the cloak over his ignorance.

But Jason isn’t the only one to take on my noting that the Orthodox read from the longer ending of Mark in the Matins service. Gene wants to get his licks in.

Gene M Bridges said:

I gave you evidence–hardcore, testable, irrefutable evidence–that Orthodox ascribe canonicty to the longer ending of Mark: they read it as a Gospel pericope on par with Mt 28:16-20, Lk 24, and John 20, as well as Mark 16:1-8.

No, all you did was repeat the assertion. What is unclear about this? I asked you to document that claim and explain why your own scholarship disagrees with you.

As far as “documenting” my claim that the Orthodox acceptance of the canonicity of the longer ending can be verified by their use of the longer ending as a regular part of the Gospel readings of Matins, I’d already told the bunch that they should go to their nearest Orthodox Orthros/Matins service on 17 June when it would be read, and then they could return roughly ever 12 weeks and hear it again (barring any liturgical shifting due to feasts).

I supposed that was “documentation” enough. But these guys are stuck in the books. As Gene’s following words reveal:

If the longer ending is a later interpolation, as the scholars and priests referenced very clearly stated, then where did the longer ending come from?

Gene, like Jason, continues to confuse text criticism with canonicity, and he attempts to drive a wedge between a common worshipper like me and the Orthodox scholars—aformentioned—who speak text critically about the longer ending of Mark, but not as to its canonicity. See, if Gene and Jason would just go to an Orthodox Liturgy, they would soon learn just how abjectly ignorant they are of Orthodoxy and how mistaken they are in thinking they can come to know Orthodoxy by book reading.

But at least Gene does a better job of turning the discussion toward canonical matters.

What is the criterion for canonicity? Where is the infallible list of criterion by which we can know that criterion? How do we know that it being read in the liturgy is a valid test of canonicity? All you proved was that it is read and has been for a long time, . . .

Actually, I was wrong. Gene isn’t moving the discussion to canonicity, but, rather, he has diverted the discussion once again to epistemology (this is Gene’s favorite tactic: the diversion fallacy). Notice what he does: he first demands a list of canonical criteria, and then he (subtly) demands that such a list be “infallible” and “valid.” We have moved beyond mere empirical evidence (which he can find by simply hitting an Orthodox Orthros/Matins service on the Sunday the longer ending of Mark is read), to how it is that one can know the evidence amounts to anything.

Okay, so what? Gene asks. It’s been read a long time, whoop de doo.

Which is precisely what one expects of a postivist.

. . . but I asked:

A. How long has it been read?
B. In which churches?
C. From the beginning?

I’ll make this simple for you. How do you know how far back the liturgy of the EO goes? Document the claim you make that all Orthodox everywhere have done this from the beginning.

Now Gene is creating yet another diversion in the form of a straw man. I never once said that Mark’s longer ending had been read in Matins from the beginning. Rather, the strongest claim I made was that it’s from the earliest centuries. How Gene jumps from that broad generalization (with a 2000 year history, the earliest centuries encompass a stretch) to a more specific claim is just an example of the technique the Triablogue’ers use in their online debates.

In point of fact, my own claim was a bit of a departure from my central point. The Triablogue’ers were attempting to argue that the Orthodox either do not think that Mark’s longer ending is canonical (and thus brought in Orthodox scholars on the text critical questions) or, minimally, that the Orthodox witness to the canonicity of Mark’s longer ending is a confused one. What I did was make a single, emprically verfiable claim: Orthodox universally read this text in their Matins services as on par with the rest of the Gospel pericopes (which are not text critically problematic), and thereby demonstrate a united witness on the canonicity of the text—as distinct from the text critical questions.

My doing so thus gutted the Triablogue’ers argument that the Orthodox witness to the canonicity was either absent (thus the marching out of Orthodox scholars and the text critical approach to the longer ending) or confused (well, if some think it’s canonical, these Orthodox scholars don’t think it’s text critically original—two different questions, of course, but we’ve already addressed this).

So far the Triablogue’ers have not been able to dispute this evidence for Orthodox consensus on it’s canonicity, so they attempt either to argue a different argument (what do Orthodox think as to its text critical originality to Mark; or how do we know that Orthodox claims are valid and infallible), or they attempt to then fine tune their criticism of the univocality on the canonicity issue (when did Orthodox come to agreement on the canonicity: from the beginning or later).

In reality, from a mere argumentative standpoint, the Triablogue’ers contention stands defeated. If they now want to argue that Orthodox have not always been united in their witness to the canonicity of Mark’s longer ending, they must now provide evidence as to this disputed canonicity among the Orthodox—and must be careful to distinguish between text critical questions as to whether the longer ending is original versus whether the longer ending is canonical.

But Gene, who doesn’t want to give up the argument despite the evidence right before his eyes, still wants to pick away at the desiccated carcass of his lost argument for any meat he can throw out.

Where can I find “being read in the liturgy” as a test for canoncity that is a sufficient condition for canoncity? There were many books read in the early church, not all made it into the canon. Being read may be a necessary condition for canoncity, but it isn’t a sufficient condition. You’ve been told this before. One would hope a student of theology would be able to tell the difference. In fact,you later acknowledge that being read is one of the conditions for canoncity. But the problem here is how do you know this is an infallible criterion. How do you know that what you claim is true? We’ve been told your rule of faith is superior to ours, but where it cashes out doesn’t put you in a superior position at all.

So Gene dashes back to his argument about epistemology. I need only to refer him to the Agrippan modes explicated by Sextus in the first book of his Outlines to burst the bubble of his positivism. In point of fact, Gene’s missing the boat and drowning in his own rationalistic hubris.

But, he’s still worrying that bone a bit more, so he completely skips off to something else altogether:

A. I asked you to demonstrate two things: election based on foreseen faith, which is in one of the canons of a particular council to which we’ve been pointed and told faithfully represented Orthodoxy. Election by foreseen faith is unexegetable from Scripture. So, the Holy Spirit has led Orthodoxy into a doctrine that contravenes Scripture. Please exegete that view of election from Scripture.

But Gene, how do you know it’s unexegetable? By what criterion/-a do you judge the epistemological suitability of a particular exegetical product? What are your first principles here and how do you avoid circularity in arguing for them?

B. I asked you that last question, because if it’s true, you shouldn’t have a problem with snake handlers in church. So, why don’t you do that in your churches and why be critical of Protestants who handle snakes?

Gene thinks apparently that there is only one epistemologically sound exegetical product from the longer ending of Mark. But his positivism undercuts him with vicious circularity.

C. Further, if the long ending has not always been there, then why does the Orthodox Church canonize text variants that are not in the oldest manuscripts? How do you know that the other tests for canoncity make it a valid addition? Does Orthodoxy feel free to alter the manuscripts and then declare them canonical?

Gene, how do you know the modernist canons of textual criticism are epistemological sound, valid and representative of the reality of an historical transmission of the text that is unrepeatable?

(Notice, too, how Gene poisons the well. Did I tell you? These Triablogue’ers are walking examples of just about ever informal logical fallacy known to man. They might even have invented one or two.)

D. If you are correct, then please explain how these EO sources came to a different conclusion.

Um, Gene, you still have your fingers in your ears and your eyes close. The scholars aren’t providing disagreement with the canonicity of the text. They’re explicating a text critical question. Apple. Orange.

What we’re left with is, “The long ending is canonical, because the Church says it is.” How is this a superior rule of faith? You have to begin with the assumption that EO is the one true church in order to arrive at the conclusion. This is just question begging.

No, Gene, I’m making a simple demonstration: the Orthodox agree on the canonicity of the longer ending of Mark. You apparently are unable to hold one thought in focus for very long and keep asking and answering questions unrelated to this very clear point.

A. If it is not original to Mark, when did it enter the liturgy of the Church and the canon?

Fairly early, if Irenaeus is a witness of the existence of the text and cites it as Scripture.

B. If it is not original, then where does the EO get the authority to declare that which is likely not in the original autograph canonical and thus inspired? As has been pointed out to you before, text criticism and canonicity do intersect. How do you know a particular text variant is canonical?

Ah, but the intersection does not make text criticism determinative of canonicity. And once again, you are asking epistemological questions that are irrelevant to the point: Orthodox are univocal on the canonicity of the longer ending of Mark.

C. Which gets us to the question of inerrancy. Apparently, the EO feels free to add to Scripture and thereby denies its inerrancy in the original autographs.

Straw man, meet Diversion.

[citing me] “You demonstrate the Triablogue’ers rather deep ignorance of Orthodoxy by thinking you can determine what is Orthodox by way of reference textbooks.”

I’ll file this away for future reference.

And Steve is quite right. The little gem above undercuts your own statements about Eastern Orthodoxy. How are you superior to the Eastern Orthodox priests that Jason quoted? You have successfully undermined any claims you have to speak for Orthodoxy. You may as well close your blog, and Orthodoxy should close its seminaries.

It would be nice if Gene and Jason could demonstrate that I have in any way undercut the Orthodox priests they cited. I didn’t question their text critical remarks, and, indeed, spoke of something else altogether: canonicity.

But as to Gene’s and Jason’s ignorance of Orthodoxy: QED.

4 thoughts on “Gene and Jason Tag Team Me, to Little Effect

  1. Benedict:

    As Tertullian wrote, it is useless to debate those outside the Church on the issue of Holy Scripture. Heretics have always found it necessary to twist the canon and to revise it in order to support their erroneous and novel doctrines. Protestants are notorious for this and our Triablogue’ers are no exception. Additionally, they do not approach Orthodoxy on its own terms but believe they can understand it without reference to the liturgy and prayer. They furthermore assume that quoting a few Orthodox scholars, however eminent, will score them brownie points and strengthen their case; this might be true if Orthodoxy were all head, like Protestantism, but our faith does not rely on abstract logical proofs but on concrete, empircal demonstration – enter the lives of the saints. For these reasons, and because of their unapologetic rationalism and arrogance, it is indeed futile to engage these blind men who display neither intellectual integrity nor spiritual maturity.

  2. Ask them where they get their canon. Luther’s Bibel includes the apocrypha. Even a full edition of the great King James Bible includes the apocrypha. If they say they get it from the Jews, then why don’t the tryst the Mishnah and Talmuds, too? Oh, that’s right, they’re Christian. So what are they doing getting their canon from the Jews? Inquiring minds want to know!

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