Over the last week or so, I’ve been watching the massive thread on “the Doctrine of the Church” over at Greenbaggins. It started as a simple comment by Lane Keister to the effect that “Confessions of the church carry much more weight than an individual person’s opinion, even if they are not on the same level as Scripture.” That comment in turn has been used as a wedge issue by Bryan Cross, and the whole thread has been turned into a circus by various Catholics.
Over the next few posts, I hope to be able to comment on a couple of different aspects of that thread. But following up on a posting about the misuse of 1 Tim 3:15, here’s another common Catholic “proof-text” that is also badly misused:
The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple. In them He prays on their behalf and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons. The Church, which the Spirit guides in way of all truth (Cf. Jn. 16:13) and which He unified in communion and in works of ministry, He both equips and directs with hierarchical and charismatic gifts and adorns with His fruits. (from Lumen Gentium, paragraph 4).
Note a couple of things here: First, see that “the Church” is separate from “the hearts of the faithful.” Even at Vatican II, “The Church” is significantly “the hierarchy.”
But note also that little reference, “cf” which is used with respect to the reference to John 16:13. It’s an abbreviation for the Latin word confer, meaning “compare” or “consult”. The Roman hierarchy will throw that little reference out there — it’s not given as a firm exegesis for “infallibility,” but possibly with the intention that through the process of “mental reservation,” some of “the faithful” will begin to use this verse, incorrectly, as a proof-text. And in this thread, that’s exactly what happened: John 16:13 was thrown out there as a kind of proof for infallibility of the Magisterium. See this statement from the Catholic Catechism:
The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. [Emphasis supplied, JB; see the comment from “Tori” below.] Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The exercise of this charism takes several forms…
One form that’s not explicitly given in the Catechism, but is nevertheless “out there” (cf) is that this verse is a support for “the Magisterium”. See comment #400 by an individual named “Toli”:
See Jn. 16:13. What does Christ say the Spirit will do? That text,among others, through good and necessary inference, opens the gate to an infallible magisterium. The continuity that exists is the same, but better.
This is one key reason why I think that Catholic apologetics, from the top level on down, is fundamentally a dishonest exercise.
What we’ve seen here is a clear, outright example of the Catholic Hermeneutic, as I’ve discussed, in which a Catholic does not rely on an exegetical process to understand what a verse means, but instead will start with an existing Catholic teaching, and then read that teaching back into the verse. This “method” has notably been defined by, among others, Pope Pius XII in his encyclical, Humani Generis:
“theologians must always return to the sources of divine revelation: for it belongs to them to point out how the doctrine of the living Teaching Authority is to be found either explicitly or implicitly in the Scriptures and in Tradition.”
But what does this verse really say? What does it promise? I’ve consulted two commentaries on John, both D.A. Carson (1991) and Andreas Kostenberger (2004) for clarification:
The Paraclete will guide you in (Gk. en is the best reading; eis, ‘into’, as in NIV, is secondary) all truth. If there is a distinction between ‘in all truth’ and ‘into all truth’, it is that the latter hints at truth the disciples have not yet in an sense penetrated, while ‘in all truth’ suggests an exploration of truth already principally disclosed. Jesus himself is the truth (14:6); now the Spirit of truth leads the disciples into all the implications of the truth, the revelation, intrinsically bound up with Jesus Christ. There is no other locus of truth this is all truth. The notion of ‘guidance’ (the Gk. verb hodegeo) in all truth has nothing to do with privileged information pertaining to one’s choice of vocation or mate, but with understanding God as he has revealed himself, and with obeying that revelation — as the occurence of this verb in the Psalms makes clear (e.g. Pss 25:4-5; 143:10).
… it makes sense to suppose that the Holy Spirit is unpacking [the significance of Jesus’ death/exaltation]. The verb used here and repeated in vv. 14. 15 (anangello, NIV ‘tell’ in v.13 and ‘make known’ in vv. 14, 15) suggests an announcement, indeed in this context a revelatory declaration (as its use in 4:25 suggests), but it is a reiterative announcement. These features square best with the view that what is yet to come refers to all that transpires in consequence of the pivotal revelation bound up with Jesus’ person, ministry, death, resurrection and exaltation. This includes the Paraclete’s own witness to Jesus, his ministry to the world (16:8-11) primarily through the church (15:26, 27), the pattern of life and obedience under the inbreaking kingdom, up to and including the consummation. All of this the Spirit of truth ‘announces’, yet in making it known he is doing little more than fleshing out the implications of God’s triumphant self-disclosure in the person and work of his Son. (Carson, pgs 539-541, emphasis in original.)
Yet when the “Spirit of truth” comes (see 14:17; 15:26), he will guide (hodego) them in all truth. “Guidance in all truth” (better than “into all truth”) entails providing entrance to the revelatory sphere of God’s character and ways. In one very important sense, Jesus is the eschatological Word who has explained [“exegeomai”, from which we get the word “exegesis”] the Father (1:18). In another sense, however, by salvation-historical necessity is the Spirit who guides his followers in “all” truth. Such divine guidance was already the Psalmist’s longing (Ps. 25:4-5; 43:3; 86:11; 143:10). The prphet recounts how God led his people Israel in the wilderness by his Holy Spirit (Isa. 63:14) and predicts God’s renewed guidance in the future (Isa. 43:19). Yet as he guides Jesus’ followers in all truth, the Spirit will speak only what he hears–his dependence on Jesus enacting the pattern set by Jesus in relation to the Father–and also tell Jesus’ followers what is yet to come. The object of revelation is “what is yet to come” subsequent to the giving of the Spirit, which cannot be the passion, but must be events following Pentecost. The emphasis may lie not so much on predictive prophecy but on helping the believing community understand their present situation in light of Jesus’ by-then-past revelation of God. This entails both “a more profound penetration into the content of revelation” and “the application of that revelation to the behaviour of the community within the world.”
I just wanted to suggest one more thing here. Note the verb “exegeomai,” which Kostenberger refers to, John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known…” This process of “making known” is “exegesis,” which, used in the Gospel of Luke means “to give a full account” in the sense of “telling the whole story,” which is the most probable meaning here, too.
Jesus is very clear, especially in the Gospel of John, that he only speaks what he hears from the Father (See John 3:34-35, 5:19-20, 7:16-18, 8:26-29, 42-43, 12:47-50, 14:10.) The Spirit repeats this pattern (John 16:14-15). If there is a pattern of “succession,” it is this “succession in the truth,” demonstrated within the Trinity, that is to be followed. This flies in the face of the “Catholic Hermeneutic,” which superimposes its own meaning onto Scripture.