Papias (c. 60-c. 130) & the Rule of Faith (vs. Jason Engwer)

Papias (c. 60-c. 130) & the Rule of Faith (vs. Jason Engwer) June 5, 2020

[originally posted on 1-18-10]


This is a follow-up discussion (Round Two) to my previous four-part critique of a post by Jason Engwer. Jason is now starting to counter-reply, with preliminary remarks and the beginning of more substantive response, in his latest post, Papias, Apostolic Succession, Oral Tradition, And “Relativism”. Near the end I also reply to his article, “Where Are ‘Apostolic Succession’ And ‘Authoritative Tradition’ In Papias?”. His words will be in blue. Past comments of mine that he cites will be in green.


Yesterday, I posted some introductory remarks [linkabout a series of posts by Dave Armstrong that was written in response to an article I posted in 2008. What I want to do today is address some comments Dave made about one church father in particular, Papias. I do so for a few reasons. For one thing, it was in response to something I said about Papias that Dave issued some of his harshest criticism.


And some of his other comments about Papias are relevant to his claims to “copiously document everything” and his objection that I’m not offering enough documentation for my own views. His comments on Papias also illustrate just how misleading it can be to use terms like “apostolic succession” and “oral tradition” to describe the views of a father.

Well, we’ll see about that as we go along.

In the course of his series of posts responding to me, Dave repeatedly accuses me of “relativism”.

That’s because his position on this business of the rule of faith in the fathers entails it, as I will be happy to elaborate upon and clarify. I don’t make any serious charge lightly, and readers may rest assured that when I do, that I have very good reason to do so: a rationale that I can surely defend against scrutiny and/or protest (as indeed I am doing presently).

I said that if I were in the position of somebody like Papias, I wouldn’t adhere to sola scriptura. I went on to comment that “If sola scriptura had been widely or universally rejected early on, it wouldn’t follow that it couldn’t be appropriate later, under different circumstances.” Dave responded:

And he is employing the typical Protestant theological relativism or doctrinal minimalism….After having expended tons of energy and hours sophistically defending Protestantism and revising history to make it appear that it is not fatal to Protestant claims (which is a heroic feat: to engage at length in such a profoundly desperate cause), now, alas, Jason comes to his senses and jumps on the bandwagon of fashionable Protestant minimalism, relativism, and the fetish for uncertainty. He resides, after all, in the ‘much different position’ of the 21st century. He knows better than those old fuddy-duds 1500 years ago. What do they know, anyway?…Why are we having this discussion at all, then, if it doesn’t matter a hill of beans what the fathers en masse thought?

What Dave claims I “now” believe is what I had been saying for years, long before I wrote my article in 2008.

That comes as no surprise. But my “now” was primarily intended in a rhetorical / logical sense, not a chronological one, anyway. But in a larger sense it is part of Jason’s overall approach (which is not without self-contradiction, which I was partially alluding to there): what I call the “slippery fish” or “floating ducks at the carnival sideshow” approach. Protestants of a certain type (nebulous evangelicals, primarily: I still have no idea even what denomination Jason attends; perhaps he will be so kind as to inform me) reserve the right to criticize Catholicism endlessly; yet if we dare to dispute their arguments and ask if they have anything superior to offer, it’s often the moving or unknown target runaround. Or there is the retreat into obfuscation: Jason’s own specialty.

First, we hear from these circles that the fathers believe in sola Scriptura, period (I will have more on this below). Then we are blessed with a more clever, subtle argument: that they didn’t believe in sola Scriptura per se, but that, nevertheless, what they did believe (whatever it was, in many variations), is definitely closer to Protestantism than to Catholicism. This has been Jason’s general approach through the years, as I understand it. Now we enter into a third phase, so to speak: the fathers didn’t always believe in sola Scriptura, but it doesn’t matter, because times were different, then, and different times demand a changing rule of faith. The moving target . . .

And I didn’t say or suggest that “it doesn’t matter a hill of beans what the fathers en masse thought”.

Mostly what matters to Jason is how he can poke holes in what he (sometimes falsely) believes to be Catholic belief.

Anybody who has read much of what I’ve written regarding the church fathers and other sources of the patristic era ought to know that I don’t suggest that they’re “old fuddy-duds” whose beliefs “don’t matter a hill of beans”.

He picks and chooses what he thinks will hurt the Catholic historical case. Jason’s method is nothing if it is not that. But he’s highly selective and the “grid” that he tries to fit all of this data into is incoherent and changes to suit his polemical needs at any given moment.

My point with regard to Papias, which I’ve explained often, is that God provides His people with different modes of revelation at different times in history, and there are transitional phases between such periods. For example, Adam and Eve had a form of direct communication with God that most people in human history haven’t had. When Jesus walked the earth, people would receive ongoing revelation from Him, and could ask Him questions, for example, in a manner not available to people who lived in earlier or later generations. When Joseph and Mary could speak with Jesus during His childhood and early adulthood, but the authority structure of the New Testament church didn’t yet exist, a Catholic wouldn’t expect Joseph and Mary to follow the same rule of faith they had followed prior to Jesus’ incarnation or would be expected to follow after the establishment of the Catholic hierarchy.

Catholics agree with many, if not all of these points. But how Jason goes on to apply this in his analysis will eventually involve a self-contradiction that isn’t present in the Catholic view of history and development of doctrine.

Catholicism doesn’t claim to have preserved every word Jesus spoke or everything said by every apostle. A person living in the early second century, for example, could remember what he had heard the apostle John teach about eschatology and follow that teaching, even if it wasn’t recorded in scripture or taught by means of papal infallibility, an ecumenical council, or some other such entity the average modern Catholic would look to.

Of course. Both sides agree on that.

Because of the nature of historical revelation in Christianity (and in Judaism), there isn’t any one rule of faith that’s followed throughout history. And different individuals and groups will transition from one rule of faith to another at different times and in different ways.

This is where the differences emerge. Catholics believe there was one rule of faith that consistently developed. It is what we call the “three-legged stool”: Scripture-Church-Tradition (as passed down by apostolic succession). There is a great deal of development that takes place over time: especially when we are looking at the earliest fathers (Papias lived from c. 60 to 130, so he was actually in the apostolic period for a good half of his life). But the rule of faith did not change into anything substantially or essentially different.

Papias had the Scripture of the Old Testament and he even had much of the New Testament even at that early stage, as the Gospels and Paul’s letters were widely accepted as canonical, very early on. Therefore, Papias could indeed have lived by sola Scriptura as the rule of faith. There is no compelling reason to think that he could not have done so, simply due to his living in a very early period of Christian history.

The position that Jason is staking out: that Papias wouldn’t have lived by sola Scriptura, and indeed, that he didn’t have to, for the Protestant historical position to make sense, entails not a consistent development, but an essential break: there was one rule of faith in the earliest periods, and then suddenly, with the fully developed canon of Scripture, another one henceforth.

Needless to say, this is merely yet another arbitrary Protestant tradition: a tradition of men: just as sola Scriptura itself is. There is nothing in the Bible itself about such a supposed sea change. The Bible teaches neither sola Scriptura, nor this view of tradition at first, and then sola Scriptura after the Bible. But these are cherished Protestant myths, despite being absent altogether in Holy Scripture.

These complexities can be made to seem less significant by making vague references to “oral tradition” or “the word of God”, for example, but the fact remains that what such terms are describing changes to a large extent over time and from one individual or group to another.

There are complexities in individuals and exceptions to the rule (of faith), but there is also a broad consensus to be observed and traced through history, as we see with all true doctrines. Jason wants to assert both a radical change and the absence of a consensus. At the same time he denies the interconnectedness of all these related concepts having to do with authority, as I have noted in my previous critique.

In any event, he dissents from some of the allegedly best lights in Protestant research about the rule of faith in the fathers; for example, the trilogy of books about sola Scriptura by David T. King and William Webster (Vol. I (King) / Vol. II (Webster) / Vol. III (King and Webster), where it is stated:

The patristic evidence for sola Scriptura is, we believe, an overwhelming indictment against the claims of the Roman communion.
(Vol. I, 266)

Such statements manifest an ignorance of the patristic and medieval perspective on the authority of Scripture. Scripture alone as the infallible rule for the ongoing life and faith of the Church was the universal belief and practice of the Church of the patristic and medieval ages. (Vol. II, 84-85)

When they [the Church Fathers] are allowed to speak for themselves it becomes clear that they universally taught sola Scriptura in the fullest sense of the term embracing both the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture. (Vol. III, 9)

Sales pitches for the trilogy on a major Reformed booksite (Monergism Books) echo these historically absurd assertions:

It reveals that the leading Church fathers’ view of the authority and finality of the written Word of God was as lofty as that of any Protestant Reformer. In effect, Webster and King have demonstrated that sola Scriptura was the rule of faith in the early church.

–Dr. John MacArthur, Pastor/Teacher of Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA

William Webster and David King have hit the bull’s eye repeatedly and with great force in their treatment of sola Scriptura. The exegetical material sets forth a formidable biblical foundation for this claim of exclusivity and the historical argument illustrates how the early church believed it and traces the circuitous path by which Roman Catholicism came to place tradition alongside Scripture as a source, or deposit, of authoritative revelation.

–Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

(on the book page for Vol. I)

[Description]: In this Volume, William Webster addresses the common historical arguments against sola Scriptura, demonstrating that the principle is, in fact, eminently historical, finding support in ‘the unanimous consent of the fathers.’

The authors show, with painstaking thoroughness, that sola Scriptura is the teaching of the Bible itself and was central in the belief and practice of the early church, as exemplified in history and the writings of the Fathers.

–Edward Donnelly, Minister of Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church, Newtownabbey, and Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological College, Belfast, Northern Ireland

King and Webster have utterly destroyed that position by showing that the consent of the fathers teaches the doctrine of sola Scriptura.

–Jay Adams, co-pastor of The Harrison Bridge Road A.R.P. Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina, founder of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation of Laverock, Pennsylvania

In painstaking detail, Webster and King systematically dismantle the unbiblical and ahistorical assertions made by modern Roman Catholic apologists who all too often rely on eisegetical interpretations of the Bible and ‘cut and paste’ patrology.

–Eric Svendsen, Professor of Biblical Studies at Columbia Evangelical Seminary

[The Forewords of this volume (II) and Vol. I were written by James White]

(on the book page for Vol. II)

[Description]: The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the principle is illegitimate because, she claims, it is unhistorical. By this she means that sola Scriptura is a theological novelty in that it supposedly has no support in the teaching of the early Church. Roman apologists charge that the teaching on Scripture promoted by the Reformers introduced a false dichotomy between the Church and Scripture which elevated Scripture to a place of authority unheard of in the early Church. The Church of Rome insists that the early Church fathers, while fully endorsing the full inspiration of the Old and New Testaments, did not believe in sola Scriptura. . . .

The documentation provided reveals in the clearest possible terms the Church fathers’ belief in the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture. By material sufficiency we mean that all that is necessary to be believed for faith and morals is revealed in Scripture. Formal sufficiency means that all that is necessary for faith and morals is clearly revealed in Scripture, so that an individual, by the enablement of the Holy Spirit alone, can understand the essentials of salvation and the Christian life. Page after page gives eloquent testimony to the supreme authority that Scripture held in the life of the early Church and serves as a much needed corrective to Rome’s misrepresentation of the Church fathers and her denigration of the sufficiency and final authority of Scripture.

(for the book page of Vol. III)

This is the standard anti-Catholic-type boilerplate rhetoric about sola Scriptura and the fathers. At least it is consistent (consistently wrong). But Jason dissents from his colleagues and wants to play the game of having a relativistic rule of faith: not in play from the beginning of Christianity, but only set in motion later. This allows him to play the further game of denying that Papias’ views are consistent with Catholic dogma and our rule of faith, while not having any responsibility of showing that it is consistent with a Protestant view.

He always has that “out” (which is rather standard Protestant anti-Catholic apologetics): “but that ain’t me / us.” It’s like a wax nose that can be molded to any whim or desire. Papias ain’t Protestant but (and here is the important part) he certainly ain’t Catholic (!!!) — so sez Jason Engwer. Yet I have shown (and will continue to demonstrate) that his views are perfectly consistent with the Catholic rule of faith, taking into account that he is very early in history, so that we don’t see full-fledged Catholicism. We see a primitive Catholic rule of faith: precisely as we would and should suspect.

Jason thinks he contradicts our view because (as I discussed in my Introduction to the previous four-part series) he expects to see the Catholic rule of faith explicitly in place in the first and second century: whereas our view of development, by definition, does not entail, let alone require this. Thus, he imposes a Protestant conception of “fully-formed from the outset” that he doesn’t even accept himself, onto the Catholic claim.

I could agree with the vague assertion that we’re to always follow “the word of God” as our rule of faith, for instance, but that meant significantly different things for Adam than it did for David, for Mary than it did for Ignatius of Antioch, for Papias than it does for Dave Armstrong, etc.

It depends on what one means by different: different in particulars; different in time-frames (David had no NT or revelation of Jesus); difference in amount of development, etc. What was in common was that all accepted “the word of God” (both written and oral) as normative for the Christian faith, but not in the sense of sola Scriptura.

To accuse me of “relativism”, “minimalism”, and such, because I’ve made distinctions like the ones outlined above, is unreasonable and highly misleading. The average reader of Dave’s blog probably doesn’t know much about me, and using terms like “relativism”, “minimalism”, and “fetish for uncertainty” doesn’t leave people with an accurate impression of what a conservative Evangelical like me believes.

Jason can hem and haw all he likes. The fact remains that he has expressly denied that Papias would have believed in sola Scriptura. But the standard anti-Catholic historical argumentation is what I have documented: “Scripture alone as the infallible rule for the ongoing life and faith of the Church was the universal belief and practice of the Church of the patristic and medieval ages” (William Webster); they universally taught sola Scriptura . . . embracing . . . formal sufficiency of Scripture” (David T. King and William Webster)So which will it be? There are three positions to choose from:

1) Papias was one of the fathers who “universally” held to sola Scriptura.

2) Papias didn’t hold to sola Scriptura, but also didn’t espouse a rule of faith consistent with Catholicism.

3) Papias didn’t embrace sola Scriptura, and his rule of faith was consistent with Catholicism.

#1 is the standard boilerplate anti-Catholic Protestant position, as I have shown above. #2 is Jason’s pick-and-choose “cafeteria patristic” view, that contradicts #1. #3 is my view and the Catholic view.

In some other comments about Papias, Dave writes:

Jason will have to make his argument from Papias, whatever it is. J. N. D. Kelly says little about him, but what he does mention is no indication of sola Scriptura…When we go to Eusebius (III, 39) to see what exactly Papias stated, we find an explicit espousal of apostolic succession and authoritative tradition. He even contrasts oral tradition to written (as superior): ‘I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice’ (III, 39, 4).

I didn’t cite Papias as an advocate of sola scriptura.

Exactly. From what we can tell, James White wouldn’t say that. Webster and King and Svendsen and John MacArthur wouldn’t. Why is it, then, that they aren’t out there correcting Jason? He disagrees with them (Papias doesn’t teach sola Scriptura) just as much as he does with me (Papias doesn’t hold to a primitive version of the historic Catholic rule of faith; he contradicts that). He’s betwixt and between. He needs to go back to King’s and White’s and Webster’s books to get up to speed and get his evangelical anti-Catholic act together.

I didn’t cite Papias as an advocate of sola scriptura. And we have much more information on Papias than what Eusebius provides. See here.

Thanks for the great link.

I referred to Richard Bauckham’s treatment of Papias in Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006). See, particularly, pp. 21-38. Bauckham goes into far more depth than J.N.D. Kelly did in the work Dave is citing.

Cool. And what position did he take, choosing from #1, #2, and #3 above? I was able to read pp. 21-38 on Amazon, and discovered that Bauckham tries to make a big deal of the distinction between oral history and oral tradition, with the former directly relying on eyewitness accounts (of the sort that Papias tried to collect). Bauckham’s stance, then, is a subtler version of #2. He seems to be trying (by repeated, almost mantra-like emphasis) to undermine a Catholic notion of oral tradition without saying so in so many words.

But he doesn’t prove at all that Papias’ approach is inconsistent with the Catholic three-legged stool rule of faith. Of course we would expect Papias to seek eyewitness accounts, since he lived so early. How in the world that is construed as somehow contrary to Catholic tradition is, I confess, beyond me. The following distinctions must be made and understood:

View of Tradition I:

I. 1) Legitimate tradition relies on eyewitness testimony only.

I. 2) Once the eyewitnesses die, then there is no longer true [binding] tradition to speak of.

View of Tradition II:

II. 1) Legitimate tradition relies primarily on eyewitness testimony where it is available.

II. 2) Legitimate tradition after eyewitness testimony is no longer available continues to be valid by means of [Holy Spirit-guided] unbroken [apostolic] succession, so that the truths originated by eyewitnesses continue on through history.

Jason and Bauckham appear to be asserting I. 1. But I. 2 does not necessarily follow from what we know of Papias’ views. We know that he collected eyewitness testimony. We don’t know that he would say that was the only tradition that was legitimate. In other words, it is the claim of exclusivity that involves the prior assumption brought to the facts. The Catholic view is Tradition II, which is perfectly consistent with what we know of Papias, or at the very least not ruled out by what we know of him.

The biggest problem with Tradition I is that it is not biblical. It contradicts what the Bible teaches. St. Paul, after all, was not an eyewitness of the life of Jesus (though he did have a post-Resurrection encounter with him that remains possible to this day). Yet he feels that he can authoritatively pass on Christian apostolic traditions (1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6, 14). Thus, whoever learned Christian truths from St. Paul did not receive them from an eyewitness. Paul had to talk to someone like Peter to get firsthand accounts (or Bauckham’s “oral history”).

He was passing on what he himself had “received” from yet another source (1 Cor 11:23; 15:3; Phil 4:9; 1 Thess 2:13). He even specifically instructs Timothy to pass on his (oral) traditions to “faithful men,” who in turn can pass them on to others (2 Tim 2:2). So just from this verse we see four generations of a passed-on tradition (Paul: the second generation, Timothy, and those whom Timothy teaches). This tradition is not even necessarily written by Paul or anyone else (Rom 10:8; Eph 1:13; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:15; 2 Tim 1:13-14; cf. Heb 13:7; 1 Pet 1:25). There is no indication that the chain is supposed to end somewhere down the line.

Secondly, even Papias, according to Eusebius, didn’t claim to talk to the apostles, but only to their friends:

2. But Papias himself in the preface to his discourses by no means declares that he was himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles, but he shows by the words which he uses that he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their friends.

7. And Papias, of whom we are now speaking, confesses that he received the words of the apostles from those that followed them, . . . (Ecclesiastical History, III, 39, 4)

That makes Papias a third-hand witness; not even second-hand (someone who talked to apostles).

Contrary to what Dave claims, there is no “explicit espousal of apostolic succession” in Papias. And the “living and abiding voice” Papias refers to is a reference to proximate and early testimony that was soon going to die out.

This doesn’t rule out apostolic succession; to the contrary, it is a perfect example of it. He talked to people who knew the apostles. His testimony was third-hand. He “received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their [the apostles’] friends.” What is that if not succession? It is more or less independent of Scripture. Papias’ rule of faith was:

Apostles and apostolic doctrine —> friends of the apostles —> Papias

But the Protestant methodology and rule of faith is:

Apostles and apostolic doctrine —> Scripture —> Papias and everyone else

The theme Papias is referring to is taken from, among other sources, the historiography of his day. As Bauckham notes, Jerome’s rendering of the passage in Papias indicates that he understood Papias as Bauckham does (pp. 27-28).

He says that Jerome understood Papias as referring to access to living witnesses as his preferred mode of collecting information. But as I have already shown, I think, this in no way is inconsistent with Catholic tradition. It’s plain common sense. What Jason doesn’t mention, however, is Bauckham’s observation right after citing Jerome, translating Papias:

Jerome here seems to take Papias to mean that he preferred the oral communication of eyewitnesses to the written records of their testimony in the Gospels. (p. 28)

And that sounds distinctly unProtestant and contrary to sola Scriptura, doesn’t it? If we’re gonna mention one aspect of St. Jerome’s thought (even if it is falsely thought to bolster some anti-Catholic line of reasoning), why not the other also, even if it doesn’t fit in with the game plan? Get the whole picture, in other words.

Here are some of Bauckham’s comments on the subject:

Against a historiographic background, what Papias thinks preferable to books is not oral tradition as such but access, while they are still alive, to those who were direct participants in the historical events – in this case ‘the disciples of the Lord.’ He is portraying his inquiries on the model of those made by historians, appealing to historiographic ‘best practice’ (even if many historians actually made much more use of written sources than their theory professed)….What is most important for our purposes is that, when Papias speaks of ‘a living and abiding voice,’ he is not speaking metaphorically of the ‘voice’ of oral tradition, as many scholars have supposed. He speaks quite literally of the voice of an informant – someone who has personal memories of the words and deeds of Jesus and is still alive….Papias was clearly not interested in tapping the collective memory as such. He did not think, apparently, of recording the Gospel traditions as they were recited regularly in his own church community. Even in Hierapolis it was on his personal contact with the daughters of Philip that he set store. What mattered to Papias, as a collector and would-be recorder of Gospel traditions, was that there were eyewitnesses, some still around, and access to them through brief and verifiable channels of named informants. (pp. 24, 27, 34)

Again, the trouble with this is that Eusebius specifically says (twice) that Papias only knew friends of the apostles: not they themselves. So one of is key premises is unfactual. And then we have Paul espousing authoritative fourth-hand tradition in Scripture. In any event, Bauckham appears to contradict himself:

Bauckham I: “what Papias thinks preferable to books is not oral tradition as such but access, while they are still alive, to those who were direct participants in the historical events – in this case ‘the disciples of the Lord.’ . . . when Papias speaks of ‘a living and abiding voice,’ he . . . speaks quite literally of the voice of an informant – someone who has personal memories of the words and deeds of Jesus and is still alive . . . ”

Bauckham II: “Even in Hierapolis it was on his personal contact with the daughters of Philip that he set store. What mattered to Papias, as a collector and would-be recorder of Gospel traditions, was that there were eyewitnesses, some still around, and access to them through brief and verifiable channels of named informants.”

Which is it?: Eyewitnesses or those who knew eyewitnesses? Once one starts going down the chain to third-hand, fourth-hand or later generations of witnesses, one is squarely within oral tradition. It’s something other than eyewitness testimony. Protestants have been rejecting, for example, St. Ignatius, as too “Catholic” (therefore corrupt), for centuries. They thought the books with his name weren’t even authentic for a long time, till they were indisputably proved to be so. Now they are authentic, but still disliked by Protestants because they are already thoroughly Catholic.

In other words, the traditions that he teaches are rejected, no matter how proximate they are to the apostles. St. Ignatius (c. 35 – c. 110) was born a generation earlier than Papias. He may possibly have known St. John, or known of him through St. Polycarp (c. 69 – c. 155). But does that impress Protestants? No; not if they are intent on rejecting any doctrine that has the slightest “Catholic” flavor in it. Anti-Catholicism is the driving force: not some great goal of getting close to apostles via those who talked to them or to those who knew them.

Bauckham goes into much more detail than what I’ve quoted above. He gives examples of Polybius, Josephus, Galen, and other sources using terminology and arguments similar to those of Papias. He emphasizes that Papias is appealing to something more evidentially valuable than, and distinct from, “cross-generational” tradition (p. 37).

It is more valuable, in evidential or strictly historiographical terms. But this is no argument against Catholic tradition. It simply notes one special, early form of apostolic tradition.

As he notes, the sources Papias was referring to were dying out and only available for a “brief” time. The historiography of Papias’ day, from which he was drawing, was interested in early oral tradition, the sort we would call the testimony of eyewitnesses and contemporaries, not an oral tradition three hundred, a thousand, or two thousand years later. He got it from individuals and his own interpretation of their testimony, not mediated through an infallible church hierarchy centered in Rome. It wasn’t the sort of oral tradition Roman Catholicism appeals to.

Sure it was. This is apostolic tradition. Much ado about nothing . . . Jason will try to kill it off by his “death by a thousand qualifications” methodology, but it won’t fly. Nothing here (in the case of Papias) causes our view any problems whatsoever. The only problems are whether (in the Protestant paradigms) one wants to claim Papias as one of the fathers who supposedly “universally” believed in sola Scriptura, or to deny that he did so, as Jason does. The contradiction arises in Protestant ranks, not between Papias and Catholic tradition.

Modern Catholics aren’t hearing or interviewing the apostle John, Aristion, or the daughters of Philip and expecting such testimony to soon die out.

Thanks for that valuable information.

That’s not their notion of oral tradition.

It’s perfectly consistent with our notion, and we continue to think oral tradition is authoritative, whereas Protestants have ditched it: in direct contrast to what the fathers thought about such things.

And it won’t be sufficient for Dave to say that he doesn’t object to that other type of oral tradition that we find in Papias.

It will do just fine!

He’s accused me of “relativism” for making such distinctions.

No. Jason was accused of that because he arbitrarily decides that sola Scriptura kicks in later on and not from the first (itself a wacky Protestant tradition, and not biblical at all). He has a “jerky,” inconsistent view of Church history. But the Catholic view is a smooth line of development.

(It’s not as though Papias would disregard what he learned about a teaching of Jesus or the apostle John, for example, until it was promulgated in the form of something like papal infallibility or an ecumenical council.

Exactly. More truisms . . .

Rather, the oral tradition Papias appeals to makes him the sort of transitional figure I referred to above. He didn’t follow sola scriptura, but he didn’t follow the Catholic rule of faith either.)

He followed the latter in a primitive form. What he believed is no different in essence from what Catholics have believed all along, and from what I believe myself, as an orthodox Catholic. But it’s sure different from what Protestants and Jason believe. Even he concedes that, and is half-right, at least.

And Dave’s appeal to “oral tradition” in a dispute with an Evangelical is most naturally taken to refer to the common Catholic concept of oral tradition, not the form of it described by Bauckham.

Which is a species of ours . . .


If Dave agreed all along that Papias’ oral tradition was of the sort Bauckham describes, then why did he even bring up the subject?

My goal was to show that Papias is not a counter-example to Catholic tradition. I think I have succeeded in showing that, if I do say so.

It’s at least misleading to refer to Papias’ view as “oral tradition” in such an unqualified way in a dispute with an Evangelical.

One doesn’t have to go through every fine point and distinction at any given time. There is an oral element here that is different from sola Scriptura. The Jason method won’t work (i.e., note any distinction or exception whatever to be found, and then thrown that in the Catholic’s face as a supposed disproof). It hasn’t worked in the past, and it is failing again now.

How many of Papias’ oral traditions, such as his premillennialism, does Dave agree with?

I don’t believe in that (used to), but the Catholic Church has not proclaimed many eschatological beliefs as dogma. Our position is not to uncritically accept any given father’s view on anything, but to look at the consensus.

In response to my citation of Bauckham in my article in 2008, Dave wrote:

I’m not gonna go read all that. I’ve spent enough time on this as it is. Whatever Jason’s argument is involving Papias, can be presented anew, if he thinks it is worthwhile to consider.

The point being that if Jason wants to drop scholars’ names, then he can at least cite some of it rather than making his readers go look up everything. He didn’t even link to the Amazon book, where, fortunately, I could read the section he referenced. He cites it now; but that bolsters my point. He could have done that before, rather than just dropping names.

Yet, in his articles responding to me he frequently links us to other articles he’s written, without “presenting anew” what he said previously.

I didn’t know it was too hard for Jason to click on a mouse (take all of a third of a second to do that “work”) or to do a simple word search within articles. I am providing instant access to support for some point I am making if I cite past articles and link to them.

[Part II]

Catholics believe there was one rule of faith that consistently developed. It is what we call the ‘three-legged stool’: Scripture-Church-Tradition (as passed down by apostolic succession).

When Papias spoke with the daughters of Philip (Eusebius, Church History, 3:39), for example, were they giving him information by means of “apostolic succession”?

I would think that was a manifestation of it, yes: transmission of firsthand apostolic information through another party (in this case, daughters of an apostle).

Dave hasn’t given us any reason to think that Papias attained his oral tradition by that means.

What means? If he was talking to Philip’s daughters, that was part of the tradition. What else would it be? Homer’s Odyssey? Betting on chariot races? It’s primitive Christian apostolic tradition being passed down: “delivered” and “received,” just as St. Paul uses those terms. Jason can’t get out of the obvious fact by nitpicking and doing the “death by a thousand qualifications” game that he has honed to a fine art.

To the contrary, as Richard Bauckham documents in his book I cited earlier, Papias refers to the sort of investigation of early sources that was common in the historiography of his day, and we don’t assume the involvement of apostolic succession when other ancient sources appeal to that concept.

The two are not mutually exclusive at all. Now, routine historiographical investigation (because of historical proximity to the apostles), is pit against tradition, as if one rules out the other. The NT is good history; it is also good tradition. The twain shall meet: believe it or not.

Why should we even think that what Papias was addressing was a rule of faith?

He demonstrated the rule of faith in how he approached all these matters. This is how he lived his Christianity: his standard of authority. That’s the rule of faith. Nothing about Scripture Alone here: even Jason admits that, because he accepts a “herky-jerky” notion of the rule of faith being one thing early on and then magically transforming into something else later on. That’s not development; it is reversal: the very opposite of development.

When he attained information about a resurrection or some other miracle that occurred, for example, why should we conclude that such oral tradition became part of Papias’ rule of faith once he attained it?

Why should any Christian believe anything that he hears (from the Bible or whatever)? Why should Papias believe Philip’s daughters or other close associates of the apostles? Why should Jason question everything to death? Why can’t he simply accept these things in faith? Why does he have to play around with every father he can find, to somehow make them out to be hostile to Catholicism (if not quite amenable to Protestantism)? Why can’t he see the forest for the trees?

Why does he keep arguing about Papias, when even he admits that he didn’t abide by sola Scriptura? Why doesn’t he then explain why the rule of faith supposedly changed? Why doesn’t he show us from Scripture that it was to change later on? If he can’t do that, then why does he believe it? Would it not, then, be a mere tradition of men? If Protestants can arbitrarily believe in extrabiblical traditions of men, then why do they give Catholics a hard time for believing traditions that are documented in the Bible itself?

See, I can play Jason’s “ask 1000 questions routine: to muddy the whole thing up beyond all hope of resolution” game. I came up with twelve rapid-fire questions. I’m proud of myself! It’s kind o’ fun, actually, but you do have to type quite a bit and strain your brain to come up with a new hundred questions for any given topic at hand, so that nothing can ever be concluded, as to any given Church father believing anything. Of course I rhetorically exaggerate, but I trust that those who have been following this, get my drift.

Cardinal Newman himself describes Jason’s overly skeptical methodology, hitting the nail on the head:

It seems to me to take the true and the normal way of meeting the infidelity of the age, by referring to Our Lord’s Person and Character as exhibited in the Gospels. Philip said to Nathanael “Come and see”—that is just what the present free thinkers will not allow men to do. They perplex and bewilder them with previous questions, to hinder them falling under the legitimate rhetoric of His Divine Life, of His sacred words and acts. They say: “There is no truth because there are so many opinions,” or “How do you know that the Gospels are authentic?” “How do you account for Papias not mentioning the fourth Gospel?” or “How can you believe that punishment is eternal?” or, “Why is there no stronger proof of the Resurrection?” With this multitude of questions in detail, they block the way between the soul and its Saviour, and will not let it “Come and see.” (Letter of 11 January 1873, in Wilfred Ward’s The Life of John Henry Cardinal Newman, Vol. II, chapter 31, p. 393)

I’m not saying Jason is skeptical of Jesus. It’s an analogical point. He applies the same method that the skeptics Newman describes, use: only applied to patristic questions.

Some of his oral traditions would be part of his rule of faith, but not all of them.

Probably so (but this is self-evident). I didn’t see anyone (let alone myself) making a literal list of what is and what isn’t.

Dave is appealing to what Papias said about oral tradition in general, but Catholicism doesn’t teach that all oral tradition within Papias’ historiographic framework is part of the rule of faith.

Correct. All we’re saying is that his methodology does not fit into the Protestant rule of faith. Why is this still being discussed when Jason has already conceded that, and has moved on to another tack in trying to account for that fact?

When Papias uses the historiographic language of his day to refer to oral tradition, including traditions that wouldn’t be part of a Christian rule of faith and premillennial traditions, for example, it’s misleading for Dave to cite Papias’ comments as a reference to his rule of faith and claim that he agreed with Catholicism.

At this early stage, there will be anomalies and vague things. Newman’s theory incorporates those elements within itself. Hence he writes in his Essay on Development of the “Fifth Note of a True Development—Anticipation of Its Future”:

It has been set down above as a fifth argument in favour of the fidelity of developments, ethical or political, if the doctrine from which they have proceeded has, in any early stage of its history, given indications of those opinions and practices in which it has ended. Supposing then the so-called Catholic doctrines and practices are true and legitimate developments, and not corruptions, we may expect from the force of logic to find instances of them in the first centuries. And this I conceive to be the case: the records indeed of those times are scanty, and we have little means of determining what daily Christian life then was: we know little of the thoughts, and the prayers, and the meditations, and the discourses of the early disciples of Christ, at a time when these professed developments were not recognized and duly located in the theological system; yet it appears, even from what remains, that the atmosphere of the Church was, as it were, charged with them from the first, and delivered itself of them from time to time, in this way or that, in various places and persons, as occasion elicited them, testifying the presence of a vast body of thought within it, which one day would take shape and position.

We find exactly this sort of thing in Papias. His view is consistent with a Catholic one, that would be far more developed as time proceeded; but not consistent with the Protestant sola Scriptura.

Therefore, Papias could indeed have lived by sola Scriptura as the rule of faith. There is no compelling reason to think that he could not have done so, simply due to his living in a very early period of Christian history.

The question is whether he should have, and I’m not aware of any reason why an adherent of sola scriptura ought to think so.

How about the existence of the Old Testament? Or is that no longer considered Scripture by Protestants these days, or adherents of sola Scriptura. We’ll have to start calling it sola NT, huh? How about the Gospels and most of Paul’s letters, which were accepted as canonical very early: well within Papias’ lifetime?

Papias was at least a contemporary of the apostles, and, as I’ll discuss in more depth below, most likely was a disciple of one of the apostles as well.

That’s not what Eusebius stated. But even if he was, no problem whatever, because I showed (following Eusebius’ account) how he also accepted tradition from secondhand witnesses, and that St. Paul refers to fourth-hand reception of apostolic tradition. But of course, that is a part of my paper that Jason conveniently overlooked, per his standard modus operandi of high (and very careful) selectivity in response. We mustn’t get too biblical in our analyses, after all. You, the reader, don’t have to ignore the Bible, and can incorporate actual relevant biblical data into your informed opinion.

But Jason dissents from his colleagues and wants to play the game of having a relativistic rule of faith: not in play from the beginning of Christianity, but only set in motion later. This allows him to play the further game of denying that Papias’ views are consistent with Catholic dogma and our rule of faith, while not having any responsibility of showing that it is consistent with a Protestant view.

Dave keeps accusing me of “playing games”, being “relativistic”, etc. without justifying those charges.

Right. I gave an elaborate argument, point-by-point, just as I am doing now.

The fact that my view allows me to point to inconsistencies between Papias and Catholicism without having to argue that Papias adhered to sola scriptura doesn’t prove that my view is wrong.

That’s right, but Jason has failed in his attempt to prove that anything in Papias is fundamentally at odds with the Catholic view on the rule of faith. Where has he done this? It just isn’t there. I haven’t seen it. Maybe Jason will travel to Israel and find a new stone tablet that seals his case: primary evidence. Anything is possible. I’d urge him to keep optimistic and not to despair: something, somewhere may prove his anti-Catholic case vis-a-vis Papias once and for all. I won’t hold my breath waiting for it, though . . .

I’ve given examples of other transitional phases in history, during which the rule of faith changed for individuals or groups. Dave said that he agreed with “many, if not all of these points”, but then accused me of “relativism” and such when I applied the same sort of reasoning to Papias. Why?

I don’t know. I’d have to go back and see what I said, in context. I’m too lazy to do that (doin’ enough work as it is). But I know that I already adequately explained it, so I recommend that he go read it again (so that he doesn’t need to ask me what I meant).

What was in common was that all accepted ‘the word of God’ (both written and oral) as normative for the Christian faith, but not in the sense of sola Scriptura.

To say that everybody from Adam to Mary to Papias to Dave Armstrong followed the same rule of faith, defined vaguely as “the word of God”, is to appeal to something different than the “Scripture-Church-Tradition (as passed down by apostolic succession)” that Dave referenced earlier.

Here we go with the word games . . . As Ronald Reagan famously said to Jimmy Carter, “there you go again . . .” I was referring, of course, to the Christian era, not Adam and Eve, etc.

Adam and Eve didn’t have scripture or a magisterium.

Very good observation, Jason! But who needs apostles or Scripture, anyway, when you’re able to talk directly to God?

Even under Dave’s view, a change eventually occurred in which the word of God was communicated by a means not previously used. The sort of direct communication God had with Adam isn’t part of the average Catholic’s rule of faith today.

Exactly. What this has to do with anything is beyond me, I confess.

A Protestant could say that the rule of faith has always been “the word of God”, and thus claim consistency in the same sort of vague manner in which Dave is claiming it.

No, because Protestants tend to collapse “word of God” to Scripture alone, when in fact, in Scripture, it refers, many more times, to oral proclamation. This is the whole point: Scripture all over the place refers to an authoritative tradition and an authoritative Church. Scripture doesn’t teach that it alone is the infallible authority. Sola Scriptura ain’t biblical.

He seems to be trying (by repeated, almost mantra-like emphasis) to undermine a Catholic notion of oral tradition without saying so in so many words.

I don’t know how familiar Dave is with Richard Bauckham and his work. Bauckham isn’t interacting with Catholicism in the passage of his book that I cited. As far as I recall, he never even mentions Catholicism anywhere in the book, at least not in any significant way. Bauckham is a New Testament scholar interacting primarily with other New Testament scholars and scholars of other relevant fields.

Great. I interacted with his arguments, and saw some inconsistencies in them. Implicitly he is opposing, in a way, those Christian traditions that stress tradition, in his pitting of oral history against oral tradition, as I already noted. I say it is “both/and” — not “either/or.”

How in the world that is construed as somehow contrary to Catholic tradition is, I confess, beyond me.

Papias’ position wouldn’t have to be contrary to the Catholic position in order to be different than it. If Papias can take a transitional role under the Catholic view, in which he attains his rule of faith partly by means of the historical investigation he describes, then why can’t he take a transitional role under a Protestant view?

His position shows no semblance of a Protestant view in the first place, but it is not at all contrary, or even different from the Catholic view. It’s simply a primitive Catholic rule of faith: exhibiting exactly what we would expect to see under the assumption of Newmanian, Vincentian development.

We know that he collected eyewitness testimony. We don’t know that he would say that was the only tradition that was legitimate.

I didn’t claim that we know the latter. Remember, Dave is the one who claims that Papias was a Catholic, cited him in support of “oral tradition” (in a dispute with an Evangelical and without further qualification), etc.

Until we see anything that suggests otherwise, which we haven’t, that is a perfectly solid position to take.

His testimony was third-hand. He ‘he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their [the apostles’] friends.’ What is that if not succession?

Why should we define apostolic succession so vaguely as to include “the apostles’ friends”? In the same passage of Eusebius Dave is citing, Papias is quoted referring to these people as “followers” of the apostles. Many people, including individuals outside of a church hierarchy, can be considered friends or followers of the apostles. And, as I said above, the historiographic concept Papias is appealing to doesn’t limit itself to apostolic successors or an equivalent category in its normal usage. Why think, then, that the concept has such a meaning when Papias uses it?

How is what he did contrary to apostolic succession? It isn’t at all. Papias was a bishop, who received Christian tradition from friends or relatives of the apostles. This ain’t rocket science. There is nothing complicated about it: much as Jason wants to obfuscate.

Dave originally claimed that “we find an explicit espousal of apostolic succession” in Papias. He still hasn’t documented that assertion.

Of course I have. This is another annoying constant in debates with anti-Catholics: one is forced to simply repeat things three, four, five times or more, because the anti-Catholic seems unable to process them, even after five times. It’s as if one is writing to the wind. Three strikes and you’re out.

Again, the trouble with this is that Eusebius specifically says (twice) that Papias only knew friends of the apostles: not they themselves. So one of [Bauckham’s] key premises is unfactual.

Dave makes that point repeatedly in his article. But Richard Bauckham argues against Eusebius’ position elsewhere in the book I’ve cited. I’ve argued against Eusebius’ conclusion as well. See, for example, here.

Earlier, I cited an online collection of fragments by and about Papias. Eusebius’ dubious argument that Papias wasn’t a disciple of any of the apostles is contradicted by multiple other sources, including Irenaeus more than a century earlier (a man who had met Polycarp, another disciple of John). Some of the sources who commented on Papias when his writings were still extant said that he was even a (or the) secretary who wrote the fourth gospel at John’s dictation. Eusebius wasn’t even consistent with himself on the issue of whether Papias had been taught by John. See the citation from Eusebius’ Chronicon on the web page linked above. The only source I’m aware of who denied Papias’ status as a disciple of the apostles, Eusebius, wasn’t even consistent on the issue. The evidence suggests that Papias was a disciple of the apostle John.

Fair enough. But if we grant this, of course it has no effect on my position: that his views are consistent with the Catholic rule of faith. Either way, it works the same: if he knew the apostles, it was apostolic succession (just more directly). If he didn’t, it was still apostolic succession, since that is an ongoing phenomenon. Moreover, as I reiterated again above, Paul refers to apostolic succession from fourth-hand sources. So it is valid apart from necessarily knowing an apostle personally. And knowing one does not, therefore, rule out apostolic succession. It is completely harmonious with it.

Bauckham appears to contradict himself…Which is it?: Eyewitnesses or those who knew eyewitnesses? Once one starts going down the chain to third-hand, fourth-hand or later generations of witnesses, one is squarely within oral tradition. It’s something other than eyewitness testimony.

No, Bauckham explains, in the section of his book I cited, that though eyewitnesses were the primary source of interest, other early sources were involved as well. Even if you disagree with the historiographic standard in question, the fact remains that Papias was appealing to that standard. It involved witnesses who would quickly die out rather than going into the “fourth-hand or later generations” Dave refers to. Even apart from that ancient historiographic standard, it makes sense to differentiate between a source who’s one step removed and other sources who are five, twenty, or a thousand steps removed.

St. Paul didn’t think so, as I have shown: not in terms of accurate transmission of apostolic tradition.

We don’t place all non-eyewitnesses in the same category without making any distinctions. Why are we today so focused on the writings of men like Tertullian and John Chrysostom rather than modern oral traditions about them?

We go back as far as we can, and we do make judgments as to relative trustworthiness of sources.

In other words, the traditions that he [Ignatius] teaches are rejected, no matter how proximate they are to the apostles.

Like Dave’s rejection of Papias’ premillennial tradition, the soteriological tradition of Hermas (his belief in limited repentance), etc.?

What St. Ignatius taught (real presence, episcopacy, etc.) was universal in the early Church, unlike the two things above. Huge, essential difference, but nice try, Jason. The arguments get increasingly desperate. My friend, Jonathan Prejean, made a great comment today on another blog, that has relevance here:

What I would find far more troubling, were I a Protestant, is the new patristics scholarship of the last 40 years, which convincingly demonstrates that, while giving nominal adherence to the ecumencial creeds, Protestants have done so according to the same defective interpretation as the heretics. The modest claims of papal authority, which in any case are not refuted by what you cited (and I’ve read them), are trivial compared to the fact that the Protestant account of salvation and grace is fundamentally opposed to the Christian account of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. The physical presence (i.e., real presence according to nature) of God in the Church and its necessity for salvation is unanimously agreed by all Catholic and Orthodox Christians, echoing St. Cyril of Alexandria, the great “Seal of the Fathers.” Yet Protestants deny it, making the spiritual resemblance to God merely moral (hence, imputed justification) and not physical.

That’s a Nestorian account of salvation, plain and simple. And the historical evidence about the heterodoxy of Nestorianism has been piling up over the last couple of decades (see, e.g., J.A. McGuckin, Paul Clayton) after some scholarship suggesting that Nestorius might have been orthodox (mostly based on Nestorius’s own erroneous claims; see, e.g., F. Loofs), and therefore, that Calvin’s identical beliefs might have been as well. But that has been crushed even more convincingly than the admittedly excessive claims of some Catholics about papal infallibility, and it is a much more serious error in any case. This is why I stopped even bothering with these debates, at least until I saw David [Waltz] wavering, because Newman’s prophetic words about being “deep in history” were absolutely vindicated by the neo-patristic scholarship. Protestants today have no hope of being orthodox in the historical sense; they have to redefine orthodoxy to be broad enough to include what they believe (see, e.g., D.H. Williams).

St. Ignatius (c. 35 – c. 110) was born a generation earlier than Papias. He may possibly have known St. John, or known of him through St. Polycarp (c. 69 – c. 155). But does that impress Protestants? No; not if they are intent on rejecting any doctrine that has the slightest ‘Catholic’ flavor in it.

Ignatius’ earliness is significant to me. I often cite him and often refer to the significance of his earliness. But I prefer the more accurate interpretation of Ignatius offered by an Ignatian scholar like Allen Brent to the interpretation of somebody like Dave Armstrong.

Great. J. N. D. Kelly (also an Anglican patristics scholar) thought that St. Ignatius “seems to suggest that the Roman church occupies a special position” (Early Christian Doctrines, 1978, 191). Brent writes (cited by Jason in his linked previous paper):

Ignatius doesn’t make any reference to apostolic succession as later defined by men like Irenaeus and Cyprian and by groups like Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

This is exactly what we would expect under a thesis of development. Obviously he wouldn’t write as explicitly about apostolic succession as it was “later defined.” This poses no difficulty for us whatever. It is only a difficulty if one (as Jason habitually does) constructs a straw man of what Catholic development in the late first and early second century supposedly was (far more developed than we should reasonably expect).

The primitive state of development that we expect to find in St. Ignatius is reflected in a Brent remark such as “The low Trinitarianism in Ignatius’ letters supports an early date.” He also had a “low ecclesiology” because he was so early. But even Jason agrees (in the same former post) that St. Ignatius already in his time had a rather robust Catholic ecclesiology:

I agree with Brent that Ignatius seems to have been trying to convince other churches to adopt or retain his preferred form of church order, involving a monarchical episcopate, thus explaining why he mentions the subject so much in his letters. However, I suspect that the monarchical episcopate was already more widespread than Brent suggests. The truth probably is somewhere between Brent’s concept of Ignatius as an innovator and the view that all of the early churches had a monarchical episcopate all along. (Brent prefers not to use the term “monarchical episcopate” when discussing Ignatius’ view, but I’m using it in a broad sense, which I think is more common, to refer to having a single bishop who leads the remainder of the church hierarchy.)

It’s perfectly consistent with our notion, and we continue to think oral tradition is authoritative, whereas Protestants have ditched it: in direct contrast to what the fathers thought about such things.

Catholics “ditched” the approach of Papias long ago. They don’t appeal to an oral tradition attained by means of historical investigation,

It’s tough to meet associates of the apostles these days; sorry, Jason. If he builds me a time machine, I’d be more than happy to go talk to them. Probably couldn’t afford a ticket, though . . .

without the mediation of the Catholic hierarchy acting in its infallible capacity, and they don’t think that their oral tradition is soon going to die out, as Papias’ “living and abiding voice” was about to.

The tradition continues being accurately transmitted after the eyewitnesses die out, as St. Paul believed. That’s sufficient for me. Jason prefers Brent to me; I prefer St. Paul’s opinion on tradition and succession to his.

My goal was to show that Papias is not a counter-example to Catholic tradition.

No, Dave went further than that. He said that we find in Papias “an explicit espousal of apostolic succession and authoritative tradition”. He also refers to the fathers in general as Catholic, which presumably would include Papias.

Yes on both counts, as explained. But the word “explicit” was relative insofar as someone that early can only be so explicit. “Direct” would have been a better term to use in retrospect, because of the meaning of “explicit” in discussions having to do with development of doctrine. I trusted that readers acquainted with the broad parameters of the discussion would understand that, but sure enough, Jason didn’t, and so keeps trying to make hay over this non-issue. No doubt he will classify this very paragraph as special pleading or sophistry, but most readers will understand that it is simply clarification of a phrase used.

I don’t believe in that [premillennialism] (used to), but the Catholic Church has not proclaimed many eschatological beliefs as dogma. Our position is not to uncritically accept any given father’s view on anything, but to look at the consensus.

If Dave doesn’t accept Papias’ premillennial oral traditions, and he’s identifying Papias’ oral traditions as part of the rule of faith followed by Papias, then it follows that Papias’ rule of faith involved a doctrine that Dave rejects.

But since that particular belief isn’t a dogmatic one in the first place, it is quite irrelevant. No Catholic is obliged to believe it, or much of anything else in eschatology, as I understand. No one is saying that any given father is infallible, so if he is wrong on that one item, this causes no problem to our view.

Was premillennialism part of the rule of faith in Papias’ generation, but not today? Did Papias follow a different rule of faith than others in his generation? Would that qualify as “relativism”?

He got some things wrong. So what? One could collect a huge bucket of seaweed and other marine items from the sea and discover that a pearl was also part of the collection. The pearl is “transmitted” along with the rest. Not everything in the bucket is equally valuable. Again, this is no problem for us whatever. The real problem is Protestant rejection of beliefs virtually universally held by the fathers, such as, for example, the real presence or baptismal regeneration.

If Dave wants to argue that he wasn’t referring to Papias’ rule of faith when he made comments about “authoritative tradition” and “oral tradition” in Papias, then what’s the relevance of such fallible tradition that’s outside of a rule of faith? As I said before, that sort of “authoritative tradition” and “oral tradition” isn’t what people normally have in mind when Catholics and Evangelicals are having a discussion like the current one, so Dave’s comments were at least misleading.

Since we don’t hold individual fathers to be infallible, this is much ado about nothing.

And Papias thought he got his premillennialism from the apostles. It was apostolic tradition to him. It’s not to Dave.

The Church in due course makes all sorts of judgments as to what is authentic tradition and what isn’t. Jason knows this, but he mistakenly thinks he has scored some sort of point here, so he runs with that ball.

How does one see a Catholic concept of apostolic succession in a phrase like “the apostles’ friends” or a Catholic concept of oral tradition in a historiographic phrase like “living and abiding voice”? In much the same way one sees everything from papal infallibility to a bodily assumption of Mary in scripture and an acorn of Catholicism in the writings of the church fathers.

I have done my best to explain. I trust that open-minded readers can be persuaded of some things, and that my efforts are not in vain, in that sense.

Jason Engwer has made a third response dealing with Papias: about whom we know very little. He basically rehashes the same old arguments again, thinking that this somehow makes them less weak and ineffectual than they were before.


Photo credit: Mosaic, c. 1000, in St. Sophia of Kyiv. From the left: Epiphanius of Salamis, Clement of Rome, Gregory the Theologian, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker and Archdeacon Stephen. [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


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