Sunday, April 09, 2006

Priests and Levites: Closer to Sola Scriptura or Catholicism? (vs. "CPA"), Part IV

By Dave Armstrong (4-9-06)

(Lutheran) "CPA's" words will be in green. Citations from Protestant reference works will be in purple. John Henry Cardinal Newman's words will be in blue.

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I'm going to stick to the original question about Josiah and Hezekiah, on which I still think you are completely mistaken. The Bible in 2 Kings clearly portrays the role of the king in those reformations as the taker of initiative, and the priest in particular, Hilkiah, as little more than an executor or even a messenger boy, exactly the opposite of what you take it to be. Rereading this text over and over again, I simply cannot see how any one can deny that.

Let’s look at the details:

"Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the Lord in the house of the Lord. And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan and he read it. And Shaphan came to the king, and brought the king word again, and said, [omitting the part about the gathering of money] Hilkiah the priest hath delivered me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king."In this passage it is not even clearly stated that Hilkiah ever even READ the book. He finds it, passes it on to Shaphan, who reads it and reads it before the king.

The king Josiah then tears his robes and then:

"And the king commanded [note the verb] Hilkiah the priest [note the object of the verb], and Ahikam the son of Shaphan [and three other royal officials], saying 'Go ye inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah concerning the words of this book . . .'"

"So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, [and all the rest] went unto Huldah the prophetess . . . and they communed with her. And she said unto them:"

Again Hilkiah is, like the various royal officials, simply a messenger. Huldah is the one speaking God's word. But even there, all she says is, (in paraphrase), yes these disasters are going to happen, because of your idolatry and disobedience, but the Lord looks with favor on you Josiah, and I won’t do it in your time. No instructions at all.


"And the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem, and the king went into the house of the Lord, and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the people both small and great, and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the Lord to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments . . . . And all the people stood to the covenant, and the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest [note the verb again, note the subject, and note the object], and the priests of the second order, and the keepers of the door, to bring forth out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels that were made for Baal" etc.

Now in light of this, can we at least agree that the king could assume on occasion, with the blessing of the Lord, teaching and governing functions, in religious affairs, that overrode all other authorities in the realm, or to put it differently that the Lord worked this reformation through the king, and not through the priest (certainly) or even through the prophetess, except in an ancillary "You go, king!" sort of way? Because if we can't then, on something that seems plain as day to me, then we obviously can't get to any serious agreement on anything else.

And this is important of course, precisely because as Dave pointed out, the kingship didn’t even exist in Moses's time and was at first not part of God’s will - which proves the unpredictability of who has teaching authority in Israel, which was my original point. If we can agree on that, then we can get somewhere.

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. . . that authority which is "diffuse and subject to conflicts" or which is "charismatic," i.e. depending on particular gifts given unpredictably to people without regard to institutions, is not authority in the Newmanian sense.

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You fail to engage the essential point of my post on my blog which I referred to you, which was that many good, approved prophetic figures (Samuel, Elijah, young Solomon, etc.) did precisely what Hezekiah and Josiah felt commanded by the word of God to reject: i.e. offer sacrifice at a place other than Jerusalem. So what we have here is NOT simply a conflict of the obviously godly finally getting up the gumption to do what they should have done from the beginning (which is doctrinally very interesting, albeit edifying), but a real conflict of the Scripture (=Moses), backed by a righteous king, vs. tradition, backed by much authority, located, as 1 Kings 23:8-9 make clear, in the Aaronic priesthood, those with the right to eat of the sacrifice in Jerusalem.

Newman's citations on the Jewish priesthood are very good and at first sight impressive. In fact it seems historically true that the early church developed much of its doctrine of the priesthood by analogy with the Jewish priesthood (you can see it in 1 Clement for example - although not in a way that really confirms de jure divino episcopate, as I'll show in a later post). BUT there's the problem that as I said, it was the kings, not the priesthood, that overcame the false teaching and centralized worship in the days of Hezekiah and Josiah. And it was Ezra, a descendant of priests, true, but serving as a "scribe in the law of Moses", and Nehemiah, a deputy of King Artaxerxes and of no priestly lineage, for example, who separated the people of Israel returned from exile from the people in the land around, and Nehemiah not sticking at even physically invading the priest's quarters to carry out the law of Moses: Ezra 9:1, 10:18, Nehemiah 13:1-9, 13:28-31. Clearly the priests, etc., should teach the law and sometimes did. But when they didn’t the secular authorities were (sometimes) ready and willing to tell them (in very forceable ways) what the Law said.

. . . it is highly important in the context of the overall discussion to note the non-normative, exceptional nature of such incidents. Hence your qualifier, "could assume on occasion" and my claim, "it wasn’t the normative situation." I am interested presently primarily in the normative, which in the OT, was the Mosaic Law. Since the king wasn’t even included in that, these examples are non-normative, almost by definition. You (far as I can tell) think that somehow proves something in terms of the analogy to Protestantism, but I retort that it is a backwards methodology to look at exceptions to the rule and non-normative scenarios in order to ascertain an analogy between two formal systems of religion that would have any force.

It would be like arguing, "the OT-period Jews were polytheist idolators" because there were perhaps (for all we know) more periods and total years of corruption when they forsook Yahweh, than periods of monotheistic faithfulness. But if we are talking about Torah, Temple Judaism as a religion (or its successor, rabbinic Judaism), of course it is monotheistic. Likewise, the normative teaching apparatus was the priests and Levites and prophets. Sometimes that broke down and kings exercised the function. So your larger point (again) is . . . ?

C'mon Dave, you know that the fact that God endorses the work of the kings (David, Solomon, Josiah, and Hezekiah) and post-royal authorities (Nehemiah) in conducting quite radical and extensive reformations in worship makes them different from simply the deviations caused by sin (as in "polytheist idolatry"). It means that neither the Aaronic priesthood nor the prophets are the sole and guaranteed source of divine truth and application of revelation, but that lay authorities also play a role.

Now, yes, it's pretty obvious this has analogies to the 16th century Reformation (which is why Newman was at pains to give the other impression). (It also makes some sense of the Orthodox insistence that only a Christian monarch can call an ecumenical council - in general Catholic insistence on the prerogatives of the church and democratic revulsion against monarchic "superstitions" have obscured our apprehension of the extent to which our ancestors, Greek and Latin, granted a semi-sacerdotal role to kings and emperors on the model of the Davidic monarchy). But that's not my major point, which is that in the OT authority is real but diffuse and conflicting. This means that such a thing is a possibility, which means that arguments purporting to prove their impossibility must be false.

Let me point out again that the Newman quote you provided: "This is the doctrine of the infallibility of the Church; for by infallibility I suppose is meant the power of deciding whether this, that, and a third, and any number of theological or ethical statements are true" demonstrates the simplicity of doctrines and/or their primarily ethical character should not be taken as eliminating the need (in Newman's view) for infallibility.

On the other hand, the quotation you cited about development could be used to argue that Newman reasons as follows: if there is to be reliable doctrinal development from a fixed scriptural/traditionary base, then there must be an infallible magisterium. In this case, up until the close of prophecy in c. 400 BC, we could say Israel does not apply since new revelation supplies the role of the magisterium. But after 400, we are it still would. And of course we then have to accept the Newmanian concept of doctrinal development and accept that doctrinal development is necessary after the full revelation, but not necessarily before - which is a paradox.

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The authority is the anointed king, as I've made plain.

Josiah and Hezekiah were the primary instigators of those reforms. It doesn't follow, though, that therefore, all teaching authority resided in them because of it. You seem to want to make some wrongheaded point of "just the king and the Bible" is sufficient, just as low-church Protestants today have the "me, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit" mentality. So the Lord used the king; so what? He uses whomever He can use, in desperate situations, due to sin. After all, God spoke through a donkey, right? When the Jews wouldn't do what He told them to do, He even used Nebuchadnezzar as executor of His will. They reformed, and then rejected the Messiah, so He used the Gentiles to carry on the message of salvation and spread it around the world.

Nor is the Catholic tradition devoid of such anomalies. People like St. Francis of Assisi (who wasn't even a priest) rebuked popes and initiated great reforms. Other saints like St. Dominic and St. Catherine did the same thing. Lay-led movements such as the conversion phenomenon and apologetics can participate in revival of catechesis and spirituality. I’m part of both of those myself (and of course, Newman was a great champion of the laity and the sensus fidelium, and opposed the the fashionable Catholic ultramontanism of the 1850s-1860s). So Protestants don't have a lock on "unorthodox" ways to achieve reform. And none of this is an argument against either OT teaching authority as instituted by God or the ecclesiology of the Catholic Church.

But when many prophets are false, and many priests tolerate idolatry, how can one know . . . which one is the true prophet and the true priest?

It was easy with regard to prophets: if their predictions came true, they were true prophets; if not, they were false, and to be stoned. Determining the true priest is a more difficult manner (because it involves doctrine, not just eyewitness-verifiable history). But it is not (anticipating your retort) as if this gives advantage to the Protestant position. For your traditions place men in far more exalted positions than any OT priest ever was in. Luther claimed to speak against the whole Church as a quasi-prophet. On what authority? You say the Bible. Okay. So do we. Does that solve the problem? No. Calvin comes along and claims that he understands the Bible better than the Catholic Church AND Luther and the Anabaptists. How do we know he is right and Luther wrong, or vice versa? Or whether they are both wrong, and the Anabaptists right? Zwingli opposes Luther, so he is damned, of course. Calvin calls Luther "half-papist" and referred to Lutheranism as an "evil." Everyone appeals to the Bible. And everyone has some tradition they claim to be the true legatees of the biblical worldview. So your difficulty in establishing who is more right: Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Anabaptists, the early Anglican tradition, etc., is every bit as difficult as determining who were the true priests teaching the true Torah in Old Covenant times. At least we centralize the tradition in the papacy and (in a larger sense) in the tradition of the Roman See. All you have is, well, completing claims - each one of which has no claim to legitimacy in the first place. What authority does Luther or Calvin have? None. They simply assumed it.

Actually what’s missing is the next verse: But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of Hosts Mal. 2:8 (in the King James, which is what I have at hand here). The passage you cited is an eschatological one: in the end times, the Levites will be all that they should be but not now. Now I suppose you could use that as a kind of prophecy, saying the Catholic church fulfills this prophecy. But really, you need to read the OT better and not just pick at individual passages out of context.

This is sheer nonsense. It is you who have butchered the text and eisegeted it, in your rush to oppose my use of the passage. It is clearly not eschatological at all. The overall thrust of the Book of Malachi (like much prophetic literature) is reformist: it is a blast against corruption and a call for fidelity to the Covenant. And so the prophet blasts away at the sin and corruption for the entire first chapter. Then he specifically hones in on the priests (as leaders bear more responsibility: 2:1-3). So the preceding context is moral and liturgical corruption. Then it switches to a recounting of what the priests should be, according to the original "covenant with Levi" (2:4). A description of the (good) priest, as he should be follows (2:5-7). Note the use of "should" in 2:7: the priest should guard knowledge; men should seek instruction from him as a messenger of God.

This is the normative tradition; the way it should be. But of course men fall short, as always. You claim this is "eschatological," but it is not. Rather, it is an idealized description of the good priest or Levite. There were such people; it is not a myth; only idealized (as is much of OT literature; e.g., contrasts of the "righteous" and "wicked" or "wise" and "fool" in the Psalms and wisdom literature. Books such as 1 John do the same in the NT. That doesn’t make them eschatological.

But the prophet (sadly) then turns from the "should" to the "is". This is what proves it is not eschatological, because the good priest is presented primarily as a past event: a past glorious period of obedience and following. "But you have turned aside from the way" (2:8). How can someone turn aside from a "way" if it is still to come in the future? The priests have "corrupted the covenant of Levi" (2:8) that used to be kept (2:5-7). Again, what sense does it make to say someone corrupted a covenant, if the correct observance of that same covenant is only to occur in the eschaton or full coming of the Kingdom? And so God will judge them for this corruption (2:9). 2:14 again refers to the abandonment of the covenant. He appeals to Israel to abide by the Mosaic covenant (4:4). There is not the slightest hint that the passage I cited was only applicable to some remote eschatological future.

Even John Calvin understands this, since he casually refers to the passage in his section on "doctrinal authority of Moses and the priests" (Institutes, IV, 8, 2). Cf. IV, 1, 5, where he states: "as he did not entrust the ancient folk to angels but raised up teachers . . . so also today it is his will to teach us through human means. As he was of old not content with the law alone, but added priests as interpreters from whose lips the people might ask its true meaning [cf. Mal. 2:7] . . . " In IV, 8, 2, he even refers to the command of strict adherence to priestly instruction (Deut. 17:10-11).

Nor does The Eerdmans Bible Commentary give the slightest hint of your take:

The obvious meaning of v.3 is that the priests will be openly disgraced and thoroughly discredited unless they learn to be worthy representatives of God’s covenant with Levi (v. 4). See Nu. 25:12,13 and Dt. 33:9.

5-7 The nature of the true priestly service is indicated. These verses give a remarkable picture of the qualifications, duties and dignity of the priest . . . The true priest is among men as a messenger of God. He is not simply a professional expert in the minutiae of ceremonial observances. He is a teacher, able to instruct men in the knowledge of God and of His will. He is a man of devotion and integrity. The peace of God is in his heart and he is a strong moral influence on the lives of men. It is a mistaken view that contrasts the OT priest with the prophet to the disparagement of the former . . . The priest, as well as the prophet, is the Lord’s messenger with the duty of imparting knowledge, i.e., of the Lord and of His commandments.

(p. 807)

There is nothing about the "end times" here. It is all about past observance of the Levitical covenant and present corruption of it. You contradict yourself again, because you have used Jeremiah 31 (the famous description of the New Covenant) as applying to our current age (and ecclesiology), and not at all the eschaton:

Sure, God might have decided to do things differently in the New Covenant, although all the contrasts between New and Old would seem to indicate that LESS extraordinary authority is needed in the new than the old: e.g.:

"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

"No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jer. 31).
This is idealized language, just as with the ideal priest in Malachi 2 (and in, e.g., 1 John). But you place it in our age. Obviously, not all know the Lord today! Yet when it comes to ideal language in Malachi 2, you ignore the context, and refuse to see that it refers to the good priest, who was more prevalent in the past, and you put it in the eschatological future. It was already eisegesis, on the above grounds, but now you are internally inconsistent in your application of Scripture too. But you want to advise me: "you need to read the OT better and not just pick at individual passages out of context." I’m happy to let Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic readers alike judge who has better and more reasonably interpreted Scripture in this instance.

Thanks (as always) for the great dialogue. The issue of the impropriety of all high places is, as I discovered in further researching it, a far more interesting and complex point than your argument above about Malachi 2, which I think fell flat (to put it mildly).


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