On the Canon of Scripture, Papal Infallibility, & Development of Doctrine -old debate with Dave Armstrong

This is an old on-line debate (2010) I had with Roman Catholic Dave Armstrong.

I had forgotten about this article by David Waltz that Dave A. was also referring to.  It is very interesting to me to go back and read all of this, after 7 years.

————– start of old article below:————————-

Dave Armstrong  has a four part series seeking to refute Jason Engwer’s well written article about the Canon of Scripture and Infallibility of the church issues; which has implications against the Roman Catholic Church’s authority claims of Infallibility and the Papacy. DA is trying to prove that Newman’s Development of Doctrine Theory is correct. DA wrote this in response to David Waltz’ recent decision to leave the Roman Catholic Church.

I contributed to a few comboxes ( # 15-20) in part 1. I have not read parts 2-4 yet as one only has so much time in life, but I hope to go through all of it and interact with whatever parts I see a problem with.

Dave Armstrong wrote:
In a nutshell, what he has done in his present argument that I shall critique, is define Catholic development according to hostile Protestant conceptions of it.

You seem to have immediately poisoned the well in your argumentation by calling it a “hostile” conception. You say he “defines” it according to his own understanding of it, rather than understanding the Roman Catholic view of the development of doctrine.

Jason understands quite well Newman’s development of doctrine theory. It is anachronistic by nature. Ideas and doctrines are not like seeds or organic material. They do not grow like seeds or eggs or embryos. Biblical Doctrine does develop in church history, but right doctrine (not just any claim to have right doctrine) must have Scriptural material and sound exegesis to back it up; the Roman Catholic claims of Pope and Mary and indulgences and relics and NT priests have no credible exegesis or Scriptural backing.

Everyone has some kind of Presuppositions; you do also; our human minds are not “tabula rasa” ( blank slates in our minds) (John Locke)

Dave Armstrong wrote:
He seems to expect papal infallibility and the nature of the papal office to appear almost whole and entire in the early centuries (which is the Protestant tendency in approaching Church history), whereas in fact, development of doctrine (and particularly Venerable Cardinal Newman’s formulation of it) is precisely an explanation of organic development over time, meaning (by its very definition) that in many ways doctrines and doctrinal beliefs of large masses of people will look quite different in the year 300 than they would in, say 1870.”

Since it is such an important and all encompassing doctrine, and indeed the main doctrinal claim that makes the RCC claim to be the Church over all Christendom and all others are in rebellion, we would expect it to be there both in the Scriptures and in the early church history, but, alas, it is not in either one. If it was true, we would expect Peter to at least mention some basic form of it in his second letter. 2 Peter does not mention it all; instead he says “this is the second letter I am writing to you” ( 3:1) Let that sink in, “writing to you”; he is emphasizing Scripture. He says his writing to them is “being diligent” and “reminding them of the truth” ( 3:1; 1:12-21)

Peter knows he is going to die. (1:12-18) He says, essentially, “after I am gone, I am writing now, so I will be diligent by writing this, so that when I am gone you will have something written to refer to and build yourselves up and remind yourselves in the truth.” This is Sola Scriptura in a simple form, not any kind of Papal doctrine or dogma or even the existence of a Papal office, much less infallibility of the Pope. Peter does not even mention any presbyter / overseer who would be his successor. Why? Because the early churches each had a plurality of elders and there was no such thing as one man being the successor of one apostle or presbyter as an authoritative “buck stops here” kind of office.

Peter called himself a “fellow-elder” (fellow presbyter) in I Peter 5:1. Not only is infallibility not there, the Papal office is not there, and successor to Peter is not there in I Peter, 2 Peter, nor Matthew 16:13-19. Nada, zilch. The mono-episcopate developed later; even the Didache (15:1 – deacons and episcopate) and I Clement only mention 2 offices (presbyters/episcopais as one office and deacons as the other office) and I Clement uses episcopais and presbuteros interchangeably.(I Clement 44 and 47) Both the Didache and I Clement are earlier history than Ignatius, and way earlier than any other jurisdictional claims of Rome by Stephen (255 AD), Leo (440 AD) or Gregory (601 AD).

Dave Armstong wrote:
“. . . is precisely an explanation of organic development over time, meaning (by its very definition) . . .

Jason and others of us understand Newman’s theory well enough. “organic development” means “seeds and acorns into oak trees”. We are saying the theory itself is wrong, unbiblical and unhistorical in the earliest centuries. We are not imposing our understanding of it on it, as you claim, rather we are refuting the idea itself, that doctrines/thoughts/ideas are parallel to organic material of seeds, acorns, embryos, eggs, DNA, etc. that grow naturally over time in history. Since the seeds of the Papacy are not there in the Bible, nor in Early Church history, it is non-existent. The mono-episcopate comes later, with Ignatius, later than Clement and the Didache, and even that is nothing compared to the audacity of the Bishop of Rome jurisdictional claims. Cyprian was right to oppose Stephen, bishop of Rome around 255-256 AD.

Dave Armstrong wrote:

[claiming that this is the “seed” in the early church of the Newman Development of Doctrine Theory:]

There is such a thing as an authoritative Church, that has binding authority in matters of the faith.

Doctrinal Protestants believe in this idea in its basic/Scriptural form. We believe in the local church, and the local church is God’s instrument on the earth to be the body of Christ to minister to people, preach the gospel, teach sound doctrine, discipline the unrepentant, administer baptism and the Lord’s supper. The word “authoritative” would need more definition, as also does the word “binding”.

So, this statement is no better than Protestantism and we can affirm it in the bare statement as is and therefore, we are just as much a part of early church history as you are; we are small “c” catholics. History is history; whatever happened is whatever happened.

It is easy for the Roman Catholic Church to look back over history and claim it is the one infallible church, because its power and might forced and anathematized the two main rival church traditions (EO and Protestantism) in the issue of the Papal doctrines. (and killed others as individuals who dared question the authority of the Pope, like Jan Huss) The Papacy and Infallibility developed slowly over the centuries from the beginning of jurisdictional claims, starting around 255 -256 AD with Stephen, but he was wrong. Even then it did not really start developing until after Gregory and after Islam conquered the east and became more pronounced with the 1054 filoque clause schism with the Greek Orthodox church. The Eastern /Greek and Oriental churches knew it (Papacy, infallibility, jurisdictional claims over all Christians) was wrong also. Boniface VIII made one of the most arrogant statements in history in Unam Sanctum in 1302 AD. Basically, Pope Boniface VIII said that every one must submit to the Pope for salvation. Not only arrogant, but contradictory to Romans, Galatians, John, Acts, Philippians, Ephesians, the whole NT !!

The RCC anathematized the EO in 1054 and the Protestants in 1520-1521; then 1545-1563 (bull and trial against Luther and then Trent).

They just claim Papal infallibility by raw power and an attitude of “whatever we say goes”

Dave Armstrong wrote:
“That’s it, and the concept is already (I would contend) explicitly present in Scripture, in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), which not only claimed profoundly binding authority, but even the express sanction of the Holy Spirit, making it close to the concept of biblical inspiration: a thing that goes beyond all Catholic claims for infallibility: an essentially lesser gift than inspiration. The authoritative Church also includes apostolic succession. The true apostolic tradition or deposit is authoritatively passed down.”

Since the Jerusalem council of Acts 15 is in Scripture, we are assured of its authority by the inspiration of the Scriptures. It is history recorded in Scripture. It does not say that the churches are to go out and copy that model of gathering all the leaders of other churches together (not a sin to do that; Nicea and Chalcedon were good; but they were not infallible or inspired by the Holy Spirit on the same level as Scripture) and that whatever they decide is infallible or 100% in all areas guided by the Holy Spirit.

We know that the decision of Acts 15 was guided by the Holy Spirit because the text tells us this. The leaders, Peter and James, also quoted Scripture there, so they were acting in a Sola Scriptura kind of way. Peter’s statements in Acts 15:7-10 are consistent with Paul’s epistle to the Galatians; faith alone and grace alone. James quotes from Amos 9:12. There is nothing in the text that says extra-canonical meetings between leaders of church later in history will have the same level of binding authority or inspiration (as you seem to be claiming) or infallibility. The authority of Nicea against the Arians is authoritative because it was biblical; same for the doctrinal issues of Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon. They were right on the issues of the nature of Christ and the Trinity because those doctrines are biblical; but only the Bible is infallible and inerrant.

Dave Armstrong wrote,
Quoting from Philip Schaff,

Irenaeus confronts the secret tradition of the Gnostics with the open and unadulterated tradition of the catholic church, and points to all churches, but particularly to Rome, as the visible centre of the unity of doctrine. All who would know the truth, says he, can see in the whole church the tradition of the apostles; and we can count the bishops ordained by the apostles, and their successors down to our time, who neither taught nor knew any such heresies. Then, by way of example, he cites the first twelve bishops of the Roman church from Linus to Eleutherus, as witnesses of the pure apostolic doctrine. He might conceive of a Christianity without scripture, but he could not imagine a Christianity without living tradition;

Dave Armstrong stopped the quote here. (I don’t know why)

It goes on –

and for this opinion he refers to barbarian tribes, who have the gospel, “sine charta et atramento,” written in their hearts.

Obviously, if they could not read or write yet, and the Scriptures have not been translated yet into their language, they will have to rely on oral teaching and acceptance until that can be done. Oral cultures can be saved by hearing the gospel and repenting and trusting Christ and being able to memorize basic truths as a catechism. Ulfilas (ca 310-383 AD)was an Arian and he was the first to translate the Scriptures in Gothic German. Even Arians were not Gnostics. But Irenaeus is writing around 200 AD, so this is stronger for oral/living tradition to be used as the way of spreading the gospel until the Scriptures can be translated.

Dave A. continuing the quote Philip Schaaf:

. . . He might conceive of a Christianity without scripture, but he could not imagine a Christianity without living tradition . . .
(History of the Christian Church, Vol. II: Ante-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 100-325, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970; reproduction of 5th revised edition of 1910, Chapter XII, section 139, “Catholic Tradition,” pp. 525-526)

Irenaeus is not teaching RCC doctrine about development here nor Newman’s theory nor 1870. Irenaeus is not even saying what Schaff says. In another place, which DA also quoted, Irenaeus says, “Since, therefore, the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those apostles who did also write the Gospel, . . .

(Against Heresies, III, 5, 1)

This proves the Scriptures are the basis for the oral preaching and teaching to the barbarian tribes. Irenaeus is just saying the tradition orally went to the Barbarian tribes and even they agree against the Gnostics by their oral tradition or simple catechism, even without having written Scriptures.

Remember the context is about combating Gnosticism, which Protestants also disagree with. We are like Irenaeus because we also are against the heresies of Gnostism.

Schaff again:

“Irenaeus confronts the secret tradition of the Gnostics with the open and unadulterated tradition of the catholic church, and points to all churches, but particularly to Rome, as the visible centre of the unity of doctrine.”

This is no problem for Protestants because the tradition is a basic proto-Apostles or proto-Nicean Creed and against Gnosticism. There is nothing in Irenaeus’ tradition that teaches Roman Catholic distinctives on the Pope and Mary and indulgences and relics and purgatory.

The Schaff quotes are from – (History of the Christian Church, Vol. II: Ante-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 100-325, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970; reproduction of 5th revised edition of 1910, Chapter XII, section 139, “Catholic Tradition,” pp. 525-526)

Dave Armstrong wrote:
“Conceiving of a Christianity without Scripture is hardly any sort of Protestantism or anything remotely like it. Jason’s contention falls flat in a heap of ashes. Yet Jason is still playing the game.”

Jason’s contention did not fall flat; rather it is your anachronistic reading of RCC definition of “living tradition” read back into Irenaeus that falls flat.

As I wrote above, Schaff is not saying what DA is making him say; otherwise, how would Schaff have consistently remained Protestant his whole life? (Same for J.N.D. Kelly, who DA quotes later) He is not defining “living tradition” the way the RCC does today. He is only saying that even the Barbarian tribes were not Gnostic, believe in the God of the OT, have been taught the tradition without the Scriptures yet; because they were wild tribes that needed the gospel before the time it takes to translate. They can learn the tradition and basic doctrine orally and believe in their hearts without having the Bible.

At the end of the section of Philip Schaff, that DA quotes from, Schaff recovers from the statement (that Irenaeus can conceive of a Christianity without the Scriptures, but not without living tradition) that Dave A. took out of context:

“In the substance of its doctrine this apostolic tradition agrees with the holy scriptures, and though derived, as to its form, from the oral preaching of the apostles, is really, as to its contents, one and the same with there apostolic writings. In this view the apparent contradictions of the earlier fathers, in ascribing the highest authority to both scripture and tradition in matters of faith, resolve themselves. It is one and the same gospel which the apostles preached with their lips, and then laid down in their writings, and which the church faithfully hands down by word and writing from one generation to another.” Philip Schaff

UPDATE:  back in 2010

DA removed the “self-servingly” part of the comment about how Jason “self-servingly molding and transformed position X 2”, and admitted it is over the top, so I have removed that part. (For anyone who already read this) That was good of DA to do that, and I sincerely mean that. We all should seek to stick to the issues of argumentation and not make personal attacks nor seek to judge motives. (I Cor. 4:5)

About Ken Temple

I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am a sinner who has been saved by the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), through faith alone (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:28; 4:1-16), in Christ alone (John 14:6). But a true faith does not stay alone, it should result in change, fruit, good works, and deeper levels of repentance and hatred of my own sins of selfishness and pride. I am not better than you! I still make mistakes and sin, but the Lord is working on me, conforming me to His character. (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18) When I do sin, I hate the sin as it is an affront to God, and seek His forgiveness in repentance. (Mark 1:15; 2 Corinthians 7:7-10; Colossians 3:5-16 ) Praise God for His love for sinners (Romans 5:8), shown by the voluntary coming of Christ and His freely laying down His life for us (John 10:18), becoming flesh/human (John 1:1-5; 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8), dying for sins of people from all nations, tribes, and cultures (Revelation 5:9), on the cross, in history, rising from the dead (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 28, Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24; John 20-21; 1 Corinthians chapter 15). His resurrection from the dead proved that Jesus is the Messiah, the eternal Son of God, the word of God from eternity past; and that He was all the gospels say He was and that He is truth and the life and the way to salvation. (John 14:6)
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Dave Armstrong, Evangelicals who convert to Roman Catholicism, Papacy, Roman Catholic false practices, Roman Catholicism, The rule of Faith. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to On the Canon of Scripture, Papal Infallibility, & Development of Doctrine -old debate with Dave Armstrong

  1. wigglyhashashin7777 says:

    You do realize that Ignatius was writing about 7 maybe 10 years after Clement right? It would seem strange that church government would change so distrastically in such a short time if what you say is true

    • Ken Temple says:

      The Galatians left the gospel message even quicker; in a matter of months; so false doctrine and false practices can develop quickly.

      “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, he is to be accursed!” Galatians 1:6-9

      The Ephesians left their first love in a few years also. Revelation 2:4-5

      Lots of details on the first century plurality of elders rule and 1 Clement within this article:


      • wigglyhashashin7777 says:

        well there didn’t seem to have been anysort of uproar or controversy over such a change

      • Ken Temple says:

        Ignatius’ writings are limited mostly to Asia Minor, except for the one to the Roman church; and his letter to the Romans indicates a plurality of elders. The mono-episcopate was not universal until later. Even Jerome around 400 admitted that the office of presbyter and bishop is the same, but because of “custom” and not doctrine, it was adopted.

      • Ken Temple says:

        Jerome’s comments aroun 400 AD:

        “A presbyter, therefore, is the same as a bishop, and before dissensions were introduced into religion by the instigation of the devil, and it was said among the peoples, ‘I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, and I of Cephas,’ Churches were governed by a common council of presbyters; afterwards, when everyone thought that those whom he had baptised were his own, and not Christ’s, it was decreed in the whole world that one chosen out of the presbyters should be placed over the rest, and to whom all care of the Church should belong, that the seeds of schisms might be plucked up. Whosoever thinks that there is no proof from Scripture, but that this is my opinion, that a presbyter and bishop are the same, and that one is a title of age, the other of office, let him read the words of the apostle to the Philippians, saying, ‘Paul and Timotheus, servants of Christ to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi with the bishops and deacons.’” (Jerome, Commentariorum In Epistolam Ad Titum, “Commentary on the Epistle to Titus”, PL 26:562-563)


        “Therefore, as we have shown, among the ancients presbyters were the same as bishops; but by degrees, that the plants of dissension might be rooted up, all responsibility was transferred to one person. Therefore, as the presbyters know that it is by the custom of the Church that they are to be subject to him who is placed over them so let the bishops know that they are above presbyters rather by custom than by Divine appointment, and ought to rule the Church in common, following the example of Moses, who, when he alone had power to preside over the people Israel, chose seventy, with the assistance of whom he might judge the people. We see therefore what kind of presbyter or bishop should be ordained.” (Jerome, Commentariorum In Epistolam Ad Titum, PL 26:563)

      • wigglyhashashin7777 says:

        well the bible seems rather vague on that subject of church government, but are you trying to argue that the bible teaches a Presbyterian form of government in order to rebut Roman Catholicism?

      • Ken Temple says:

        Yes, it is all in the articles I linked to. Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5-7 and I Peter 5:1-4 and Acts 20:17 and 28 demonstrate this.

      • wigglyhashashin7777 says:

        their idea of “presybterianism”seem to be a bit different from what we today in presybterian churches

      • Ken Temple says:

        The NT shows a plurality of elder rule for each church. (not the exact same thing as Presbyterian church sessions made up of several churches in a general area.)

        From one of the articles I linked to; Review of Rod Bennett’s book, part 2:

        As we mentioned in Part 1 of the Review of Four Witnesses, on page 87, Rod stops the quote of 1 Clement 44 as precisely the exact place that would show that overseers/bishops (Greek: επισκοποι – episcopoi ) is the same office as elders (Greek: πρεσβυτεροι – presbuteroi). This is clear in the earlier New Testament writings, such as Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5-7; 1 Timothy 3, 1 Peter 5:1-5, Philippians 1:1. Even other very early non-canonical writings confirm this, such as the Didache 15, and Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book IV, chapter 26, no. 5.

        “Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry.

        Rod, used a different translation than the one above, but stopped the quote here on page 87 of his book.

        You can look at the standard ccel.org translation here.

        The quote continues:

        “For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure [from this world]; for they have no fear lest any one deprive them of the place now appointed them. But we see that ye have removed some men of excellent behavior from the ministry, which they fulfilled blamelessly and with honor. “ 1 Clement 44

      • wigglyhashashin7777 says:

        So I guess it would still rather be different from major modern forms of Church government? I guess you have quite an interesting point when you said the early church was the early church and that people shouldn’t read too much Protestantism or RC ism into it

      • Ken Temple says:

        Modern Reformed / Calvinistic Baptists and other local churches who have plurality of elders seek to be closer to the NT model.

        see Dr. James White’s chapter in Perspectives on Church Government: 5 Views.

  2. Ken Temple says:

    Evangelical Introduction to church history, part 3:
    “From Orange to Trent”


Comments are closed.