Collect


Introit for the Third Sunday in Lent

Mine eyes are ever looking unto the Lord, for he shall pluck my feet out of the net: look thou upon me, and have mercy upon me, for I am desolate and in misery.
Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul: my God, in thee have I trusted; let me not be confounded.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Friday, December 27, 2013

John 1.19-28

Happy Feast of Saint John, everypeople! John has long been one of my favorite authors and one of my favorite saints. Also my birth name, Ian, is a Gaelic form of the name John, so I'm sort of prejudiced in his favor.


That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. -- I John 1.1-3

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And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" And he answered, "No." So they said to him, "Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said." (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie." These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Here, the prologue being complete, we begin the story as such. The word testimony or witness, and the cross-examination of the Baptist by the religious authorities, pick up the theme of a trial. As we shall see later, the cleansing of the Temple, which was one of the motive factors in the conspiracy to execute Jesus, is placed by John just after the beginning of the public ministry -- the events are arranged thematically rather than chronologically.* This, like the continual harping upon witness, draws the reader's mind to the trials and condemnations of Jesus in Holy Week; the whole Gospel is oriented toward presenting the reader with the evidence -- Jesus' own testimony about Himself, the testimony of witnesses about Him, the miracles as "exhibits" -- and inviting the reader to pronounce a verdict; together with the implication that the verdict made by the reader about Jesus will itself be the verdict made upon the reader himself on the Last Day.

By the time John was written, martyrdom was already a sadly well-known phenomenon among Christians. St. Stephen the Deacon (cf. Acts 6-7) was probably stoned to death within a few years of the Crucifixion, having himself been examined by the Sanhedrin; and other Johannine works** present this same theme, as when Revelation 2.13 says that "you [the church of Pergamon] did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you," or when the same book includes accolades to the martyrs in 6.9-11 and 12.11, among other places. The cross-examination of St. John the Baptist here -- which to some extent foreshadows the controversy of 7.25-52 and the interrogations of the man born blind in 9.13-34 -- is not yet hostile, but it does set up the increasing contrast between the religious leaders on the one hand (spoken of collectively as "the Jews," probably signifying that the Gospel was written after the Church had fully identified itself as a new thing, and not solely another school of Judaism) and Christ and His followers on the other. The ignorance of the questioners -- who show themselves unable even to ask the right questions, due to their preconceived expectations -- is suggestive of that darkness to which John again and again returns; more particularly because the Baptist has already been identified as the "witness to the light."

It is possible (though speculative) that this may indicate some Essene influence on some members of the early Church, and indeed upon the Baptist himself. The Essenes, some of whom were probably the scribes of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, were a secretive school of Judaism, living chiefly near the Dead Sea, who were intensely apocalyptic and denounced the Temple and its sacrificial system as hopelessly corrupt. They practiced ritual washings (in Greek, baptismai), looked forward to a "Teacher of Righteousness" in their writings, and held celibacy in high regard. Given that St. John the Baptist lived in the Judean wilderness for years before beginning his mission, it's entirely possible that he met and was influenced by the Essenes. Their worldview was almost dualistic, placing great emphasis upon the division between the children of light and the children of darkness, and upon judgment. (The primitive Church, by contrast, never denounced the Temple as such, and indeed Jewish Christians continued to participate in its worship, including vows and sacrifices, until its destruction by Titus Flavius. However, certain passages such as Hebrews 7-10 suggest that even at the time, the Church had a different and more reserved attitude toward the Temple than the non-Christian Jews did.)


The inquiry as to whether he was the Messiah is easily explained; people were expecting the Messiah, not least because it was the right time period according to the prophecies of Daniel, and the call to national repentance and restoration was suggestive of the apocalyptic and messianic prophecies of Malachi, Jeremiah, Joel, Zechariah, and others. The inquiries about Elijah and "the prophet" come from these same prophecies, and also from a specific interpretation of Deuteronomy 18.15-19:

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses] from among your brethren -- him you shall heed -- just as you desired from the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, "Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, or see this great fire any more, lest I die." And the LORD said to me, "They have rightly said all that they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him."

In its original context, the general institution of prophecy -- that is, of those Israelites who called the nation back to the covenant from its continual lapses into idolatry and apostasy -- is surely indicated. However, an interpretive custom had arisen among rabbis, by the time of Jesus, of taking almost any phrase or sentence and getting any meaning out of it that it would bear, whether it matched the author's intent or not. The Apostles themselves do this repeatedly: Matthew's prophetic fulfillments are nearly all of this type, as when he cites Hosea 11.1 being fulfilled in the return of the Holy Family from Egypt, even though that text not only wasn't specifically messianic in context, but was not a foretelling at all. John himself does the same thing when he attributes an unconscious prophecy to the High Priest in 11.49-52, and Christ Himself seems to be using the same device in 10.34ff.

In any case, there was a -- perhaps somewhat nebulous -- expectation of a the "Prophet like Moses" among first-century Jews, and it is about this that the representatives of the Pharisees are inquiring. They are looking for a category into which they can place the Baptist, and he refuses all that they have to offer. His reasons for doing so (given that, in the Synoptics, Jesus specifically does identify St. John the Baptist as Elijah), we can only speculate about.


"This porridge is too school-of-Shammai-Pharisaic."

It's possible that, in questioning him, the religious leaders were attempting to bring him under their authority and even to make him their representative, perhaps with the aim of curbing his severe criticisms of their order (cf. Matthew 3.7-12); it is also possible that their traditional definitions of these roles were so set that they did not truly correspond to his mission. It may be significant, though, that the definition the Baptist does give defines him exclusively in relation to God and to his prophetic successor. Elijah and "the prophet" seem to stand alone, at least as they are spoken of by the Pharisees here; the Baptist, in keeping with his portrait in the Synoptics and with his own words later in John, will speak of his own role solely as a function of Christ's.

This theme -- that every mission, whether of Christ or of the Paraclete Spirit or of the Apostles or any other, subsists in relationship and as relationship -- recurs constantly in John. The Upper Room Discourse, the thematic heart of the Gospel, returns to this with a dizzying mysticism of interrelated being. No wonder it took centuries to articulate the doctrine of the Trinity.


Of course, now it is all quite straightforward.


*It is possible to interpret this as a separate cleansing of the Temple. I find this interpretation completely implausible -- that a man should be able to do this once is shocking; that it should be suffered to happen twice beggars belief.

**As I've said, I am not insisting on any specific theory of authorship of the Gospel of John, or for that matter of the letters or the book of Revelation. However, even if they are not all by the same man or men, I think they share enough with each other thematically that they may meaningfully be referred to as a class.

22 comments:

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    1. Personally I find that there is everything dizzying about ontology. I mean, things are all right as long as I take them for granted and don't devote much attention to them; but the moment I begin to think about either minds or matter, I begin to find myself meddling in matters too wonderful for me, thoughts too lofty for me to attain.

      And when we turn from the natural to the supernatural, the mystery of being only increases. Now, certainly some theological statements (e.g. the Athanasian Creed) and so forth can clarify what, exactly, the Church is setting forth for belief; but that clarification doesn't do away with the essential mystery of the Trinity. And not only the doctrine, but that it is essentially mystical, have been the consistent profession of the Church, and particularly of those of her doctors (like St. Augustine, and Pope Benedict XVI in his beautiful "Introduction to Christianity") who have investigated it most deeply and with the most incisive intellects, piercing to the division of soul and spirit.

      I could never agree that the point of our rationality is to de-mystify God. A mystery can be rendered more luminous, of course; but, considering it rationally, it seems to me impossible to suppose that a finite mind could ever fully compass an infinite Being.

      As to the idea that Trinity -- as opposed to Binity, or Quintity, or what you will -- is arbitrary, I can agree that the number three is not magical. But I can't accept the notion that there is something arbitrary about the nature of God. I can easily accept that we do not know why threeness, as opposed to anything else, is ontologically necessary; but not seeing the reason why is pretty different from knowing that there is no reason why. Of course, when it comes to discussing what does and doesn't have to be the case about the sole self-existent, necessary ground of all being, the idea that He could have been some other way is probably nonsense; I mean, He is the one who defines (simply by existing) what does and doesn't have to be the case, so that applying the category of contingency to Him is meaningless. Even speculating on why necessity is what it is, though it can be profitable, will always be limited by our dependent and finite being.

      That being said, I tend to think that there is a great deal in the notion (derived, I understand from St. Augustine, though I haven't read the De Trinitate) that the Three Persons, considered as relation, are the Lover, the Beloved, and Love -- taking up St. John's dictum that God is love, these three are necessary for any kind of love that we can conceive of with our own rationality; and, when that fact is taken together with the Jewish-Christian doctrine that man is made in the image of God, I think we can place considerable weight upon that fact. Viewing God primarily through the creative lens, Dorothy Sayers speaks with great lucidity and interest in her excellent book "The Mind of the Maker" about the trinitarian image set forth in the human creative process: the Idea of a work of art, the Energy that sets it forth, and the Power it exhibits in its complete form displayed to the original mind and to other minds. I strongly recommend the book to anyone interested in understanding the Trinity more clearly.

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    4. If you are the same Sancta Trinitas who has commented here before, you puzzle me a great deal. Hitherto I had understood that you were a committed and theologically conservative Catholic; that you describe yourself as an atheist here (admittedly adding the adjectives "intellectual and practical," but what of life that leaves in which you are not atheistic I cannot guess; nor have I any idea what eliminativist materialism is) leaves me baffled that I should, in earlier posts, have been taken to task for what you evidently regarded as an insufficient loyalty to the Church and an inadequate emphasis upon the reality of Divine judgment.

      The remainder of your comments here I'm hesitant to reply to, for I must confess I can barely make head or tail of them. I will make only the following two points:

      1. If you are using the word "myth" in the sense "objective untruth," or even in the sense "an idea irrelevant to objective truth," then I don't quite see why you are interested in a blog like this one way or the other, since I consider the Trinity and indeed all Catholic dogma -- while being also, in the literary sense, mythic -- to be factual. (With the proviso, of course, that all discussion of God and His operations, since He is infinite and we are finite, must be analogical.) I would have thought that that premise, and the way of approaching life that it entails, could be of no great importance or interest to an atheist of whatever variety. But perhaps I'm mistaken there.

      2. That people have differing experiences of absolute truth is, of course, true. It does not, and can't, logically follow from that that there is no such thing; even from a purely grammatical perspective it is a contradiction in terms, let alone the philosophical. Men standing in different places will have different perspectives (and possibly, especially if they draw conclusions hastily, will seem to have mutually incompatible perspectives) on the same cottage. But they could hardly have different perspectives on a cottage that was not there. That our thoughts are accompanied by given neurological events I readily admit, but correlation does not equal causation; and if our thoughts were considered always as nothing except the results of our brain chemistry, we would have no more cause to trust neurological science than anything else -- for that science itself is thought, and therefore corresponds to the same neurological processes as everything else we think. J. B. S. Haldane, a prominent biologist of the last century, summed the matter up quite neatly: "If my mental processes are determined wholly by the movement of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true ... and hence no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms." Either we admit some sort of transcendent reason as being accessible to human thought -- something more than chemical reactions -- and being allowed to cause thoughts and beliefs; or we simply scrap the business of thinking, keeping it as a mildly amusing game perhaps, but not attempting to refute the beliefs of others or to defend our own. Not as if it mattered in any way.

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    9. Well, hypocrisy wasn't among the words that sprang to my mind on reading this. Continued bafflement, certainly; and concern, in that obtaining a sense of superiority over one's opponents (intellectual or otherwise) is not among the fruits of the Spirit or the promises of the Beatitudes.

      As far as not getting into any arguments, you seem to get into a multitude of them here. And if you say so I shall believe you, but I find it difficult prima facie to suppose that this is the only place you do so. I'm therefore inclined to question whether your strategy is effective, though whether a change in your external demeanor or a change in your habits on the internet would be your preferred method of solution is something you alone can address, naturally.

      I will take your word for it that you are manipulative; I don't much care one way or the other. You probably ought to; and whether your self-evaluation is correct or not, since you are so frank, I shall be equally frank in advising you to make some sound friends as soon as possible. The vocation of the recluse is exceedingly rare, and the normal economy of salvation involves human relationships at every turn. Doing without them is frightfully dangerous. He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen cannot love God whom he hath not seen.

      Lastly, as to the Thomistic notion that God is simple, my understanding is that the idea there was that God is simple in the sense that He is not composed of parts. That isn't at all the same as being easy to understand; indeed, since all the things we experience directly are composed of parts, in some ways His simplicity is more mystifying than otherwise. Chesterton recounts a delightful story (though this says as much about St Thomas as about the holy Trinity) of a woman of his acquaintance who picked up a copy of the Summa and began optimistically to read the section titled "The Simplicity of God." Having finished, she laid it down with a sigh and ruefully remarked, "Well, if that's God's simplicity, I wonder what His complexity is like."

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  3. I'm a little confused about your not insisting on a specific authorship for the Gospel of John. If the Gospel wasn't composed by an apostle or the close associate of an apostle, then why on earth should we listen to it? Wouldn't denying John's authorship of the Gospel place it squarely outside of the canon?

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    1. John's authorship specifically, I should say has no effect on the veracity of the text. The Church does and did insist (and naturally I assent) that its authorship must be apostolic -- i.e., one of the Twelve or their close associates. But there are other candidates, especially since the author of the Gospel does not name himself directly at any point. My own opinion is that it was written by St John himself; but my confidence in its veracity rests, not upon my settled opinion of its origin, but upon the conviction of the Church universal, expressed first in the assent of the faithful (what we call the sensus fidelium) and finally ratified by the definition, in our view infallible, of the Ecumenical Council of Trent.

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    2. I get the feeling that this reveals a deep divide between our perspective theologies on Scripture. I accept the New Testament because I believe it was written by the men whom Christ appointed to spread His Word and who had heard and digested His teaching, whether before or after His resurrection. If it turned out that Colossians wasn't written by Paul, I believe we'd be conscience-bound to throw it out of the canon. That's why I think it's still perfectly acceptable for someone to question the canonicity of Hebrews, James, Revelation, and so on. I don't, but I won't raise too much of an issue if someone else does. The Scriptures derive their authority from being faithful proclamations of Christ's Word from the hands of those called to spread that word to the nations - or else, whence comes their authority?

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    3. This does represent a profound divide in our views of Scripture, certainly. The Catholic Church accepts the New Testament on apostolic authority, to be sure. The thing is, she believes that that apostolic authority is continuous; that the Church as a whole has been invested with it, and that the original Twelve were designated spokesmen, not men necessarily special in their own right. Now, since they were the original witnesses, they are special in that sense, and certainly their teaching therefore sets the standard. But their authority to define, which in truth is Christ's authority to define, continues as long as the Church exists. In consequence, that which she declares to be true -- the canon of Scripture included -- is infallibly guided by the Holy Ghost for the same reason that the apostles themselves were in their teaching: it is the discharge of a spiritual office, and not at all a function of personal sanctity or even necessarily of personal insight (though neither of those things hurt in understanding doctrine!).

      The difficulty I have with the view you set forth is that it seems to me to be fatally anthropocentric. For if the canon is permanently open to dispute, its infallibility is for all intents and purposes abolished, since we cannot know if the text we are dealing with is truly Scripture or has been included by mistake. And if there is no extra-canonical authority that can say, once and for all, whether a given book does or does not belong in the canon, then how could any disputes about the canon be categorically settled? There being no divinely inspired table of contents, the most we could have (it seems to me) is the verdict of scholarship, which is valuable and worth having, but can never carry anything more than probable authority. This leaves us with a fallibly established collection of documents -- any or most or even all of which might be infallible, but we can't know, and I can't see any logical or practical distinction between that and a collection of fallible documents.

      The difference between this and the Catholic view is that the Catholic view does frankly begin with the Scriptures as historical rather than religious documents, and establishes from them what the primitive Christian view of the Church was. It is then up to the individual to decide whether to trust that view (not in the sense that any decision on such a question is equally right, but in the sense that nobody can make that decision for someone else). If that primitive view is accepted, the Scriptures follow, not as another assumption, but as a logical consequence of the prior decision of trust.

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    4. I've never bought the, "we need an infallible authority to give us a concrete definition of the canon" argument, to tell the truth. The early Church didn't have much question on what was in and what was out. There were doubts regarding James, Hebrews, Revelation, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude (I think I got them all). By contrast, the four Gospels, the letters of Paul, and 1 Peter were never questioned by anyone, with the exception of Marcion and his ilk. From a "historical" or "scholarly" perspective, that gives us 80%-85% of the New Testament, and it certainly gives us the most important parts. I would never argue that the canon is "permanently open to dispute" in a broad sense, because there simply is no doubt about the authenticity of the books I listed above (I gave the example of Colossians in the previous comment simply as a hypothetical, not to concede that there are legitimate doubts regarding its verity).

      The canonical status of a particular book rests upon the historical reality of its author and content - just as our faith in Jesus rests upon the historical reality of His resurrection from the dead. I don't think it's a degradation of the spiritual to say that it rests upon the historical. Of course, in a stricter sense, I don't think that my scholarship or intellectual knowledge is what gives birth to my faith. I believe in Christ because He confronts me in His Word and Sacraments and sends His Spirit to grant me the gift of faith. I believe in the Scriptures because they are the words of Christ. But even here I can and must use historical knowledge to determine what Christ actually said. There's a reason that 1 John 5:7 is a terrible proof-text for the Trinity, or Mark 16:16 for baptismal regeneration: there's considerable (some would say, conclusive) doubt as to whether Jesus or His apostle spoke the words recorded in either text! It seems to me that one of the biggest problems with believing in a divinely inspired table of contents to the Scriptures, whether determined by the books themselves or decided infallibly the decree of the Church, is that it places the authority of the Scriptures, not in the writer's fidelity to Christ's teaching, but in the authority's power to determine the veracity of a particular book, chapter, or verse. If Jesus did not say the words recorded in the longer ending of Mark, can the magisterium's decree make those words true?

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    5. (Parte the Seconde)

      In contrast to the order you established - which, if I'm understanding it correctly, suggests that we move from faith in the Church to faith in the Scriptures, because the latter is accepted and proclaimed by the former - I would put forth a different order. First we believe in Jesus, and, because we believe in Him, we believe in His Word. This, of course, means more than merely believing in the books of the Bible - it means also believing in the Word as it is found in Absolution, Baptism, the Supper, and the proclamation of the faithful - but it certainly *includes* such faith. From belief in the Word, we come to believe in the Church as the recipient of the Word, the creation of the Word, whose task it is to proclaim the Word.

      At bottom, I think we have two very different views of the apostolic mission. If I'm not mistaken, it seems that you believe that Christ conferred upon the apostles a set of powers, rights, and duties, which they were to carry out according to the dictates of the Spirit and hand down to others. Among these included the duty to give decisions on questions of faith, morals, etc. I think I would give a different account of Jesus' charge the apostles. Simply put, the apostolic office IS the Word. The apostles' chief and, in the end, only task was to take the teaching which Christ gave and to pass it on to others as His appointed spokesmen and ambassadors. What differentiated the apostles from other Christians was that they had seen the Lord, heard His teaching first-hand (*all* of His teaching, including that which He didn't proclaim to the crowds at large), and witnessed His resurrection. In that sense, the apostolic "office" ceased when the apostles died: no one else could fit the qualifications above. In another sense, however, the Church is *always* apostolic, because she is *always* doing what the apostles did: that is, proclaiming the words of Christ, especially His announcements about the coming of the Kingdom and the year of the Lord's favor, i.e. the Gospel. And when she does so, she must remain apostolic in another way: namely, by basing all of her teachings solely upon the words of the apostles and the prophets before them, because their words are simply and only the words of Christ.

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    6. I agree that it is no degradation for the spiritual to rely upon the historical -- indeed, that tends to be the point of most Catholic replies to most (not all) Protestant critiques. The problem I have with this argument is not chronological but logical. I mean, I imagine many people do in fact come to faith first through acts that take place in the order you describe (I did myself), but if the chain of steps do not logically back one another up -- whatever order we originally came to the steps in -- the argument falls apart.

      The catch is that you move from belief in Jesus to belief in the Scriptures as His Word. The trouble is, they're not. They are the Apostles' words. Now, if you accept the intervening step of trusting the Apostles, that line of reasoning will hold; but in that case we have intruded the apostolate between faith in Christ and faith in the Bible. That is the root of the Catholic (and Orthodox) view. And that is the view that history, in a certain sense, forces upon us -- not simply in that the Church did not have a wholly defined canon for several centuries, but in that for several decades, the Bible itself was incomplete; there could be no question of setting the Bible above the teaching of the Church, because the teaching of the Church was the only thing around. It seems to me that for sola Scriptura to be persuasive, Jesus Himself should have recognized and established its importance by writing at least some of it Himself.

      But this is just what He didn't do. He set about forming certain men, designated representatives, whom He commissioned to teach, to perform miracles, to forgive sins, to bind and loose in the spiritual realm. He didn't even instruct them to write, in fact. In other words, He established a Church, not a Book, however important that book is (and it is, precisely because of its apostolic nature).

      Now, the Church does not have the power to invent new truths, any more than she has the power to, say, forgive sinners who are impenitent. Her power is one of authoritative recognition and conveyance of graces, not of creating graces in her own right. But that authoritative recognition and conveyance is indeed authoritative in the Catholic view. It is, in fact, what the Church, as the Body of Christ, was left here to do. Without that, especially as regards the accidents of history -- which are always throwing up new situations that a book either cannot speak to, or must be interpretively applied to if it's going to matter -- the faith would have been lost.

      It's quite true that only a few books of the canon, in the Old or New Testaments, have been under dispute (a very few more if one considers the Nestorian and Abyssinian canons). However, the problem, in my view, isn't simply one of the amount or even the content of what is taught. It is the fundamental question: "By what authority do ye these things? And who gave you this authority?" If the authority that backs up even the universally unquestioned books isn't there or isn't adequate, all the ubique ab omnibus in the world doesn't matter; or, to put the same thing another way, you cannot appeal to the universal witness of the Church about what is and isn't Scripture, unless you give the universal witness of the Church a value independent of Scripture. (One could, and should, demand that the act of giving that witness value be consistent with Scripture; but that is a question of internal logical consistency.)

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    7. (For some reason Blogger is forcing me to take a new identity. :p)

      I don't think I can posit a divide between the words of Jesus and the words of the apostles. In the first place, the four Gospels DO contain Jesus' actual, literal words - that is, the words He spoke with His mouth. (Hence the reason I think the Gospels have pride of place even within the Scriptures). Secondly, the apostles are doing nothing else than passing on the words of Christ to others.

      Now, you raise a good point about trusting the apostles, and I understand your argument that in doing so I am putting the apostolate as an intervening step between Christ and the Bible. But remember, I'm not arguing for the primacy of the book we call the Bible so much as I am for the primacy of the Word. The former flows from the latter. And my faith in the apostles is built, not on some other, separate foundation, but on the words of Christ, when He preaches to the apostles as His disciples, commissions them to spread His teaching to all nations, and gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit to ensure that their preaching will be His. I believe in the apostles because I believe in the words that Jesus spoke.

      I agree with you completely that the teaching of the Bible was not set above the teaching of the Church in the earliest days. That's because the apostles were still around and teaching people through word of mouth. Had I lived in 42 BC, I could ask Peter, Paul, or John what Jesus said about this or that, or what I ought to believe regarding such and such a doctrine. The problem is that they're dead now, and I find all the arguments for apostolic succession completely unconvincing. The only reliable record of their teaching which we have left is contained their writings.

      The Lutheran view of Sola Scripture isn't about faith in the Bible as a single book written by the finger of God so much as it is faith in the Bible as THE record of the teachings of the apostles and prophets. Our basic belief about doctrine is that if Jesus didn't say something, with His own mouth, whether in the days of His earthy ministry or in the teachings He gave to the apostles after His resurrection, then no one has any right to teach it. The idea, for instance, of a development of doctrine from the initial deposit of faith is totally foreign to us.

      What authority backs up the universally unquestioned books? The historical authority that those who were closest to their writing were unanimous in their testimony that they were written by the apostles or their close associates. My citation of the early Church wasn't about the Church qua Church, but simply because the earliest Christians are also our earliest (and therefore most reliable) witnesses to the authorship of the various NT books.

      Regarding Jesus' institution of the Church, rather than a book . . . here's where I think the rubber hits the road. I agree with you completely that Jesus didn't write a book, and that He did create a Church. But the question becomes - *how* did He do that? And I answer: through the Word. It was through His preaching, and the activity of the Holy Spirit Who accompanied that preaching, that the apostles and disciples came to faith and were joined to His body. The Church did not create the Word; the Word creates the Church. Jesus' ekklesia is always built upon and through His logos/didache. And that holds true in 2013 just as much as it did in 30 A.D. My advocacy for Sola Scriptura lies, not in the fact that the writings of the apostles have any primacy over their oral preaching, and especially not over the oral preaching of Jesus, but because the books of the New Testament are the only reliable record we have of either. Whenever the Word goes forth in oral preaching and teaching, it must be founded upon the written Word of the apostles and prophets as norma normans.

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