Circumcision and Apostolic Authority

“When the whole Church in her every day teaching does in fact teach a moral rule everywhere in the world as a commandment of God, she is preserved from error by the assistance of the Holy Ghost, and this rule is therefore really the will of God and is binding on the faithful in conscience…”

Question: Was the recognition and teaching, by Peter and the other Apostles, that circumcision is not required for entry into the Church fallible?  I don’t believe that I have ever met a Christian who would dare to say, “Maybe.”  So I believe it safe to answer: “No.”

There are many Christian positions regarding Scripture, and there is almost universal agreement that if one’s belief is that Scripture is not the inerrant Word of God, then that person is not a Christian.  After all, Protestants overwhelming profess “Scripture alone” is authoritative, and Catholics too hold Scripture to be authoritative.  God could not include in Scripture, his Holy Word, declarations expected to be accepted as objectively true that were actually false.  To so do would be a contradiction in terms, for God is Truth.  It would no more be possible for God to construct within the same reality an immovable wall and an unstoppable object.

However, Scripture does not contain the fullness of Truth, for that would mean that it contained, or is in its essence, God himself.  No literate person should fail to find the problems with that idea.  So objective truths, such as the fact of my daughter’s birth last year, are no less true by virtue of their absence from Scripture.  My daughter’s birth is just as true as Jesus’s birth, but only Jesus’s birth is part of Revelation.

This leads to my Final Question: If the apostolic decree, although still objectively true, that circumcision is unnecessary was absent from the Scriptures, would you still adhere to it with the same force as you now do, with the same force as the Apostles did?

To answer “No” is to accept that no rules exist that are binding on all the faithful that do not appear in Scripture.  That could also be positively  expressed, “Only those rules expressed in Scripture are binding on all the faithful.”  That in turn means that all declarations by the Apostles lacked authority unless they were eventually included in Scripture.  Consequently, that would mean that no Apostle exercised any real authority, for they and the people they shepherded had no way of knowing which declarations would eventually be included in the Canon, which was only decided at the end of the fourth century.  Furthermore, no verbal declarations exist in Scripture, only written records of verbal declarations.  Therefore, an Apostles spoken words could not be taken to be authoritative any more than their written words.

Finally, if the first Christians recognized this supposed state of affairs, they had one of two choices about how to act.  First, in light of their ignorance, they could have chosen to accept the authority of the Apostles on the grounds that anything said or written by an Apostle had the potential to be authoritative.  Secondly, in light of the only incidental authority, the early Christians could have treated the Apostles’ words as having no authority, or only occasionally individually choosing to adopt particular apostolic direction as authoritative.  In all of these cases, Un-orthodoxy is guaranteed.  After all, if the Apostles’ words are guaranteed orthodox, then they’d be authoritative, something already denied by the earlier premise.  Given no guaranteed source of orthodoxy, each believer adopting only some of the Apostles’ words would be guaranteed on a practical level of choosing improperly.  If the sheep were somehow guaranteed of only ever choosing orthodoxy, then they would, in fact, be the authority.  The fact that inerrant Scripture records that the sheep were occasionally in disagreement with the Apostles and each other invalidates that conclusion.

By process of elimination, there is only one acceptable answer to my Final Question, “Yes, we must assent to all apostolic decrees with the same force as did the Apostles themselves, even if the decree was not recorded in Scripture.”  The logical consequence is belief in apostolic authority and succession.

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