Bishops of History Response, Catholicism, Fractionation

The Original Challenge and Authority

Respect Scholar’s Authority

B. The Original Challenge and Authority

BOH claims that I was attempting to answer a previous challenge posted at CtC.  This is partially true, but I noted that the “challenge” had faulty assumptions loaded into it. It is simply not possible for a historian to prove a negative. Historians can only work on the level of the probable. If the first item allows this elasticity, then I believe my initial argument succeeds. Furthermore, I was seeking to contextualize the list of Irenaeus and explain it in its historical context.  What I concluded was Irenaeus’s list was pre-existing and composed c. 180 AD. Irenaeus used this list in explaining the public ministry of the Gospel that agreed in Rome (the immigrant capital of the empire) and throughout the empire. Thus the earlier evidence shows that the church was led by multiple presbyter-bishops into the second century (with no evidence any of them possessed “supreme jurisdictional authority”).

BOH claims, “all the appeals he makes to scholars turn out to reduce to an argument from authority.” BOH alleges that my utilization of scholarship is “ad hoc special pleading.” My choice not to interact with scholars that were unaware of developments in the social history of Rome, like Dix and Cirlot, is an example of this “special pleading” and that I am engaged in “counting contemporary academic noses.”

By way of response, I did attempt to retract my manner of expression because I did not want to merely dismiss Dix or Cirlot. They are capable scholars and ought to be respected as such, even though they were unable to draw conclusions based on some of the evidence from fractionation that is now in the academic literature. I state as much in Comment #169. Dix and Cirlot simply lived before all relevant data had been formed into the type of social history explored.  It is also worth noting, as I do in Comment #91, that Dix argues,

within the embryo ministry one *group* only was customarily charged with the ‘episcopal’ office at the eucharist which the others (viz. the deacons) did not fulfill…[Clement] assumes that a corporate presbytery exercising “episkope” was the original form of local church government…[1]

While Paul Owen provides some context to these quotes, they seem to only reinforce that even scholars such as Dix agree with substantial components of my thesis, namely, early governance was presbyterial.

Yet, evens if Dix agrees with important components of my thesis, it does not remove the substance of BOH’s argument. Appeals to academic consensus are the weakest form of human argument, but are even weaker considering the animus of the academy. A hermeneutic of discontinuity is preferred over against a theory of continuity. If evenly applied, according to BOH, it is acidic to the examination of the historical Jesus or the witness of the NT documents.

Personally, one of the things I am committed to as a Christian is the pursuit of truth, and therefore when similar standards are applied to NT documents, I evaluate those claims and respond based upon the quality of evidence. If there is a paradigmatic difference, I attempt to explain how the methodology I use leads to the truth in a superior way to a competing paradigm.

Moreover, one of the reasons the presence of scholarship was brought to bear is that claims were made at CtC about the scholarship related of Roman Christianity. Bernard Green, for example, supported the narrative of CtC. Upon examination, this turned out to be false. The further I investigated sources, the more they undermined the narrative propounded at CtC. I read and conversed with Mainline, Evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed, and atheist scholars and continued to find resounding agreement about Roman ecclesiology. I wanted to share this information and also demonstrate that while the scholars I research disagreed on many things, they all agreed here. In an attempt to refocus upon the evidence itself, I will not mention scholarly consensus again.

BOH then claims that earlier data is given a priority in historical reconstruction. This is a generally sound principle, but then one must evaluate the reliability of particular historical periods. BOH assumes that “if all things are equal” you prefer the evidence from an earlier source—and this is generally agreeable—but *assume* that the testimony of Irenaeus is at least equal to the scholars assessing the data. That case needs to be made, not assumed. The opinion of the scholars is similar to that of a judge. The judge weighs to reliability of each witness, hears the evidence, compares competing claims, and makes a decision. The judge himself was not an eyewitness, but access to all of the data allows the judge to draw conclusions, some of which may entail that a witness was lying, mistaken, partially correct, or completely truthful. Responding that the judge was not an eyewitness is true, but it is immaterial to whether or not the judge is able to make a rational decision, a decision that perhaps even an eyewitness may not agree with.

[1] Paul Owen provides context to Dix’s statements in Comment #102 found here:


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