Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
The Catholic Verses: The Pillar and Foundation
01/05/2005 - James White
Mr. Armstrong has just recently noted, in reference to myself and others,
Carry on, fools . . . we're all watching, and it is high entertainment, believe me. You think you will get me to change my mind by these childish tactics and colossal errors of fact? You go right ahead. I'm documenting every vacuous, vapid insult and dumb mistake you make . . .Well, hoping to continue to provide the stongest possible contrast to his attitude, behavior, and actions, let alone his theology, I press forward with my review of Dave Armstrong's book, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants.
When Paul wrote to Timothy he addressed issues related to the fellowship of the church. Most believe Timothy was serving as bishop in Ephesus, so Paul was providing him insight into the form and function of the body. Notice the context of the end of the third chapter:
12 Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. 13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. 14 I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; 15 but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. 16 By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness:
He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Proclaimed among the nations,
Believed on in the world,
Taken up in glory.
Notice the context of v. 15: it is that of the local church, in which you have elders and deacons. Paul is coming to a particular physical location (Ephesus?) where Timothy is, and that would identify the context once again as the local church. So Paul explains he is writing so that Timothy would know how one "ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth." The context follows with a definition of that truth which is supported and promoted by the church, that being the message of Jesus Christ. A few years ago I wrote the following concerning this passage in a book titled Dangerous Airwaves (some additional material inserted to provide further clarity):
Sound exegesis requires us to look closely at Paul's words and the context in which they would have been understood by his child in the faith, Timothy. One vital point to keep in mind when reading Paul's letters to Timothy is seen in the common source both used in their teaching and preaching: the Greek Septuagint (the LXX), the Greek translation of the Tanakh, the Old Testament. Both used the same source in their teaching and preaching, and therefore, when we find Paul using terms that come directly from the LXX, we should be quick to realize that Timothy, being a student of the Scriptures himself (2 Timothy 3:14-15) would likewise make the same connections. And what do we find when we look at the terms Paul uses in this passage?
The first thing we discover is that the terms Paul uses are echoed in the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures. He speaks of the church as the "household of God." David had used the very same language long before. In 1 Chronicles 29:3 we read,
Moreover, in my delight in the house of my God, the treasure I have of gold and silver, I give to the house of my God, over and above all that I have already provided for the holy temple.
These words were spoken, of course, in the context of the temple of God that was to be built in Jerusalem. This temple became the focus of the worship of the one true God. In the same way the church is the place where the central focus is the worship of God through the reading of the Scriptures, prayer, and the singing of God's praises. God is glorified and praised in His church, throughout the ages, as we will see in Paul's exposition to the church at Ephesus.
In a similar way the phrase "the living God" would have evoked a number of images in Timothy's mind, including these:
But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth quakes, And the nations cannot endure His indignation. (Jeremiah 10:10)
'For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? (Deuteronomy 5:26)
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:2)
My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD; My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. (Psalm 84:2)
Joshua said, "By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite. (Joshua 3:10)Then David spoke to the men who were standing by him, saying, "What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?" (1 Samuel 17:26)
In each of these passages the phrase "the living God" contrasts the true God of Israel with the false idols of the surrounding nations. It contains an implicit assertion of monotheism and a denial of the existence of any true God outside of Yahweh (cf. Isaiah 43:10). The living God is greatly concerned about His worship and His glory (all idols are, by nature, unconcerned about such things, and those who control the worship of such abominations are the ones who are manipulating people to their own ends), and by drawing from this Old Testament terminology, Paul is continuing to emphasize the continuity between God's revelation of old and this new work, that of the church.
He continues the motif by describing the church as the "pillar and foundation of the truth." The word he chooses for "pillar" is used a number of times in the LXX. In Exodus 13:22, 14:19, and 33:9 the pillar of cloud/fire, representing God's presence and protection, uses this term, stu/loj . And in 1 Kings 7:15 the bronze pillars in the Temple are described using the same word. The term for "foundation," e`drai,wma, is a hapax legomena in the LXX and NT, but related terms speak in the OT to firmness, steadfastness, immovability.
When we listen, then, with the full effect of the background of the Old Testament in place, to the description Paul gives of the church in 1 Timothy 3:15, we can hear it at the "volume" it would have carried in its original context. Remember, Paul is exhorting young Timothy in both his letters to him to stand strong in the service of Christ within the church. We are encouraged to give our best in the pursuit of the highest goals and the most exalted service, so Paul reminds Timothy of what he had surely already taught him in person. The church is the household of God, under His divine and sovereign rule. It is a divine institution, established at the command of God, sustained by His Spirit. And the church has a purpose as a result: it is the firm, unmoving ground upon which the truth can stand without fear of falling to the ground. The terms "pillar and foundation" speak to the strength of the church in providing a ground upon which the truth can be based. Surely for young Timothy this would be a great encouragement, but do not forget that for Paul this would be just as great a boon, for he was facing the end of his life, and could not but consider the future, filled with challenges and dangers, and pray for the continuing health of the young church. He had confessed to the Corinthians that there was upon him the "daily pressure of concern for all the churches" (2 Corinthians 11:28), so surely that had not ended when he wrote to Timothy. And yet he knew the truth: the church would endure because it is not a merely human institution, it is divine in its very nature. God had decreed the church to function as the ground and support of the truth, holding forth the word of life and worshipping Him who is truth itself. This did not make the church the truth itself (indeed, Paul's epistles, written to churches, almost always have corrective elements, demonstrating the constant need for reformation in the fellowship), but the intimate relationship between the true church and the truth itself is unmistakably taught in Scripture.
Now, I provided this positive interpretation once again as a contrast to what we find in The Catholic Verses. Armstrong begins his book by informing us that Roman Catholics like himself have nothing to fear from exegetical examination: "We aren't afraid to subject our views to the most intense biblical scrutiny and exegesis. In fact, we eagerly welcome it" (xvii). And so the very first chapter is titled, "The Church," and the first passage (which, let us remember, "confounds" Protestants) cited is 1 Timothy 3:15. Now, when you find someone claiming they take a passage at "face value," but they do not ever once mention its context, its language, or its function, the chances are very, very good that they are reading it in a traditional fashion and hence importing eisegetical concepts into it. And this is, yet once again (the pattern is becoming quite consistent, is it not?), what we find in The Catholic Verses. No exegesis is offered. No argument from context appears. We simply have:
Catholics accept this passage at face value: the Church is the ground or foundation (the word used in the New International Version [NIV] translation) of truth; it is infallible; it is specially protected by the Holy Spirit so that it can be the Guardian and Preserver of apostolic tradition and truth and doctrine. (p. 3)
One cannot help but notice that Armstrong slides from the Church as the ground of the truth directly to saying it is infallible. Of course, one immediately asks, "What, in the text, communicates infallibility?" No answer is offered. No basis for this huge leap is provided. The Holy Spirit does not even appear in the text, yet, is present in Armstrong's "face value" interpretation. And from this point our author wanders off into various arguments about church authority, sola scriptura, eventually getting to Calvin from the Institutes IV, 2, 1, including the statement, "it is certain that there is no Church where lying and falsehood have usurped the ascendancy" (amen!). He moves on to criticize the concept of the invisible church, as if even Roman Catholic theologians have not recognized the difference between the visible and invisible church. Finally, he quotes Adam Clarke's commentary, who evidently struggled with the passage. But nowhere does Armstrong do the one thing he must do to be taken seriously: he never exegetes the passage. He never makes the connections that would be absolutely necessary to prove his point. He just assumes his position, nothing more. Yet, he can then state, "The Cathoilc, of course, is not burdened by these internal inconsistencies and the need to special plead (and adopt desperate explanations) in order to disagree with one particular view at all costs." Again, if you are going to make bold assertions for your position, you need to do more than just assume it. And once again, Armstrong has failed, here, in the very first of the "Catholic Verses."
Personally, I am thankful the Holy Spirit moved Paul to describe a local church---a church with blemishes, a church being conformed to the image of Christ, a church surely not infallible in the Roman sense, but a local church where the Word of God was being proclaimed, the mystery of godliness was being made known, as the pillar and foundation of the truth. I am thankful we can function as that pillar and foundation, not because of some inherent characteristic within us, but because the church is the Bride of Christ, and He is the one who is building her in His own way, in His own time.
So the very first of Armstrong's attempts fails at the gate. It is hard to keep track of just how many verses we need to subtract from the 95, but you are probably getting the idea now: the "Catholic Verses" are, in fact, "Badly Chosen Catholic Prooftexts Devoid of Exegetical Meaning." But we must be ready to explain why and hope and pray the Spirit will open hearts and minds that have been blinded by a false gospel and a false hope.