Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Jimmy Akin More than a Decade Behind
06/08/2006 - James WhiteI was informed today that Jimmy Akin had made some comments regarding sola scriptura, the Corban rule, and my comments on the subject. In looking at his blog article found here I was just a little surprised to discover that Mr. Akin, the lead apologist for Catholic Answers, has not done his homework on this particular subject, and in reading the comments left by Roman Catholics on this blog entry, it seems the majority of them are happy to go on second-hand research as well, a sad state of affairs. The question Akin is responding to is, "What is the Korban Rule, and why does James White make such a big deal about it when he speaks of sola scriptura?" Of course, I do not make a "big deal" out of it. I have addressed the issue in relationship to the failed attempt by Rome's apologists to get around Jesus' plain teaching that we are to examine all traditions by the higher standard of God's Word, even those that claim to be divine in origin. Here is the basic presentation I made in The Roman Catholic Controversy a decade ago:
Traditions and the Scriptures
Another vital passage that deals with the doctrine of sola scriptura is found in Matthew 15:1-9:
Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." And He answered and said to them, "Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?" For God said, ‘HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER,’ and, ‘HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH. "But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God," he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. "You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’"
Here we find the Lord providing us with the example that we must follow. The Jewish leaders objected to the fact that the disciples did not follow the rigorous hand-washing rituals of the Pharisees. They identified this as a breaking of the "tradition of the elders." They firmly believed that this body of tradition was authoritative, and some even believed that it had been passed down from Moses himself, though this is surely without warrant. But does Jesus accept this claim of authority?
Not at all! Instead, He launches a counter-attack against these leaders by pointing out how they nullify the command of God through the following of their own traditions, specifically in this case, with reference to the corban rule, whereby a man could dedicate his belongings to the Temple and hence not support his parents in their old age. The Lord Jesus holds this traditional teaching up to the light of Scripture, and finds it wanting.
It is vital to realize that the Jews viewed the corban rule as part of the 'tradition of the elders.' This was, to them, a divine tradition with divine authority. They did not simply view it as a mere "tradition of men," but as a concept revealed by God and passed down into the body of such teachings entrusted to the "elders" of the faith.
The parallels to the Roman claim regarding Sacred Tradition are many. While Rome may claim divine authority for her supposedly sacred traditions, and even subjugate Scripture so as to make it a part of "Sacred Tradition," needing other aspects such as the supposedly apostolic, unwritten traditions, and the authority of the magisterium of the Church, the person who wishes to follow the example of Christ will hold such traditions up to the light of Scripture, knowing how fearful it is to be found guilty of nullifying the word of God for the sake of merely human traditions. The Lord Jesus subjugated even this allegedly "divine tradition" to the higher and hence supreme authority, the Scriptures. This is most important, for the most common response to the citation of this passage with reference to Roman tradition is, "Well, the passage refers to testing human traditions, not divine traditions." Yet, when it comes to authority, any tradition, no matter what it’s alleged pedigree, is to be tested by the known standard, the Holy Scriptures. (pp. 68-69)
Further, in responding to a Catholic Answers article in This Rock Magazine over a decade ago now, I wrote (note especially section 3):
Mr. Palm notes that we do not find this office in the Old Testament. This is true, as far as the specific name goes. It is then asserted that Jesus' refusal to overthrow the form of synagogue worship and teaching is tantamount to a recognition of extra-biblical binding revelation. The close observer will note a huge chasm here. The religious situation into which the Messiah came was hardly identical with the situation under Moses. Many things were different, and due to occupation, Roman rule, and many other factors, there were all sorts of things that were "extra-biblical" that were part and parcel of the Jewish life of the day. Are we to honestly believe that unless the Lord Jesus proved a revolutionary in rejecting *every* non-biblical tradition and practice that this gives us wholesale license for the addition of such traditions today? Or should we not realize that in light of Jesus words in Matthew 15 that such traditions need to be tested by a higher authority (Scripture), and, *if they do not violate the Word of God,* they can be followed and practiced? There was nothing against the Scriptures in having a man read the Scriptures from Moses' seat, or to give judgments based upon the Law. Why then reject such a tradition? The acceptance of a tradition that is not contrary to Scripture is not grounds for the acceptance of others that *are.* And what is more, the acceptance of a tradition current at the time does not mean that the Lord Jesus accepted the *claims* made by the Mishnah two hundred years later regarding the alleged basis of such traditions (i.e., those claims regarding Mosaic origin).
Regarding the Mishnaic tractate Aboth, it does indeed make the claim that Mr. Palm notes. However, are we to gather from Mr. Palm's citation that he *believes* this claim? It is hard to believe that he actually does---in fact, unless Mr. Palm has undergone a recent conversion to Judaism, I can't possibly see how he could do so. Let's note a few things:
1) The tractate indicates that the Torah was passed down to such individuals as Shammai and Hillel, yet, as students of NT backgrounds know, these two set up opposing schools with different understandings of tradition (should sound familiar!). Who was, in fact, the true recipient of this alleged oral tradition, then?
2) Does Mr. Palm believe that the statements recorded in this tractate reflect oral revelation? Does he agree with Jose ben Johanan of Jerusalem (Mishnah 5 of tractate Aboth) who says that you should not speak much with your wife? Is this "oral tradition" binding and divine in origin? And does he believe that Rabbi Gamaliel (who is likewise listed as a recipient of this divine tradition) was providing oral and binding divine revelation when he said that you should appoint for yourself a teacher so as to avoid doubt, and that you shouldn't make a habit of tithing by guesswork?
3) The authority of this tractate can be cited to support the Corban rule of Matthew 15:1-9. In fact, as Lightfoot discusses in his _Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica_, (II:226-229), entire Mishnaic tractates are devoted to such issues. If Mr. Palm accepts the claims of tractate Aboth, then he is bound to likewise believe that the Lord Jesus erred in Matthew 15 in subjugating the Corban rule, based, as it is, upon the same oral tradition, to the higher authority of Scripture.
4) When did this "oral tradition" pass away? Surely Mr. Palm does not follow it any longer. This presents him with numerous problems. If he says this tradition has passed away, is he not admitting that the apostolic oral tradition can pass away too? Was this tradition infallible? If so, why is it not infallible today? If it became fallible, does it not follow that Roman tradition can likewise become fallible?
I believe this topic has come up in the many debates on sola scriptura that I have done since the first in August of 1990. The argument is plain: Jewish tradition about the Corban rule made it a tradition that had a divine pedigree, though passed down outside of Scripture. Jesus specifically subjugated it to Scripture, hence, to follow His lead, we, too, would have to test all traditions by the higher standard of Scripture.
Now one would expect that Jimmy Akin would be aware of what those on "the other side" are saying, but instead he writes, "I haven't read or heard specifically what James White may have been doing with this passage, but it is a staple of Protestant anti-Catholic apologetics." Please note the continued misuse of the phrase "anti-Catholic apologetics." As I have said many times over the years, when Mr. Akin starts calling himself an anti-Protestant, I'll let him get away with identifying my entire work, which includes responding to secularists, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, and any number of others, as simply "anti-Catholic." Till then, he is still relying upon the improper use of emotionally laden terms as a form of false argumentation.
This matter aside, does Mr. Akin actually respond to what I have said about Tractate Aboth, etc.? No, he doesn't even seem to have the first bit of familiarity with the background of the topic. Ironically, he accuses Protestant apologists, and myself by implication, of the error of "hasty generalization," when, obviously, in light of the documentation provided above which as been published and available for a decade, it is Mr. Akin who has not only generalized in error he has completely missed the entire argument as a result. I am truly surprised at the shallow nature of this response by Akin. He writes:
The reason is that in this passage Jesus sets the korban tradition in opposition to the word of God and this is frequently taken as an indicator that all tradition is opposed to the word of God or that there is a fundamental opposition between tradition and Scripture.
It is thus common to hear Protestant ministers and apologists waxing eloquent on this passage--and even getting emotionally worked up from the pulpit or behind the microphone about how horrible a thing it is to set tradition above the word of God--and how we must therefore cling to the precious principle of sola scriptura or "by Scripture only."
The problem, of course, is that this argument commits the logical fallacy of hasty generalization.
The fact that in this passage Jesus says that particular aspects of Pharisaical tradition are contrary to God's word does not mean that all traditions are contrary to God's word. Nor does it say that we must use Scripture only and not Tradition. The fact that one tradition or one set of traditions must be excluded does not mean that all traditions must be excluded.
You will note that nothing here comes close to actually responding to what I have said, since it ignores the fact that Jewish tradition itself made the Corban rule a part of the oral tradition traceable back to Moses, hence divine in nature. The argument is that by choosing this tradition, which the Jews claimed had the very same kind of pedigree that Rome claims for her traditions, He was teaching us to examine all traditions, even those that men claim to be divine, by Scripture. This completely refutes the Roman Catholic argument about "some traditions, but not all." How can Akin be ignorant of this? I remember pointing this out to Patrick Madrid and Mark Brumley at a seminar they did in Phoenix fifteen years ago. Are we to believe the largest Catholic apologetics organization in the world doesn't take the time to develop meaningful responses to arguments that clearly challenge their standard presentations?
After this Akin goes into a discussion of tradition (see the above referenced response to David Palm for a much more in-depth response than is needed to cover Akin's brief commentary), but nowhere does he even begin to touch upon the real argument that has been in print and on line for at least the past ten years. Sadly, in reading the comments left by Roman Catholics after this very poor example of Catholic apologetics, no one seemed to notice, and no one seemed to have actually read any semi-meaningful non-Catholic critique of Rome's position. The task for all who believe in the sufficiency of God's Word remains ever present in all forms of evangelism, as we have seen over and over and over again, whether we are seeking to bring the message of life to Muslims, Mormons, or Roman Catholics.