By Peter Espeut
AROUND THE cupola of Kingston's Holy Trinity Cathedral is emblazoned 'This is the Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of Truth', words taken from St Paul's first letter to Timothy, Chapter 3, verse 15. At the time, these words were written (ca. 65 AD), there was, as yet, no Bible. Because the Church is 'The Pillar and Ground of Truth', it has the authority to fix the composition of the Bible, and did so. The Bible, with its 73 books, was fixed by the Council of Rome in 382 AD under Pope Damascus. And so, the Bible comes out of the Church, and is part of the sacred tradition of the Church.
Persons like Ian Boyne (c.f. his column in the Sunday Gleaner last) who believe in 'sola scriptura' (i.e., the Bible is the only source of religious truth) will have to explain why the Bible itself does not say that!
The origin of the Bible is part of the history of the Church, for the Bible did not fall from the sky as some would have us believe. Biblical fundamentalists believe that the Bible is the pillar and ground of truth, which is contrary to the very Bible they hold to be absolute!
What does 'pillar' and 'ground' of truth mean? A 'pillar' holds up a structure - say a roof; and so, if the Church is the 'pillar of truth', it means that an important function and purpose of the Church is to support, promote and defend the truth, which we know is what will set us free.
But what does 'ground of truth' mean? 'Ground' is a technical term which means source or foundation. God, the creator, is the 'ground of being'; and because of the special relationship between God and his Church, the Church is the 'ground of truth'.
In the heat of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther removed seven books (and parts of two others) from the Holy Bible Christians had been using for 1,500 years; clearly, Luther believed that the Church (his Church) is 'The Pillar and Ground of Truth', for Protestants believed they had the authority to change the Bible.
Never mind that in the first four centuries, major Church leaders like Tertullian, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Augustine, Cyprian, Ambrose, and countless others, recognised these seven books as canonical.
If it is true that faith must be based sola scriptura, how can this principle be accepted without accepting the authority of the Church which gave rise to the scriptura?
The Jews, the people of the First Covenant (the word 'testament' means covenant), have great annual feasts like Passover and Yom Kippur and the Feast of Tabernacles in the Jewish year, commemorating the great acts of God in their midst. The same Church (of the new and everlasting covenant) that gave us the Bible (with the New Testament), also gave us the Christian year, broken down into seasons and commemorations (like Christmas and Easter) of great events in the life of Jesus in our midst.
Bishop Boyne objects: why celebrate Christmas when we have the Feast of Tabernacles? Why celebrate Easter when we have Passover? Boyne questions the authority of the Church, born of the New Covenant, to establish feasts and seasons to replace those of the First Covenant. Does he also question the authority of the Church to promulgate a New Testament? Especially one which contains statements like "You have heard it said ... but I say to you ..." replacing Old Covenant principles with new ones. And which declares circumcision - the mark of the Old Covenant - redundant!
Bishop Boyne believes that "Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with biblical Christianity and is a pagan-derived festival adopted for strategic and political reasons". Why celebrate Christmas "when there is a legitimate biblical festival that could commemorate the birth of Jesus"? Rather than celebrate the "illegitimate" feast of Christmas, Bishop Boyne wants us to celebrate the "legitimate" Feast of Tabernacles.
Does Bishop Boyne know that the Feast of Tabernacles is derived from the Canaanite grape festival of Shechem? The Hebrews, after entering into the land of Canaan after the Exodus from Egypt, adopted the Canaanite harvest festivals as their own. Why is Bishop Boyne encouraging us to adopt this "pagan-derived festival" when we can have Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus, the light of the world?
Bishop Boyne, who presents himself as well-read, needs to understand history and culture a little better. There is very little that is new under the sun, and to reject everything that is of pagan origin is to reject almost everything.
Christians are sons and daughters of the New Covenant, and should not let Judaizers, like Boyne, spoil our Christmas joy.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon.