Bruxy Cavey recently publisheded a blog series responding to some of the criticism of his view of Scripture. Part 1 on the issue of authority is here.
I’m going to make a few comments in response to Part 1. I’ll not be dismantling this arguments point-by-point, but I hope to blow a big enough hole in the argument as a whole to expose it for what it is. Here are my main criticisms.
Cavey continues to divide the Authority of Jesus from the Authority of Scripture
The foundational error and fundamental flaw in Bruxy Cavey’s view of Scripture is that he divides the authority of Jesus from the authority of Scripture as if they are two separate, distinct authorities. The entirety of his article argues on the assumption of this division and distinction and relies on its validity for the truth of his conclusion.
This premise, however, is flawed. It is incoherent. The authority of Jesus and the authority of Scripture are one in the same authority. All of Scripture is the very speech of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Matthew 19:5, Acts 4:24-26, 13:34-35, Romans 9:17, Galatians 3:8, Hebrews 1:1, 6, 7, 8, 10-12, 2:12, 3:7-11, 2 Peter 1:20-21). Jesus a member of the Trinity, the Trinity is one God, therefore the words of Scripture are the words of Jesus. The words of Jesus carry all of Jesus’ authority, therefore the authority that the Scriptures have is Jesus’ own.
Jesus’ authority and Scripture’s authority not simply on the same level, they are the same authority. Any distinction here in terms of their authority is incoherent, and any argument which relies entirely upon an incoherent premise for it’s validity is necessarily false. Therefore, Cavey’s argument in his article for the authority of Jesus over the authority of Scripture is false.
Cavey doesn’t answer the criticism
Bruxy Cavey once again avoids answering the real criticism against his view.
Aside from my point above, there are two major criticisms that have yet to be addressed by Cavey which I predicted he would not address publicly.
The first is that Cavey is an errantist. He believes there are errors in Scripture. On what authority does he identify such errors and correct them? He says Jesus is his ultimate authority, but everything he can know about Jesus is contained in Scripture, which he claims contains errors due to the errant nature of the men God used to record it (a point that is nowhere taught in Scripture). So, how does he know the Scripture he relies on for his knowledge of Christ is authoritative and inerrant, and by what standard can others test whether he is correct or not? How does he know that the texts he relies upon as true are not in error? Cavey’s position requires yet another, greater authority outside of Scripture to be consistent. Cavey’s friend, Brian Zahnd has resorted to communing with spirits to gain this kind of knowledge, has Cavey done the same? I don’t know because he’s never bothered to address this glaring inconsistency.
The second is that Jesus himself did not hold the same view of Scripture that Cavey does. Jesus taught that the words of Scripture were the very words of God for all people of all ages (Matthew 19:4-5, 22:31-32). He said the Scriptures were true (John 17:17), cannot be broken (John 10:35), and repeatedly appealed to the Scriptures as Divinely authoritative (Matthew 4:4,7,10; 11:10; 21:13,42; 26:31; 19:4; 22:29-32; 26:56). To Jesus, a Scripture quotation justified action, or ended an argument. Jesus never corrected Scripture or taught in any way that it was anything less than the ultimate authority because it was the speech of God. Jesus certainly never divided the authority of Scripture from the authority of God. If Cavey is “following Jesus, not the Bible” and his ultimate authority is Jesus, then why does he view scripture in a way that contradicts Jesus’ own teaching on the nature of Scripture?
Cavey’s view is a mess of self-contradiction and inconsistency. Will he ever get around to answering the hard questions his view faces, or will he continue to repeat the same tired mantras?
Cavey Deals Dishonestly with his Critics
We need our comfort food
In this post, as with other times he’s spoken on the issue, Bruxy Cavey says that many Christians are quick to label Anabaptists as Liberals simply because they do not use the word “inerrant” to speak of Scripture. This is simply not true, at least not for myself and others who have actually listened to Cavey teach on the subject of Scripture. For us, the issue is not that he doesn’t use our “theological comfort food” as he calls it, it’s not that he simply doesn’t use the word inerrancy, it’s that he unequivocally teaches directly against the word and concept (I documented this here)! He teaches that there are sinful errors in the text and that to teach inerrancy discredits Jesus Christ, hinders evangelism and leads to Bible-worship. We happen to think that’s a big problem.
It seems Bruxy Cavey is willing to speak pretty strongly against the inerrancy of Scripture as a concept, then when he is called out for it he wants to soften it and claim some kind of victim status – as if reformed or conservative Christians are just meanies or babies who can’t handle someone not using the right words. No, we are concerned that Cavey teaches against, warns against, and insinuates that it is sinful and destructive to believe the concept of Scriptural inerrancy, no matter what words he uses to do it. Why is he not forthcoming with his own position that’s been criticized? Why does he have to soften his own position and misrepresent the real criticism coming his way regarding his actual teaching?
Protstants just assume he’s a Liberal
Cavey further comments in the article that many conservative Protestants view anyone who does not take the view that Scripture is ultimately authoritative and inerrant as Liberal:
“For many Protestants, it never occurs to them that there might be a third option: a group of deeply committed Christians who hold the Bible in very high regard as God’s inspired gift to the Church, but who also hold Jesus in even higher regard than Scripture and who use their language intentionally to reflect this.“
I’d like to point out that there is a very good reason that Cavey’s “third option” applied to the authority of Jesus and Scripture does not occur to many serious Protestants – it is nonsense to divide the authority of Jesus from his word. It is incoherent, and so we have no reason to consider it a valid position. In addition to that, many of us recognize that there is virtually no material difference between Cavey’s view and the views of Liberalism. Since, on Cavey’s view, there is no objective standard by which we can judge and test what is inerrant and authoritative in Scripture and what is not, he is left with no objective authority by which to judge and test his view of Jesus. Cavey’s view and Liberal Christian views are built on the exact same foundation – denial of the ultimate authority of Scripture.
Protestant word games?
Another example of Cavey misrepresenting his critics is found in his section called “A Protestant Objection”. Here he equates the role of the Scriptures to John the Baptist in that they point to Jesus but are not the ultimate authority. Cavey says:
“When John the Baptist told his disciples to follow Jesus, no one played the word game of saying, ‘But if we listen to John’s word and we follow Jesus, aren’t we just following John? Doesn’t that mean John has equal authority to Jesus if we’re listening to his instruction to follow Jesus’ authority? So let’s just say we are equally followers of Jesus AND followers of John.’ No. Please no. This is silly. Because they listened to John and trusted John and believed what John said, they followed Jesus as the authority of their lives. And yet today many Protestants make the same objection. When Radical Christians say, “Jesus is our sole authority” some Christians respond, ‘But you only know about Jesus from the Bible! So the Bible must equally be your authority!’ No. We trust the Bible, like John’s disciples trusted him, and we do what the Bible instructs us to do – submit to the authority of Jesus.”
I pointed out in this post that comparing John the Baptist to Scripture in this way relies on a false equivalency. John the Baptist pointed people to Jesus, yes, but he was not by nature “θεόπνευστος” (theopneustos), God-breathed, nor was he the sole authority on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Scripture is those things. The biblical teaching about the nature of Scripture is not even comparable to its teaching as to the nature of John the Baptist.
Also, Cavey’s example here of faulty Protestant thinking assumes that Protestants also divide the authority of Scripture from the authority of Jesus, but that we put them on the same level. That’s simply not true, at least not for me or other Protestants I know. We say that the authority of Scripture is the very same authority as the authority of Jesus because Scripture is the very speech of the Triune God (as explained above)! The same cannot be said of John the Baptist. Cavey tries to accuse Protestants of playing a “word game”, but nothing could be further from the truth. There is a big difference between the position that the authority of Scripture is the authority of Jesus, and saying it isn’t.
Of course it’s easy to make Protestants look silly by saddling them with some absurd argument they don’t make, but that only further proves that any division of the authority of Scripture and the authority of Jesus is incoherent, whether you attribute to them different levels of authority or equal.
Why must Cavey choose a weak, confused form of a generic objection to respond to? Why not simply QUOTE the strongest “Protestant objection” and answer it? Wouldn’t that be the intellectually honest thing to do?
It makes me think Cavey either cannot actually deal with the real criticism of his view, or he doesn’t understand the Reformed view at all despite claiming to have once been Reformed himself. I wonder who he is trying to convince here. It cannot be his critics, because he seems intent on misrepresenting or side-stepping them. It appears to me that he is only looking to do some damage control, to make it appear to the unwary that he is answering the criticism.
Cavey Falsely Says Jesus Takes Authority Over Scripture
Cavey claims, as he has before, that Jesus claimed authority over Scripture and changed or corrected it in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17-48). This is patently false and a twisting of the Scriptures. Jesus begins that sermon by saying that he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, that not one iota or dot of the law will pass away until heaven and earth pass away, and that anyone who relaxes the law at all will be least in the kingdom of heaven (vs 17-20). Are we really to believe that immediately after saying this, Christ then goes on to overrule and change the law? If you read what Jesus teaches, and actually read the Old Testament passages he cites in context you will see that Jesus is teaching exactly what the original text says and giving it it’s proper application. Everything Jesus teaches is consistent with the law he cites. He nowhere corrects or changes the Scriptural teaching from the Old Testament. He may expound upon the law, but never changes it.
No doubt Jesus was correcting some teaching, but it was not the true, Scriptural teaching. He was correcting the false understandings and traditions that some were teaching at the time and applying the truth to his people. The only way Cavey would think that Jesus was contradicting the Old Testament is if he himself interprets those Old Testament texts to be teaching what Jesus specifically corrects. That’s not a good place to be.
Cavey also makes reference to the fact that the people who heard Jesus commented on the authority with which he spoke. Of course, one can speak with authority, even the authority Jesus spoke with, and not “take authority over the Scriptures”, as Cavey alleges Jesus did. It’s a moot point.
Mark 2:10, Luke 5:24
Bruxy Cavey offers other examples of Jesus “taking authority over Scripture” such as Jesus claiming authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24). Cavey says Jesus did this “apart from the sacrificial system mandated in the Bible”. That, of course, is absurd. Any and all sin that has ever been forgiven in human history has been forgiven on the merits of Christ’s own sacrifice on the cross, which is the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrificial system. The only reason Bruxy Cavey can claim Jesus forgave sins apart from that is because in addition to his aberrant view of Scripture, Bruxy Cavey denies Penal Substitutionary Atonement! So we see that the only reason this argument holds water in Cavey’s view is because he has a deficient view of the atonement. He believes sins can be forgiven apart from the shedding of blood (see this video and this video). Far from Jesus forgiving sin apart from the sacrificial system, Jesus forgave sin based on the ultimate fulfillment of that system – his own shedding of blood as the perfect, spotless lamb of God for the sins of God’s people.
He also claims Jesus took authority over Scripture when he declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19). Jesus here was not “taking authority over Scripture”, he was, again, rightly applying Scripture. This is not a text we should deal with too simplistically, so hear me out.
Jesus was teaching that the act of eating foods considered unclean in the OT law would not, in and of itself, cause you to become truly unclean in your heart, but that the true thoughts and intents of your heart are what manifest in sinful behaviour. You are not a sinner because you sin, you sin because you are a sinner.
The prohibition against unclean foods in the Mosaic law served a certain purpose for God’s people at the time it was given. Not all Mosaic law was moral law applicable to all people of all time, although all law is based on fundamental moral law. Some law had the purpose of governing the nation of Israel on a civil level, and some law dealt with universally applicable morality that would never pass away, summed up in the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40) – love God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) and neighbour (Leviticus 19:18). Other laws were given for the purpose of keeping God’s people, Israel, distinct and separate from their pagan neighbours in their worship of the one true God. The Mosaic law surrounding dietary restrictions is not one that is universally for all people at all times, because we see that God gave different people at different times and in different situations different dietary rules (Genesis 1:30, 9:3, Leviticus 11:47, Romans 14:1-4) In Mark 7:19, Jesus is taking the dietary law of the Old Testament and putting it in it’s proper place and giving it’s proper application in the context of this particular conversation.
That said, the teaching Jesus gives in Mark 7:19 is in a particular context. Starting at the beginning of Mark 7 Jesus is confronted by the scribes and Pharisees for not upholding “the tradition of the elders”, specifically the hand washing traditions (vs 1-5). Note, this tradition was not something from Scripture, it was a tradition outside of Scripture. Jesus calls them hypocrites and castigates them for rejecting the commandment of God in favour of their own tradition (vs 6-13). In doing so, Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 and says Isaiah was prophesying of them. Jesus gives another example of their hypocrisy by pointing out that they had twisted the Corban rule “thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down” because the tradition stopped people from obeying Exodus 10:12 and 21:17. Jesus then calls the people to himself and launches into his teaching on the fact that nothing going into a man can defile, but that which comes from the heart of man defiles (vs 14-23). In the process, he declares all foods clean. Obviously, in the context, Jesus is not overruling the Scripture (since he just rebuked the Pharisees for doing just that), he is giving its proper application and understanding. Those dietary laws, even at the time they were given (Leviticus 11), NEVER would have made a person’s heart clean. It would be a strange thing indeed for Jesus to chastise someone for something as being sinful and then turn around and do the same thing, don’t you think?
So, Jesus declaring all foods clean was not an example of Jesus overruling Scripture. He was simultaneously teaching three truths from the Old Testament and giving them proper application. The first was that mere ritual does not make a clean heart. Your outward appearance may be spotless, and your heart be black, dead, and far from God, just as Jesus called the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs” – beautiful outwardly but inwardly dead (Matthew 23:27). The second is that the speech of God, Scripture is the ultimate authority. Men’s traditions, if they in any way impede anyone from understanding and obeying the Scriptures are not just useless, but damning. The third is that we must be careful with the law of God in the Old Testament. It is important that we understand it well so as to not make it void, dismiss it, nor misapply it to think that by simply obeying it in word alone makes us righteous.
Cavey says that Jesus did this again in Matthew 19:8-9 where he claims Jesus “overruled” Moses’ teaching on divorce and remarriage. Look at Matthew 19:3-9. Once again, this is an example of Jesus properly applying Scripture, not overruling it.
The Pharisees specifically ask Jesus whether it is lawful to divorce your wife “for any cause” (v3), this is an important point ignored by Cavey. There were competing schools of interpretation in those days, some taught that it was lawful only to divorce your wife in the case of sexual immorality whereas the others permitted a man to divorce his wife practically “for any cause”. Jesus uses Scripture, which he calls God’s speech (v5), as the authority in deciding the issue. In addition to that, the Pharisees misrepresented Deuteronomy 24:1-4 by saying Moses “commanded one to give a certificate of divorce” (v.7). That text does not say Moses commanded such a thing, rather, the Law simply recognizes that there are cases of divorce due to “indecency” (sexual immorality as taught by Jesus) which are legitimate. In appealing to Genesis 1:27, 5:2, 2:24 as authoritative, Jesus is showing the Pharisees that divorce is outside of God’s intention, but that in the law of Moses God made provision for the event of certain sinful behaviour, namely sexual immorality. That is exactly what the Old Testament taught. Jesus is not overruling Scripture at all, he is simply demonstrating the consistent, coherent teaching from beginning to end and agreeing with it! In addition, he is refuting the Pharisee’s twisting of the text. He is doing the opposite of what Cavey says he’s doing.
Cavey is simply in error. He uses these as examples of Jesus doing one thing, when in fact Jesus is doing the opposite. Jesus teaches in perfect harmony with the Scriptures because the Scriptures are Jesus’ teaching. Cavey is wrong, and his point is refuted. All one has to do to see this error is carefully read the surrounding context of the verses Cavey cites and it becomes obvious that he is misapplying them. Ironically, Cavey seems to read many of the Old Testament texts not as Jesus understands them, but as the false teachers in Israel did! If this were not the case, Cavey would not think Jesus was contradicting these verses.
John 5 partially quoted… again
I’d also like to point out something I’ve pointed out before. Cavey quotes John 5:37-40 in this blog to justify his claim that we should follow Jesus and not Scripture. This is a favourite of his. He quotes it in his books, sermons, blogs, and interviews in the same way. His point is this:
“This is serious. Jesus says it is possible to follow the Bible, love the Bible, study the Bible – and never hear the voice of God. Furthermore, it is possible to memorize and meditate on the Bible, and never have God’s “word dwell in you”. Let this sink in. Unless we use the Bible as a pointer to Jesus, and then come to JESUS for our life, we are misusing the Bible.”
Um, no, he didn’t say that. He said they searched the Scriptures. Nothing about following the Bible, nothing about loving the Bible, nothing about meditating on the Bible, and nothing about using it as a pointer to Jesus. It’s not there. But Jesus did say they searched the Scriptures but didn’t come to him. Then Jesus says WHY they didn’t, and Bruxy Cavey never includes it in his own explanation of WHY the Jews would not come to him – I think that would be an important point, don’t you? Let’s look at the text. We’ll go right through to verse 47, not 40 where Cavey generally stops:
“37 ‘And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him.44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?'”
So, why does Jesus say they’ve never heard the Father’s voice? Why does he say they do not have his word abiding in them, they don’t believe on Jesus, nor have the love of God within them? It is because they do not believe Scripture (vs 45-47). Why does Cavey leave this part out? Jesus never said they wouldn’t come to him because they were following the Bible, loving the Bible, meditating on the Bible but not using the Bible as a pointer to him as Cavey claims. No, he said they wouldn’t come because they didn’t believe Scripture at all! Had they actually believed the Scripture they would recognize Jesus because Jesus and Scripture speak with one voice. Jesus equates belief in the Scriptures with belief in him (vs. 37-39, 44-47)! The real exhortation that can be given from Jesus’ teaching in John 5 is that you ought to believe all of Scripture to know Jesus and that Jesus and the Scripture speak in perfect unity and with the authority of God himself, but Cavey doesn’t bother reading everything the text actually says and adds his own ideas he thinks should be there, so his application is completely different. That’s not exegesis, and nobody should be persuaded by this kind of reading of Scripture.
These examples of Bruxy Cavey’s less-than-thorough handling of the Scriptures to support his incoherent position are not something that should be overlooked in evaluating Cavey’s argument in his article. So far his Scriptural support for his position has been demonstrated to be a smoke screen, a deception that relies on the naivete of his reader. He is twisting the Scripture in much the same way Satan tried with Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). Satan quoted Scripture, but did so incompletely, out of context, and in a twisted fashion. Jesus rebuked him for that.
This is a man who is ostensibly responsible for teaching the Christian faith to thousands every week, but in this single article he twisted several scriptures so badly as to make them say the opposite of what they were actually teaching.
Cavey Justifies his view by claiming it’s the Anabaptist view
Bruxy Cavey has done this before. When his view is criticized he basically resorts to an argument that his view is the Anabaptist view. This doesn’t actually lend any credibility to his view.
First, I would not saddle all Anabaptists with this view. For example, there are Anabaptists who think Bruxy Cavey is in error on this issue. I personally know many Anabaptists who do not agree with Bruxy Cavey on this. I think Cavey’s errors are on Cavey, not on all Anabaptists (read here for a good explanation as to why).
Second, EVEN IF ALL Anabaptists throughout history and today held to Cavey’s view, that would not justify it as a valid expression of the Christian faith, it would just mean that all Anabaptists were wrong. It says nothing about the truth of your position to say “well, that’s what my group believes”. If Cavey really believed this type of argument should he not accept as valid the violence in God’s name committed by Protestants that he decries so often? I mean, a group of Christians all thought it was valid, right? Of course not. The validity of a position is directly correlated to it’s proximity to the truth as found in our ultimate standard of truth, God as he has revealed himself in the Scriptures. That’s why Jesus chastised the Pharisees for holding their own traditions above the Scriptural commandments (Mark 7:6-9).
Bruxy Cavey’s first installment in his 3-part series on Scripture is a mess. The entire thing is argued on the incoherent premise that the authority of Jesus is distinct and separate from the authority of Scripture, fundamentally rejecting the nature of Scripture as the very speech of God. This fact alone renders the rest of the argument incoherent and inconsistent. On top of that Cavey misrepresents his critics and their arguments and, as a result, never actually answers the real criticism of his position. His use of Scripture to support his position is refuted by simply reading the details and context of the verses he cites. Ultimately his main appeal is that his view is the traditional Anabaptist view – which, aside from being contested by fellow Anabaptists, tells us nothing at all concerning the verity of his claims.
I have no reason to believe that Bruxy Cavey’s position on the authority of Scripture is true based on the argumentation put forward in this article. To be honest, several elements of his argument seem to me to be intellectually dishonest. Personally I find it disingenuous. I think I have demonstrated that Cavey seems more intent on obfuscating, muddying the issue, than actually dealing with it in a straight-forward manner. That is more than disappointing when we are debating one of the most fundamental issues of Christianity – the nature of Scripture.
I’m looking forward to responding to part 2 on the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy when I have some time.