Review: The Path is Very Long

This is a review of “The Path is Very Long” by Catacomb Resident.

You are probably aware of the so-called Church Creeds and related documents, considered at least somewhat sacred by a major portion of organized Christian religion. That documentation still binds the hearts and minds of an awful lot of church people today.

I grew up as an Anabaptist in the Church of the Brethren, an explicitly non-creedal church. I would seem to agree with CR here that creeds should not bind the hearts and minds of men. I avoid churches with long mission statements or with massive bureaucracies and their codified rules, regulations, and laws.

Even the evangelicals make it part of their divinity curriculum. I got a ton of it at an evangelical university. But I can assure you that Big Eva remains ignorant of the Old Testament equivalent. I’ll grant you that many non-evie churches include the Apocrypha in their Bibles, and the higher academic degrees include that stuff, but Big Eva generally ignores all of that. They keep asserting that the gospel is “sola scriptura” when it’s obviously not.

The Anabaptists initially had no problem using the Apocrypha. Historical circumstances caused it to be set aside, for the most part, but it was never rejected explicitly. Another closely related Anabaptist group, the Mennonites, included it in their Bibles. It was mostly abandoned, even where it was maintained.

But it is critical to note that Jesus quoted—as scripture—from every major section of the Old Testament scripture, but he never did so of the Apocrypha. There is some debate among scholars if the version of the Septuagint used by Jesus, the apostles, and the early church even included the apocryphal books. We don’t even know if the canon that we have today would have matched the one that they supposedly used! The acceptance of the apocrypha as scripture has always been a deeply questionable, speculative proposition.

I’ve already noted the silliness of Big Eva clinging to the Masoretic text of the Old Testament when it’s painfully obvious that the New Testament writers almost uniformly quoted from the Septuagint (“LXX”). The academic branch of Big Eva is aware of this, but it never seems to seep down into the churches.

I’m not only aware of it, but I speak of it fairly often on this blog. I’m well aware of its importance and relevance. But, scriptural variance is the kind of thing that makes people upset. For example:

Comment by thedeti
This cannot be so.

Christianity was intended to be taught to, understood by, and lived out by, a mostly uneducated, illiterate, hardscrabble people. These concepts are not supposed to be difficult to teach or grasp. It should not require an 8000 word exposition requiring the equivalent of a degree in ancient languages to understand one – ONE – aspect of spousal relationships. If you have to spend over 8000 printed words explaining a very, very simple concept, then you either don’t get it or you’re hiding something.

A lot of what CR calls “Big Eva” holds to a particularly non-historical concept of scriptural inspiration. Attempting to point out that the “inspired Word of God” is different from the translations that they possess is not a pill that is easily swallowed.

But that said, even though Jesus used the Septuagint, it does not logically follow that the other written and oral traditions outside the canon of the Pharisees—the same canon that most Protestants use—were ever viewed as scripture. That includes the apocrypha in its various configurations.

Catacomb Resident wants to include extra-biblical material, because his chosen belief system relies on it, but there is no compelling reason that a Christian—whether “Big Eva” or not—should do so. He has raised his own religious clan’s choices to the level of doctrine, without sufficient justification. Choosing doctrine because that’s what the group—or a leadership authority in the group—demands is precisely what “Big Eva” does. Catacomb Resident thinks it is okay when his preferred group does it. That, my friends, is special pleading.

This hides the fact that Catacomb Resident is trying to add to revealed scripture. This is why his sect—which emphasizes mysticism—veers into heresy and fails the test of the spirits. The movement is thus, objectively, not of Christ, as with most tiny bespoke religious movements.

Look, I’ll be honest. I like a lot of what Radix Fidem teaches. It’s why I’ve been reading their articles for years. I think that the focus on the cultural context of the Ancient Near East is actually mostly correct. But if you fail the test of the spirits, you are not of Christ. It’s not one of those negotiable or ambiguous “subject to discernment” things. It’s really is simple. Radix Fidem is a cult. I only hope that this error is repented, because the movement could offer a lot of value to other branches of Christianity.

Yet, even the academics seem to ignore the unpublished oral lore of both Old and New Testament. We know it existed, because there are too many references that make no sense unless the apostles sat down and discussed things without leaving us the minutes of their meetings. Even in Acts, Luke summarizes the thrust of things and quotes very little, probably third hand. John warns that the bulk of Jesus’ oral teaching was never written anywhere.

It seems rather sensible to ignore unpublished lore, since we don’t have it. Knowing it existed tells us little-to-nothing about what it was, nor does that fact tell us if what we do have is incomplete in any meaningful way. While we can infer that other sources may have exist and have some general understanding of what it might have contained, a reconstruction of such materials is nothing more than wishful speculation.

Even apart from Jesus failing to quote from the non-canonical works, Jesus was not silent on this issue:

Bruce Charlton — What Does Jesus Teach in the Fourth Gospel
The Holy Ghost, the Comforter, is described Jesus himself (not a separate person) after he will have ascended to Heaven – and who will be present to all who love and follow Jesus. The Holy Ghost is stated to provide – in a personal way – all that is required of guidance and knowledge. This is emphasized: everything the disciples need to know after Jesus has ascended to Heaven, will be provided by the Holy Ghost.

Citation: Bruce Charlton, “What Does Jesus Teach in the Fourth Gospel.” (2024)

Jesus had already accounted for whatever might not have been written down. This is the reason for the sufficiency of sola scriptura: the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles what they needed to know and they wrote it down. Most importantly, the disciples did not need to rely on perfect memory recall—which doesn’t actually exist in human witnesses—in order to communicate God’s truth.

This is part of why academics like Heiser shock the common folks in the pew, along with a good portion of seminary graduates, with his reconstructions of Paul’s “mystery of the gospel” with all the references in books like Unseen Realm. Surely it would be obvious that Paul and the other apostles taught this stuff orally in churches, no?

That rather begs-the-question, doesn’t it?

The problem here is that CR cannot demonstrate his claim. There is no argument or evidence to support what is essentially pure speculation (e.g. those “reconstructions”). Sure, maybe my view of sola scriptura is incomplete, that we need to study more than what the Holy Spirit revealed to the Apostles that was written down. Maybe what CR is presenting is part of the Holy Spirit’s revelation…or maybe it isn’t. I have no way of knowing this, and neither do you. Anything beyond sola scriptura—which is deductively based on written teachings of Jesus—is speculative opinion, and no more than that.

Many (most?) cults do this. Whether Mormon, Radix Fidem, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Islam do this: they include new constructions of God’s revelation that are—according to proponents—not subject to examination or falsifiability. All rely on appeals outside the domain of reason. But Christian mysticism is different. It relies on conformance to scripture by application of the mind (e.g. the Bereans; Paul’s teachings on prophecy and speaking in tongues). The point is this, when CR says…

Surely it would be obvious that Paul and the other apostles taught this stuff orally in churches, no?

…this is indistinguishable from the exact same appeal that Roman Catholics would use to get us to accept their Magisterium and papacy. The same Roman Catholics who would have burned Radix Fidem members to death a few hundred years ago. This “argument” isn’t persuasive. The only persuasive argument—because it is backed by the historical evidence—is that Paul (and the other apostles) wrote down their oral teachings and that the early church understood this to be sufficient until around the late 4th century.

We know that the Jesus and the Apostles made reference to extra-biblical oral traditions. Here is one of them:

Luke 16:19-31

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Many people in “Big Eva” conclude from this that when you die, you immediately go to heaven or hell where you experience an exalted conscious existence, even though that teaching is not taught the rest of scripture (especially the Old Testament), which teaches over-and-over-again that the dead sleep. Indeed, Catacomb Resident just got done complaining that “Big Eva” is ignoring the Old Testament. So we would expect Catacomb Resident to not ignore the Old Testament, right?

In “A Dead Problem,” Catacomb Resident addresses this in a curious way:

A Dead Problem
The New Testament says that people who die are “asleep”. That indicates, with very little actual explanation, that we all pass into a sort of suspension. If the parable of Lazarus and Rich Man means anything, some will enjoy it (“go to heaven”) and others will not (“go to hell”). The distinction is whether someone kept the Covenant. I can make it only so precise as this: If God thinks of you as part of His Covenant family, you get to enjoy that rest. Otherwise, you’ll be in His Presence as an enemy.

The Day of Judgment is the Last Day — the last day of humanity under space/time restraints. Everyone will be pulled back out of “heaven” and “hell”. On that day, the Elect will be sifted out from the others. The “Lake of Fire” means the others cease to exist.

But notice what he is doing, he is setting aside the Old Testament teaching that the dead are unconscious. And he’s doing in a way that ensures that he also disagrees with the teaching of “Big Eva” which says that dead Christians go to heaven as conscious beings and that dead non-Christians go to hell eternally.

Catacomb Resident isn’t applying his methodology consistently. But Catacomb Resident doesn’t even know if the parable is meant to be taken literally or figuratively! The reason for this inconsistency is that his viewpoint is arbitrary and speculative: it isn’t grounded in any particular rational basis. He can’t even tell us what Jesus’ parable—which is actually written—means, even as he wants you to subscribe to a bunch of unwritten oral traditions, which are even more unclear.

This is what is meant by “That rather begs-the-question, doesn’t it?” Catacomb Resident is offering you nothing of value.

And surely you now realize that what is commonly referred to as “orthodoxy” is mostly nonsense. We have a very long way to go in recovering a genuine New Testament teaching of the gospel message.

This is an extremely broad statement that does not logically follow from the previous statements. I, of course, do agree that the concept of “orthodoxy” is mostly nonsense, but if I wanted to convince you of that I would cite all the articles that I’ve written on the topic in which I defend the claim using reason and evidence. It’s not hard to show that “orthodoxy” is derived from an abandonment of logic and reason, not its embrace.

Catacomb Resident does not do this. His claim is of no value, merely begging the question.

Every religious snake-oil salesman has a newly recovered “genuine” holy text that he wants to sell you. Is that the Mormons that I hear calling? The Book of Momon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ…

The one thing we still stumble over is the western obsession with pulling Heaven down to the human level. The western cosmology is all wrong, and it most certainly does not reflect the New Testament teaching. Rather, it’s read back into the Bible. Western minds demand to bolt handles on Eternity so they can put it where it makes most sense to them. They can’t allow it to stay outside of human grasp, which is where the entire scope of the Ancient Near East believed it was, and where it should be.

I sympathize with Catacomb Resident. I even agree with some of his opinions. But what he offers has no rational basis for his belief. He has no justification for what he is suggesting. Catacomb Resident is sure that he needs an Ancient Near East mode of thinking, but his belief is just empty as the belief system he is trying to overthrow. He has offered no reason to reject “Big Eva” other than “I’m sure my opinion is the correct one.”

That means those who agree with him are doing so without any confidence that they are not making a critical mistake. Like all religion zealots, they can certainly convince themselves to confidence, but they are no better than the adherents of “Big Eva.”

I’ll make this simple: the rejection of reason is inherently self-defeating. He can dress up his view with a deep lore, but without reason, it is all empty rhetoric. That’s why Paul applauded the Bereans, who examined the written word to determine if the oral teaching was valid. If I do the same thing, I’m essentially forced to reject the full sum of Catacomb Resident teaches, even if I see aspects of truth within it.

This is a very serious problem, which is why you should question any kind of mysticism that does not also embrace reason.

I can accept that Jesus was a Hebrew mystic of the Ancient Near East. I can accept that of Paul. I can even accept that the Bereans were mystics. But I cannot accept that any of them rejected the primacy of reason.

Paul expected the Bereans to use their reason to reject any teaching that failed to conform the scripture, and to accept the teachings that did.

How did an Ancient Near East mystic know that only females could get pregnant? How did he know that a man could not be a woman? How did he know that one sheep was different from two sheep? He applied the laws of logic. But how did a mystic from the East know about the laws of logic which were codified in the West? Because the logic is fundamental to reality. Even had the West never described the laws of logic, a mystic would still apply them to know that one sheep is less than two sheep and that a fertile male, lacking a womb, cannot get pregnant. If he received a mystical revelation that his male sheep was going to get pregnant next week, he’d have paid it no mind.

When John wrote…

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

…and…

I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.

…he was implicitly declaring that the law of noncontradiction—which is the foundation for distinguishing between truth and lie—is divine. This is why Hebrews states:

God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.

The law of noncontradiction is divine. To say that “God cannot lie” is to assert the Law of Noncontradiction. It is just as divine as saying “God is love.”

The problem with Catacomb Resident, and Radix Fidem in general, is that by denying the primacy of logic, it denies the primacy of truth. Indeed, it denies that aspect of God himself. You can read what Catacomb Resident wrote above and wonder how you could possibly know if what he is saying is true or false, whether you should be a follower. That is to ask “what is true?” or its equivalent “what is divine?” and its equal “what is reality?”

Heiser said in some of his lectures that “salvation” in the New Testament refers to loyalty to Christ. It is the Covenant relationship we have with Christ as our Lord. It is not eternal fire insurance. It’s not a status, but a state of being. I realize that it may be hard for some readers to grasp the distinction between those two, but it’s there. It’s a matter of identity; it’s who you are in Christ.

See, Catacomb Resident offers something of great value here: insight into the cultural framework that Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles operated within. But he does so by rejecting God’s truth by forcing his views into a logical conformance, that is, to be true. This critically hobbles his teaching, which is why his teaching isn’t grounded in reality.

This saddens me, because it is such a simple error to resolve. The mystics of the Ancient Near East didn’t reject logic and reason. Paul applied it liberally alongside his mysticism. It is a mistake to treat the two as being at odds with one another. I analyzed this in “Traditions of Men” when I analyzed the meaning of “heart” as the core of one’s being in the Ancient Near East, a core that included the mind.

Traditions of Men
When we examine the Hebrew word for ‘heart’ (Strongs #3824 lebab), we find more confirmation of what ‘heart’ means:

  • soul, comprehending mind, affections, or will.
  • one’s conscience
  • one’s moral character
  • seat of naughtiness, pride, or trouble
  • seat of emotions, passions, joy, and courage

It is not an Ancient Near East tradition that the heart represents the spiritual eternal nature while the intellect represents a part of the fleshly fallen nature.

I remain stunned at how a movement that purports to rely on its adherence to Ancient Near East develops a conception of reality that flies against the traditions of the Ancient Near East.

The Doctrine of Election and Predestination is the same way: Folks in the Bible didn’t think of it as a status, but an identity. It means you are rooted in Eternity, that you were so rooted before you were born. You simply play out that role in time/space, while everyone else plays out their own roles. There is a sense in which God alone knows who He rooted in Eternity, but the whole reason for doing it was so that we could let everyone else know.

I’ve never publicly weighed in on this topic. I’ll leave this to others to discuss.

Do you struggle with the meaning of Hebrews 6:1-9? The Bible is morally consistent across the board; the Covenant is everything. The writer refers to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit — spiritual birth. If the Covenant can’t call your name and awaken election, then nothing can. If you can walk through the initial gospel teaching and then walk away, there’s nothing anyone else can offer. This is where the powers of the Age to Come are sampled in this life.

Here is the passage in question:

Hebrews 6:1-9
6 Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with alvation.

I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be struggling with in this passage.

So the writer is saying, “Don’t leave people there where they can play games with simplistic teaching. Challenge them with the more difficult requirements of the Covenant. If they don’t stick around, if that drives them away, then there’s nothing you can do for them.”

That is, uh, a creative take on Hebrews 6:1-9. I can see why he thinks it is a difficult passage to exegete, as his explanation is difficult to justify. The writer of Hebrews isn’t talking about playing games with simplistic teaching, nor does he make mention of any such requirements of the Covenant. Catacomb Resident appears to be reading into the passage what he wishes was present.

I see the writer  talking about developing spiritual maturity in various ways. I read it with the same understanding that I read of Paul, who talked of replacing spiritual milk with spiritual solid food. And in the case of Paul, he was talking about replacing the worldly existence with that of God’s ways. If you want to call that “the Covenant”, fine, but requirements? Following Christ has never been about following the rules, regulations, flow charts, etc.

Big Eva is really good about the basic stuff, but they refuse to move any farther. We will have to leave them behind.

Radix Fidem is really good about some stuff, but they refuse to accept the fully revealed nature of God. Do we also have to leave them behind? Catacomb Resident should be careful that his own standard is not applied to himself:

Matthew 7:1-3

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

2 Comments

  1. professorGBFMtm

    ”Even apart from Jesus failing to quote from the non-canonical works, Jesus was not silent on this issue:

    Bruce Charlton — What Does Jesus Teach in the Fourth Gospel
    The Holy Ghost, the Comforter, is described Jesus himself (not a separate person) after he will have ascended to Heaven – and who will be present to all who love and follow Jesus. The Holy Ghost is stated to provide – in a personal way – all that is required of guidance and knowledge. This is emphasized: everything the disciples need to know after Jesus has ascended to Heaven, will be provided by the Holy Ghost.
    Citation: Bruce Charlton, “What Does Jesus Teach in the Fourth Gospel.” (2024)

    Jesus had already accounted for whatever might not have been written down. This is the reason for the sufficiency of sola scriptura: the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles what they needed to know and they wrote it down. Most importantly, the disciples did not need to rely on perfect memory recall—which doesn’t actually exist in human witnesses—in order to communicate God’s truth.”

    YES, I still don’t get how anyone misses this when it’s right here:

    ”Galatians 4:6-7 King James Version (KJV)
    And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

    So where forth does ”he’s a separate person come” from or even ”the power of God?”
    When right there he is defined as the Spirit of JESUS? This has become ever more irksome to me, I have noticed in these later years and days.

    1. Derek L. Ramsey

      “When right there he is defined as the Spirit of JESUS? This has become ever more irksome to me, I have noticed in these later years and days.”

      Yes, I don’t get it either.

      It would be one thing if Catacomb Resident were arguing that “apostolic” revelation by a mystical process was still happening. Some, like the Mormons, believe that what was revealed was incomplete and that to this day Jesus is mystically revealing more of the mysteries to us. If this was his argument, he might have a point. Might.

      But Catacomb Resident is arguing something different: that we lack what was previously revealed both during and before the time of Jesus, but wasn’t written down. The purpose of these mystic analyses are to reveal what failed to be properly recorded, rather than revealing new things that were never before revealed. Moreover, he thinks what was recorded can’t really be understood without understanding the things that were not recorded.

      One key problem is that some of the purported oral tradition that we must believe in is contradicted by what was actually recorded. No wonder the Radix Fidem movement stresses not using the laws of logic!

      An observer will note that this is no different than what Roman Catholicism does, yet Radix Fidem isn’t Roman Catholic! Yet, a failure to do this is his biggest criticism of “Big Eva” and it is the essence of the Radix Fidem movement (e.g. with its Covenental arrangement with Christ as the prototypical “feudal lord”). What CR offers is no better than Roman Catholicism’s argument from authority.

      The interpretation of Hebrews 6:1-9 gets at this point. Catacomb Resident reads it as if it were saying that spiritual maturity involves mysticism and the revelation of the mystic truths revealed by the members of the faith. This is just bog-standard mysticism (e.g. Gnosticism), where only the initiates in the faith have access to divinely revealed truths. Radix Fidem frequently speaks of—and focuses on—things that it claims are beyond human understanding.

      By contrast, whenever Paul spoke of mystic knowledge (e.g. prophecy, speaking in tongues, visions and dreams) or of receiving doctrinal teaching (e.g. the Bereans) he spoke of testing their validity. The mystical experience was always tempered by the scripture which was previously received and by those in the church that had received it.

      As I’ve pointed out on this blog a great many times, the error of conflating of Paul’s Christian “mysteries” (that were fully revealed to all by the spirit of Jesus) with the Roman sacrament (initiation rites and repeat rituals of faith) and the secular Greek and Roman “mysteries” (things only divinely and mystically revealed to the most devout) was produced around the 3rd and 4th centuries.

      It is hardly inherent to the Ancient Near East as Radix Fidem postulates. Radix Fidem claims that it is following a 1st century ancient form, but it is simply mistaken in its identification of the later anachronism with an early ancient practice.

      We can understand it this way:

      (1) Jesus taught that he would send his spirit to teach everyone what they needed to know.

      (2) Paul affirmed that Jesus had sent his spirit.

      (3) The Apostles wrote down the portion of their oral teaching that we needed to know, even though it wasn’t everything that was orally revealed or everything that Jesus himself said or did during his ministry.

      (4) The earliest church only had portions of the apostolic teaching, until it was assembled, and yet this was enough to spread the gospel in its fullest form.

      (5) The early church taught that the entire apostolic teaching was found in what the apostles had written, and that anything found outside of this corpus was to be rejected.

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