I’ve always been fascinated by philosophy and logical argument constructs. It seems to me that the ability to use one’s intellect to worship God through excellence and discipline is a very great accomplishment, one I’ve always lacked the patience and strength to fully embrace. One particular part of a philosophical argument that grabs my attention is the various logical fallacies that we humans use to “prove” our points or “win” arguments. I love reading about these.
One particular logical fallacy that I focus on is the “appeal to authority” (argumentum ad verecundiam) fallacy. This fallacy weakens a logical argument when it is based on an appeal to some authority that isn’t really strong enough to bear the weight of the consequences of the argument. Think of it this way “A is an authority on a particular topic – A says something about that topic – therefore A is probably correct.” So, is there an argument from Authority that is trustworthy?
Look at our lesson today in Galatians 1:11-19:
Brethren, I would have you know that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.
St. Paul is trying to correct these Galatians. You see, someone has come to them and began to teach them that the Gentiles had to become Jews before they could become Christians. Paul hears about this and hits the roof!
So Paul tells these Galatians his story. And it’s a story of an amazing transformation in Paul’s life.
First, Paul tells the Galatians that his message isn’t “man’s Gospel.” Paul wants these Galatians to know that he didn’t get his message from any earthly source. His preaching is the result of revelation from Jesus Christ Himself. He goes on to say that he did not “confer with flesh and blood.” Apparently, Paul had a powerful encounter with Jesus Christ while he was in Arabia grappling with the implications of his vision on the road to Damascus! (see Acts 9)
Next, Paul tells these Galatians that nothing less than this powerful encounter was enough to change him from the “saul” that persecuted the Christians and even gave his blessing for the killing of the first martyr of the Christian Faith, St. Stephen, the deacon. (see Acts 6) Paul’s major transformation came not from clever arguments or convincing preaching, but from the Lord Jesus Himself. So, these Galatians are not just rejecting Paul’s message, they are in danger of rejecting Christ!
Finally, Paul insists that these Galatians must take seriously this message, this Gospel, of authentic liberation and wisdom SO THAT they will have the courage and the spiritual formation to stand for truth and for Faith in a society that so easily changes truths to fit their own desires. Abandoning the Faith that Paul taught them is an actual rejection of Jesus Himself. Big stuff!
By the way, there is an exception to the logical fallacy of an appeal to authority: Appealing to authority is valid when the authority is actually legitimate!
Today, we Orthodox insist that we stand on the firm foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, with Jesus as our chief authority. While many may debate this with us, and rightly so; no one should be asked to check their minds at the doors of the Church, we Orthodox are called to “prove” that our appeal to authority is real by LIVING out this faith once for all delivered to the saints! Being Orthodox on purpose is the best way to witness to the truthfulness of our faith!