Sunday, May 09, 2004

Dialogue on Sola Scriptura (Particularly John Calvin's & the "Classic Reformation Protestant" Conception) (vs. Kevin Johnson)

Kevin Johnson (Reformed) has responded on his blog, to my previous comments in the paper, Why Sola Scriptura is Self-Defeating & False if it Isn't in the Bible. This is my counter-reply. Kevin's words will be in blue.

* * * * *

First of all, it should be noted that Kevin did not offer any reply whatsoever to the central thesis of my paper (as indicated in its title). No biblical evidences for sola Scriptura were provided, nor were there any arguments to the effect that sola Scriptura would not be self-defeating even if biblical evidence did not exist (I still await such a response from a Protestant, but I surely won't hold my breath). Nevertheless, he does raise some other interesting and worthwhile issues apart from my paper that I will be happy to interact with.

I wrote:
[Y]our task is to show that Scripture somehow excludes the binding nature of Tradition and the Church and asserts this principle. And that clearly must be demonstrated in Scripture itself.
For the benefit of the discussion, let me cut the Gordian knot for you and get to the heart of your objections. Your dilemma is false simply because the classic Reformed position on sola scriptura does in fact include a binding Tradition and a binding Church in terms of teaching, understanding the faith, and interpreting the text.

The Reformers recognized the authority of tradition and the Church in determining matters of doctrine. The Reformers recognized the binding role of the councils in determining orthodoxy. The Reformers recognized the role of the regula fidei (rule of faith) in interpreting Scripture. But, they considered such things in their proper place. The question is not whether or not a binding tradition exists, but what is our ultimate authority in these matters?

It is not my “task to show that Scripture somehow excludes the binding nature of Tradition and the Church and asserts this principle”. I freely grant what you feel I should exclude and so the Gordian knot you propose is quite simply cut in the simple admission of what Reformers like John Calvin clearly taught about this issue.

This is incoherent. Either Calvin and other early Protestants accepted a binding tradition and obligatory assent to church teachings or they did not. You claim that your tradition includes "a binding Tradition and a binding Church in terms of teaching, understanding the faith, and interpreting the text."

I don't see how that can be the case, because if in fact you accepted such decisions and decrees as "binding" then they would have to either be infallible or not. If they were not, then Christians would be bound to theological error and obliged to accept it. If they were, then the position is hardly distinguishable from the Catholic position on authority (excepting which body of teaching and set of authorities are granted allegiance).

My key difficulty with your response is your use of the word "binding." Either you have a different definition than I do, or I have to be shown where in Calvin and other Protestant leaders such concepts are clearly expressed, with the full definition and explication in context.

The incoherence becomes immediately apparent in your words, where you start to back away from what "binding" means:
But, they considered such things in their proper place. The question is not whether or not a binding tradition exists, but what is our ultimate authority in these matters?
This contains a "loophole" big enough for a truck to drive through. All one has to do is say that such-and-such a council or Church proclamation exceeded its proper place and went beyond the Bible or historical precedent ("tradition"?). But how does one do that? One either has to set council against council or church against church (e.g., the failed Luther-Zwingli discussions), or (inevitably) fall back on the individual again.

If councils compete against each other, they obviously are not "binding" and someone has to have authority to determine which is superior to the other (and "binding"). But there can be no such authority in Protestantism, because that would require a "papal figure" which has no warrant in Protestant ecclesiology.

So, failing that, charismatic, authoritarian individuals simply assume arbitrary leadership as the "guarantors" or "exemplars" of Legitimate Tradition and Theology Over Against All That "Roman" Catholic Excess and Corruption and Merely Human Tradition (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Anabaptist and Anglican leaders, Bucer, Bullinger et al).

Their authority is based on little more than their own proclamation of it and self-anointing. So that doesn't solve the problem. Thus, the individual must decide in the end, and the result is thus as far away from a belief in "binding councils and churches and traditions" as can be imagined.

You appeal to "ultimate authority." Catholics agree, of course, that everything must be consistent with Scripture. We simply have faith enough to believe that God has the power to preserve (apostolic, biblical) Tradition intact, by means of councils and His Church, which are both binding and infallible. You claim that you accept these things as binding also, but when push comes to shove, that really isn't the case apart from Orthodoxy and Catholicism (as Pontificator has eloquently argued), because of the loophole above.

All it takes is for someone or some faction to question whether some authority has exceeded its bounds, and all of a sudden that authority is no longer as "binding" as was claimed. Catholics do not and cannot do this. Our councils and papal proclamations really are binding, and not to be questioned.

That is the practical reality of the situation, no matter how many words like "binding" and "tradition" and "church authority" are thrown out. But beyond this analysis, the statements of Calvin simply do not support this conception. At the very least they are internally incoherent, if they purport to support "binding traditions" -- because they cannot consistently do so within a sola Scriptura framework.

As Pontificator pointed out, the Westminster Confession runs contrary to your assertions:
All synods or councils since the apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both. (XXXI, 4)
You talk about "binding tradition" and "binding Church" but that is not how the above passage reads (sorry). You state: "The Reformers recognized the role of the regula fidei (rule of faith) in interpreting Scripture." Unless you wish to separate hermeneutics from the "faith or practice" mentioned above, this expressly contradicts what the Westminster Confession states above.

If you wish to maintain that the Westminster Confession contradicts other utterances of Calvin or other confessions and creeds, and that there is indeed at least one to be found which expresses what you have (and that they "clearly taught" same), feel free. That remains to be seen, as far as I am concerned, and if contradictions along these lines exist even among the so-called "magisterial Reformers" (as they certainly will, if one probes close enough), then that only highlights the problem here considered.

It's the same story with the Second Helvetic Confession of 1566 (Chapter 2 -- "Of Interpreting the Holy Scriptures; and of Fathers, Councils, and Traditions" -- my comments in brackets) :
Interpretations of the Holy Fathers. Wherefore we do not despise the interpretations of the holy Greek and Latin fathers, nor reject their disputations and treatises concerning sacred matters as far as they agree with the Scriptures;

[Who decides where they agree or disagree? There are a host of doctrines where the Fathers en masse contradict Reformed Christianity]

but we modestly dissent from them when they are found to set down things differing from, or altogether contrary to, the Scriptures.

[Who decides what the Scriptures teach? A panel of venerable, grey-bearded Reformed worthies, assembled in 1566?]

Neither do we think that we do them any wrong in this matter; seeing that they all, with one consent, will not have their writings equated with the canonical Scriptures, but command us to prove how far they agree or disagree with them, and to accept what is in agreement and to reject what is in disagreement.

[Yes, as judged by the apostolic Church and its authoritative Councils, and its popes, not by individuals 7,8,9,10 centuries later who count the noses of their comrades in some given sect and conclude that the majority opinion is therefore the "biblical" one]

Councils. And in the same order also we place the decrees and canons of councils. Wherefore we do not permit ourselves, in controversies about religion or matters of
faith, to urge our case with only the opinions of the fathers or decrees of councils; much less by received customs, or by the large number who share the same opinion, or by the prescription of a long time. Who is the judge? Therefore, we do not admit any other judge than God himself, who proclaims by the Holy Scriptures what is true, what is false, what is to be followed, or what to be avoided.

[But of course! God will settle all the issues!!!!!!! Who could argue with that? But as we are not God, but mere men -- and prophets are a relatively rare occurrence -- , there must be some human Christian authority as well - binding in some sense; to some degree. One can, then, either believe that God promised to guide His Church and preserve it free from error, under a properly unified authority, with councils and bishops and a gift of infallibility (as Catholics believe) or that individuals ULTIMATELY decide what is or what is not true, dissenting from councils, Tradition, the Fathers, and apostolic succession alike if needs be]
Again, this is not "binding" conciliar or church authority. It is the furthest thing from it. We find the same thing in Calvin himself (I cite the 1960 McNeill edition of the Institutes). Calvin speaks out of both sides of his mouth. I don't contend that he was being deliberately two-faced; only that his viewpoint on ecclesiology and authority is as incoherent and inconsistent and as naive to human reality as were other aspects of his (and Luther's) thought (just as sola Scriptura itself is ultimately incoherent and self-defeating). In some places, Calvin says stuff that sounds really "Catholic" and "traditional":
What then? You ask, will the councils have no determining authority? Yes, indeed; for I am not arguing here either that all councils are to be condemned or the acts of all to be rescinded . . . But, you will say, you degrade everything, so that every man has the right to accept or reject what the councils decide. Not at all! (IV, 9, 8)
So Calvin denies the reductio he rhetorically describes in the second-to-last sentence. He respects councils, and opposes antinomianism. And so he does. I don't deny that (nor do I have to for my case here to fully succeed). But this is a different notion from the Catholic "binding Councils." Protestants are not bound to these councils, if they can pick and choose from them. Calvin would no doubt say that only the venerable old and wise men would determine when and where the councils erred, not every wild-eyed individual. This is certainly far better than the rampant individualism of Protestantism today, but not by all that much.

It sounds wonderfully pious and idealistic, but in practice it works out the same. The individual will be the final judge, or else he will allow himself to be guided by arbitrary, authoritarian judges like Calvin himself. The result is relative chaos and anarchy and what we indeed see in Protestantism: inability to resolve difficulties because of the initial principles of private judgment and sola Scriptura. Presbyterians can't even agree amongst themselves.

Thus, Calvin (precisely like Luther) exhibited a profound naivete as to how human beings operate. He thought he could maintain a catholic unity by these principles, but he was obviously wrong, and history has abundantly shown that the Catholic warnings about what would happen if these principles were adopted, have come true. But Calvin thinks he knows the answer concerning how councils are to be judged:
[W]e shall determine from Scripture which one's decree is not orthodox. For this is the only sure principle on which to distinguish. (IV, 9, 9; cf. Note 1 for IV, 9, 1; p. 1166 of vol. II)
Well, sure, this is all fine and dandy; all Christians revere Scripture. That is not at issue. But who is the "we"? That is the crucial question here. "We" determine where the errors occur. If this is an individual, then Calvin's system falls prey to what he denies: individuals do indeed judge councils. If it is another group meeting which decides, then on what grounds does it have authority that doesn't also apply to the very council it judged?

It always comes down to accepting some authority based on someone's word alone: that they are the "correct" teaching and the other guy is wrong. Catholics base such authority on apostolic tradition and the authority of bishops assembled in council, led by the pope. Protestants can only give lip service to councils but in the end judge them on their own.

Or they simply place faith in one man (Calvin) or an alternate "council" (the Westminster divines) to deliver the true Christian doctrine to them. But why should anyone think Calvin or the Westminster Assembly was any more divinely commissioned or worthy of authority than Trent or earlier medieval ecumenical councils? And why should the individual have so much responsibility in all this? Well, because Calvin in effect (again, like Luther) placed the individual above the Church:
But they will object that whatever is partly attributed to any one of the saints belongs utterly and completely to the church itself. Even though this has some semblance of truth, I deny that it is true . . . the riches of the church are always far from that supreme perfection of which our adversaries boast. (IV, 8, 12)

But of the promises they habitually allege, many were given just as much to individual believers as to the whole church. (IV, 8. 11)
Calvin falls into the same vicious circle described above when he speaks of Tradition and the Church:
For this reason we freely inveigh against this tyranny of human tradition which is haughtily thrust upon us under the title of the church. For we do not scorn the church (as our adversaries, to heap spite upon us, unjustly and falsely assert); but we give the church the praise of obedience, than which it knows no greater. But grave injury is done to the church by those who make it obstinate against its Lord, when they pretend that it has gone beyond what is permitted by God's Word. (IV, 10, 18)
That brings us full circle back to sola Scriptura and the Bible. If Calvin or his followers today think they can ground their rule of faith in Scripture itself, then let them explicate that grounding. Failing that, I say it is self-defeating, whether this sophisticated Calvinist version under consideration or any other. None can escape the logical circle and arbitrariness, and all must be confronted with biblical indications otherwise.

I am hopeful that you will avoid having me prove things that I have already freely granted.

I am hopeful also that you will understand the above argumentation, explaining why I don't think you have resolved your problem at all. This is not binding conciliar or Church authority. Period. If the individual (or some sub-conciliar gathering or decree) picks and chooses what is good and bad in councils, then those entities are superior to councils and it is nonsensical to speak in terms of their being "bound" to them, by any definitional criteria of what the word "binding" means.

I do think it is interesting the way that we see each other in this argument. I didn't quote the Confession to demonstrate proof for the fact that "the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself"--I quoted it merely to point out the proper statement of the doctrine

Fine, but that neither undermines nor refutes the observation I made about what you did. You wrote:

The Bible is self-interpreting. It does interpret itself. I refer you to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, paragraph 9 which says: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself…”

Note what was done here: you make a statement about the Bible, saying that it interprets itself. To back up your contention, you cite the Westminster Confession, which is making a statement about the Bible. Thus, an extra-biblical source is deemed authoritative in matters of the Bible itself. That is not sola Scriptura (to the extent that it is binding -- and I am told that the Westminster Confession is upon Calvinists); it is, rather, a tradition of men. That's one reason of many why the whole viewpoint is so incoherent. I tried to bring it back to Scripture, however, by asking, "where in Scripture does it teach that the Church cannot infallibly interpret it?"

. . . --to illustrate what sola scriptura is really about contra the solo scriptura position more common today that 'Pontificator' was attacking in his own blog.

I understand what the doctrine is. I always have (when I was a Protestant and since then). Pontificator understands it, too, and expressly states that he is critiquing the classic Reformational rule of faith. You misrepresent him if you claim otherwise. Of course you can disagree with him, but that is his self-understanding (and mine as well).

We both simply disagree with you that it is a coherent doctrine. We think the problem lies at the roots, not in corruption or misapplication. I have tried to show at great length why I believe that, and nothing I have seen thus far has disabused me of my opinion. I could be a Buddhist or a Rastafarian and make the same critique, because it is one of internal difficulty.

I think if you re-read Calvin's Institutes on these topics with a full-blown Catholic ecclesiology in mind--that Calvin still had much in common with the Fathers of the early and medieval Church--you should pick up a number of differences between the classically Reformed view of sola scriptura and what is popular today.

I do fully recognize it, and I just did some of that analysis. Where you and I differ is in thinking that Calvin's more sophisticated variant of sola Scriptura resolves its fundamental problems of being entirely non-biblical and self-defeating. Calvin doesn't resolve those difficulties at all, as I think I have shown. If you can show me where my reasoning has faltered, or where I have misrepresented anything in Calvin or the Westminster Confession, etc., I'd be most appreciative.

The very fact that I have already granted the premises that you want me to disprove should show you that there is a disparity between the view you are attacking and the view of sola scriptura that I adhere to as one faithful to the teachings of the magisterial Reformers.

All it shows me is that you have not fully grappled with the implications of your position (nor did Calvin, quite obviously, I think). That's not meant as an insult. It's very common to all of us to not think through everything to the nth degree. I am simply challenging you to do so by my argument (granting all due respect).

Your view that a citation of the Confession by myself constitutes a determination of "something about the Bible" as a tradition is looking at the matter with Roman Catholic glasses on for I never intended for it to be viewed as such.

That was simply a matter of logic. You may not have intended it, but the logic cannot be escaped, because you said, "such-and-such about the Bible is true because the Westminster Confession said so." That was the reasoning chain. I don't see how it can be denied; it was too straightforward and clear of an assertion.

I suppose we all have our own blindnesses to our own tradition and you in turn demonstrated that quite nicely here for your own view.

Great; so we're even! LOL

The Confession does not "determine something about the Bible". The Confession recognizes an inherent quality that the Bible already contains by virtue of its nature and authority as God's Word.

That is easily said, but mere assertion is not proof. You find it self-evident that the Bible is perspicuous and self-interpreting. Others do not (myself included). So you think that when the Westminster Confession states this, it is merely asserting the obvious and self-evident. Again, many deny this. How do we decide who is right?

Failing a clear teaching in the Bible about those aspects (and an explanation of passages which are in the Bible which seem to plainly suggest the contrary), it falls back (in Protestantism) to the arbitrary selection of one human tradition over against another. This gets back to the errors of presuppositionalist thought.

At some point, conversation breaks down because the non-presuppositionalist fails to accept one of the supposedly self-evident "presuppositions". But these very traditions are not based explicitly on the Bible; they are extra-biblical traditions themselves, accepted as quite binding, as it were.

I freely grant that when the actual council happened, James made the decision and it was binding. However, for us today, the result of this decision being included in Scripture shows us a very clear example of Scripture interpreting Scripture.

At the time, no one knew that it was "Scripture interpreting Scripture." It was simply apostolic authority, and the authority of the Church and councils, which was absolutely binding (which, of course, fully supports my position over against yours and Calvin's). That would have been true whether the proceedings "made it into" Scripture or not. No doubt there are volumes of volumes of Paul's or Jesus' teachings which could easily have made into Scripture as well, had the Lord so willed. They were authoritative, though, as they were spoken.

Secondly, of course Scripture interprets Scripture. As a general rule, that is true. It's the basis of all good hermeneutics, exegesis, and systematic theology. I use the method all the time in my apologetics, and have for 23 years; see, e.g., my papers on the biblical evidences for the Holy Trinity and Deity of Christ. These were written in 1982). All I am saying is that it is not an absolute rule, nor is it explicitly stated in Scripture itself (as a doctrinal statement, not merely historical example), nor does it exclude notions of the Church and Tradition and councils authoritatively interpreting Scripture. The Jerusalem Council certainly did that. Nor does Scripture exclude such notions (as this very example demonstrates).

Yes, these are the words of an Apostle in Acts 15, but for continuing generations they are the words of Scripture and they are very plainly indicating that Scripture interprets Scripture. From the very lips of our Lord, this is confirmed also in John 5:46:
John 5:46 "For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me.
This is an excellent example, and I'm delighted that you brought it up, because note that the Bible doesn't immediately tell us what Moses wrote about Jesus; it doesn't identify these passages. Thus, Jesus is referring to oral tradition. We don't have much in the NT which demonstrates that "this teaching from Moses was about Jesus." The same exact dynamic occurs in Luke 24:27, where Jesus was talking to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus:
And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
Again, the Bible doesn't list these things. That would have to be determined by study and exegesis. And He interprets them! That shows that the words were not all that clear and self-evident. In fact, it was so unclear that virtually no one knew that Jesus was to rise from the dead and that the whole thing was foretold (e.g., Isaiah 53).

So it is yet another instance of authoritative interpretation being necessary, whether it was from Jesus Himself, an apostle, a prophet, a bishop, or a scribe like Ezra. Church authority. Tradition. Not sola Scriptura. In the latter position, those aspects are only given lip service. But they are not binding, because they are always able to be judged.

This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg for the entire written New Testament speaks and interprets the Old Testament in light of Christ, His coming, and His work. As I said, I'm happy to grant that this reflects the teaching of the Church as well as the Apostles themselves, but let us be fair with one another and admit that after the New Testament was written as Scripture they provide us with the example that the Scripture interprets itself.

I don't deny it. It is the things that sola Scriptura denies (binding Church, Tradition, Councils, apostolic succession, episcopacy and papacy) and its radical circularity and internal incoherence that I am concerned with. You're missing the point of my paper again.

Granting this sole self-evident pillar of sola scriptura does not in and of itself endanger the Roman Catholic view so I am hopeful that we will see agreement here by you as well that at least in these three cases above we see Scripture interpreting itself.

It endangers itself by its unbiblical and logically circular nature. It never did damage our view because it is such a weak and indefensible position.

I didn't claim that "nothing outside of it can be an aid to interpretation". I'm happy to admit that God uses means as an instrument in helping us interpret the Scriptures, but this is not a matter of using a commentary to look at a passage. The question is one of authority. Where does the ultimate authority lie in terms of interpreting the Scripture?

With the Church, of course.

First, I sense you want me to provide a verse that says, "Yep, sola scriptura is right-on target".

Any passage at all which suggests this novel Protestant pillar would be nice, yes. But I suppose that is asking too much: for a Protestant to back up his pillar and rule of faith from Holy Scripture. You almost backed into a direct reply to the central thesis of my actual paper! :-)

I'm not sure that's the way we should be proceeding.

Darn! Close call, eh?

For one thing, while you have stated significant agreement between us on many of the underlying principles of sola scriptura, there are still presuppositions that would get in the way of you viewing verses that I bring to the table in support of my view. In some sense at least we are at an impasse here.

Well, that's why Christians engage in these sorts of dialogues, isn't it? I'm having a great time. It is a good discussion, and I thank you for that.

The whole of Scripture speaks to this matter and the proof for sola scriptura is just as much about how God has revealed Himself to men and His Church as it is about the particular details he has revealed to us in Scripture.

I see God revealing in His Scripture an authoritative role for the Church, Tradition, Councils, apostolic succession, bishops, and a papacy (while sola Scriptura is never asserted at all). Those things are not only not excluded, they are positively required by Scripture.

But, my question to you is this...given that you have bought into the claims of the Roman Catholic Magisterium on this, what does it matter what I bring to the table for as a faithful Roman Catholic you must reject it out of hand anyway.

This is wrongheaded and unhelpful in a number of ways:

1. It is completely irrelevant what I believe, as the present topic is a critique of the internal incoherence of the Protestant position on the rule of faith.

2. What you state about me applies equally to you, so it is a non sequitur. You are no more likely to accept Catholic distinctives than I am to accept Protestant distinctives.

3. I always allow a theoretical possibility that I can be convinced of another position. The proof of that lies in my own history: I once was Protestant and converted to my present beliefs by means precisely of study and dialogue (ecumenical discussions in my own home).

4. Does this mean that people shouldn't talk about differences where they will -- in all likelihood -- not come to agreement? Folks can still learn and understand more through talking, and come to respect opponents, while not agreeing with them in every particular. They may learn that they are closer together than they previously thought. I think that about many aspects of Reformed-Catholic differences.

5. This subject happens to be a rather large difference, but you are learning that we have a very high view of Scripture, as you do, and we are learning that caricatures of sola Scriptura are not helpful and that there is a place for Tradition and Councils and Churches in your thought.

6. I find it to be a very constructive discussion myself, so I don't see how it is helpful to point out that I will never accept something because I am a Catholic, or because my Church won't allow me, etc., when it is largely the same for you in your side. Your comrades exclude us far more from the circle of Christianity than we exclude you, as you know full well.
In other words, you have absolutely no objective basis to evaluate sola scriptura outside of the similar claim of the Roman Catholic Magisterium to ultimate authority.

That is simply untrue. I can examine it on its own merits, just as any other belief or tenet is examined. I have cited your sources for why you believe it, and called for biblical support, since you ostensibly ground all your beliefs in Holy Scripture (that's one of the cherished Protestant myths, anyway). I think you repeatedly want to switch the topic over to Catholic authority (as you are doing again here) because you sense down deep that your position is indeed weighed down by many serious internal difficulties which you are hard-pressed to even explain, let alone defend.

You can indeed subjectively evaluate the claims of Protestants regarding Scripture but at the end of the day you must submit these claims to Rome.

Not at all. "Rome" has only authoritatively announced on about 6-8 Bible passages. Of course I have boundaries of orthodoxy, outside of which my theology may not go, but so do you, so it is another non sequitur, which doesn't solve your problem to the slightest degree. it was a clever attempt at diversion and evasion, though. :-)

And on what basis? Because the Magisterium tells you so. The circular argument regarding ultimate authority returns home where it belongs--to those who would claim ultimate authority for their position.

I can defend every jot and tittle of my position. I'm interested at the moment of seeing you defend yours, or concede the difficulty (either of yourself personally or of the system you adhere to).

In contrast, the Protestant recognizes the ultimate authority of God's Word and submits to it because it is God's Word spoken to us through the Holy Spirit, both individually and corporately.

Who doesn't? Why pretend that only Protestants believe this? Last time I checked, all Christians did, so it is silly to imply that only some do. It's like saying, "scientists from the state of Nebraska recognize uniformitarianism, and the key role of replicability and empirical observation as a fundamental tenet of science."

How do we as Protestants know this? Because God's Word tells us so.

Good for you. Delighted to hear it. I love it when people respect the Bible.

You have already admitted to the basic premises of this viewpoint (see your "wholehearted" agreement to points 1-9 above)--premises which are thoroughly biblical--and I would submit to you that the ultimate reason why you do not accept it . . .

Huh? You just said I accepted it, but now I don't? Your confusion here is the usual Protestant equation of sola Scriptura with respect for the full authority and infallibility and inspiration of the Bible. The two are NOT the same. And it is rather silly to keep insinuating that they are.

. . . is simply because you have already placed your faith in the Roman Catholic Magisterium and not because of any substantial reason you might present to deny the viewpoint.

Assuming this is true (and it is only partially at best), your burden is still to show me and everyone reading this how my reasoning went awry. All I've done is examine your view. I haven't cited popes and councils. I could have been an atheist or a Sufi and made this exact same argument. it has nothing directly to do with being a Catholic. That certainly colors my analysis, but it is not essential to it.

I can hear you saying (or typing) now that such considerations are not on topic, that we must continue to discuss sola scriptura independent of the ultimate truth claims of Rome.

Bingo. No pun intended . . .

However, given that both claims are ultimate--to talk of one is to speak of the other. Your claim that the Church is as infallible as Scripture is just as much a part of the discussion about the veracity of sola scriptura as anything else you have brought up.

In a sense, to talk about one is to talk about the other. But there are also other options. Anglicanism is a sort of Via Media. Orthodoxy is also a distinct conception of authority. Secondly, it is still necessary to stick to one problem at a time if one is to have a constructive, fruitful conversation, and in order to avoid the common evasive technique of "your dad's uglier than my dad." Thirdly, Church infallibility is limited to certain specified conditions. It is not biblical inspiration. It's a negative guarantee against error.

Secondly, the classic Reformed expression of sola scriptura does not absurdly claim that "Scripture is totally clear and must interpret itself" in all things. Rather, the viewpoint of the Reformed is as follows:
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, paragraph 7)
Good. I understand this, and I agree that Scripture is clear in the main. I have always found it to be so in all my research. The problem, however, continues to be: what is the ultimate authority? Scripture must be interpreted, whether it is by a layman, a Bible scholar, a Council, bishops, or a pope. There is no avoiding this. The Catholic position allows "the buck to stop" somewhere. The Protestant position does not and cannot do that, it seems to me.

The proof texts provided with the Confession make the point quite clear (see Psalms 119:105, 130; Deut. 29:29; 30:10-14; Acts 17:11).

As usual, these "proof texts" do not prove sola Scriptura as a rule of faith and a system of authority. They don't come anywhere close. The Bible is a lamp and light and gives understanding. Of course. No one denies that. Deuteronomy 29:29 and 30:10-14 need to be understood in light of other passages where the scribes and Levites were necessary to interpret the Law to the Israelites. It also needs to be remembered that the Old Testament Jews (and the later mainstream Pharisaical Judaism) believed in an authoritative oral Tradition which was delivered to Moses on Mt. Sinai at the same time he received the written law. The OT Jews did not believe in sola Scriptura. Acts 17:11 shows that all true beliefs must be in line with the Bible, but it doesn't necessarily indicate the system of sola Scriptura, because we deny that and we believe, like you, that our beliefs cannot contradict the biblical data.

Of course the decree of the Jerusalem Council was binding. We do not argue with such things. Calvin has quite clearly admitted the authority of councils and the Westminster Confession does as well (see Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 31, especially paragraphs 1-3).

But both deny that such councils are binding, as I have shown.

But, please demonstrate for me what new teaching the Council proposed apart from Scripture. James and the other Apostles merely recognized what was already a part of Scripture and how to apply it in their particular situation.

Precisely. That's what I am saying: authoritative interpretation is necessary, and it is binding. Protestants can accept that only to a point; then dissent must be allowed on the basis of its own principles of private judgment and sola Scriptura.

If the entire law can be summed up in "love your neighbor as yourself", then there is nothing new that the Church did in telling the Gentiles to have regard for the scruples of their Jewish brothers in the Church. No one is denying the role of the Holy Spirit in such a council and to say that the Reformed do so is clearly not in accordance with our argument for sola scriptura.

All right then. So if the Jerusalem Council was so guided, then (since it serves as an example of Church government to us), which other councils were so guided, and therefore binding? You tell me, since you claim that you accept this principle.

The presence of the Holy Spirit at such councils and working through the bishops of the Church does not guarantee infallibility for the councils or the Church.

If the Holy Spirit guiding a meeting doesn't guarantee freedom from error, then there can be no guarantee whatsoever, and we are all following arbitrary schemas, never sure if they are true or not. You either think this council was free from error or not. If you do, then this shows us that it is possible, because it happened at least once. If it happened once, I see no reason to deny that it can happen again, many times. If it didn't happen at all, then the very notion of a binding council is undermined, because it is entirely fallible, and thus of little worth for truth-seekers in matters of Christian doctrine and theology. Secondly, you believe that the Holy Spirit guided quite fallible, limited, sinful men to write an inspired ("God-breathed") Scripture, yet you deny that God the Holy Spirit is able to grant the gift of infallibility, which is far lesser a gift than inspiration. Curious . . .

This is born out not only in Scripture but also in the history of the Church. The councils and the Church are authoritative inasmuch as they agree with the truth of Scripture.

Who determines whether they agree or not, and why should its / his opinion be deemed any more authoritative than the council that it / he judges?

I have argued as much elsewhere and if you want to see the difference between the classic Reformed view and the solo scriptura view peruse the mini-discussion I had with James White concerning the authority of Chalcedon (mini, because it took place within a conversation about Congar and his writing on my blog).

I agree with this distinction, and have written about it in my first book (p. 4). But I don't agree that this distinction alone can resolve your internal difficulties.

I accept the authority of such councils as well as those teachers who are over me in the Church, but I do so only so far as they agree with Scripture for it is Scripture that has ultimate authority.

I don't know what that means in a practical sense until you can explain to me the process by which one determines who / what agrees with Scripture, and why this method is inherently more trustworthy and dependable and worthy of allegiance than the councils themselves.

Thanks for the discussion. I enjoyed it.

Friday, May 07, 2004

My Article on Junior High Lunch Time (11-22-72)

In case anyone is wondering (I'm sure no one is, but humor me . . . ) what I was writing about over 31 years ago (many of you weren't even alive way back then), here is a piece I always liked from my own writing, back in '72, when I was 14 (with hair almost down to my shoulders) and in 9th grade.

In retrospect, being a writer / "journalist" for the school paper Spotlight (Woodrow Wilson Jr. High, Detroit, MI), was actually the biggest indication of what I would later do for a living. I didn't have a clue as to what that might be then, or even through high school and on to my last year in college. Strange.

I liked a lot of things, but none enough to want to devote my life to, occupation-wise. After I got through my childhood dreaming of being a baseball player and an archaeologist (!!! -- musta been my ancient love of history), I was out to sea for several years, in terms of having any particular life-goal. I knew I wanted to meet a cute girl to marry when I was old enough, but that was about it.

I didn't even care much for English class. I never learned to type, and still peck away using my peculiar, labor -intensive "four-finger" method to this day (but pretty fast at that). I majored in avocational music in high school (I loved music, but knew I didn't want to be a professional musician). I still didn't know what I wanted to do with my life in college. When that is the case, you do what I did and major in sociology. LOL I toyed with majoring in social work for a short time. I really should have majored in history or philosophy, though, given my interests, and that remains a major regret of my life.

It was only in the fall of 1980, in my senior year, when I started going to InterVarsity and reading folks like Francis Schaeffer and Josh McDowell (I had already been reading C.S. Lewis for a few years), and began attending a "Jesus Freak," non-denominational church and getting serious about being a disciple of Jesus, that I realized I wanted to do something with my life related to apologetics and evangelism.

But this article was way before that, when I didn't go to church at all and was a good left wing, "liberated" pagan, and occult afficionado (Ouiji Boards, ESP, astral projection, telepathy, etc.). That being the case, there is no Christian theology here (I wasn't to be much interested at all in that for another five years), but what it does clearly exhibit is my smart-alecky tendencies and love of satirical-type humor. And that is what I see in myself in this early piece that remains with me today. So without further ado, here is my tongue-in-cheek "editorial" and social commentary on the early adolescent mentality:

"The Lunchroom"

Some people think that you go to the lunchroom to eat, but this is only partly true. A lunchroom is the place where many weird things happen. It is the place where you get hit in the head with a stale bun. It is the place where you have to bum money to buy your lunch. It is the place where you suddenly feel mashed potatoes seeping into your pants after you sit down.

It is the place where your stomach aches almost instantaneously after you finish the last bite of your coleslaw. You may have heard the screeching sound of the cashier saying: "Put that bun back."

The lunchroom is a good place to watch the Olympics. There is always someone attempting to break the world discus throw record. You also see excellent acrobatics when someone comes dashing by you, running from the lunch lady.

After you finish your food (if you eat it at all) you feel content and ready to go to your next class. But if you get a slight case of indigestion when you get there, don't blame the people who make the food, blame yourself for buying your lunch!

LOL I remember getting more than a few compliments on this, around school (a one-time event, with regard to my writing), making me feel about as "popular" among my peers, as I ever would, at that stage of my life (which was only moderately at best). If I made people laugh, and they liked my writing, then I was happy.

In that respect I was very similar already to how I am today. Now I also like to make people think a bit about the things of God in my writing, and share the Good News, and the truths which I have discovered in the Catholic Church and in Christianity, generally-speaking.

Thanks for reading! I may occasionally reprint a few more examples of my ancient writing, if I deem them worthwhile at all.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

N.T. Wright & the "New Perspective" on St. Paul: Did Luther Misinterpret Paul's Soteriology?

Excerpts from "An Interview With N.T. Wright," by Travis Tamerius; conducted for The Reformation & Revival Journal, a publication of the ministry of John Armstrong. It was originally printed in two parts in volume 11, numbers 1 and 2 (Winter and Spring 2003) respectively. All the words will be Wright's own excepting the indented portions, which are the interviewer's words.

Tom Wright is one of the freshest voices within orthodox evangelical Christian thought today and is a major contributor to both the study of the historical Jesus and the theology of the New Testament. He is an unusual academic theologian because he is comfortable in the work of the parish as well as in the world of academic New Testament study. He serves as canon theologian of Westminster Abbey in London and just recently was appointed the [Anglican] bishop-elect of Durham.

. . . the Jews, in the first century . . . simply were not discussing at great length what Christians have meant by the question, "How do we go to heaven when we die?" or something like that. They were, to the extent that they were discussing such matters at all, doing it in a way that was deeply bound up with political realities and agendas in a way quite foreign to a lot of evangelical Christianity since the Enlightenment and the Reformation. You have to understand that the Reformation was as political as it was theological. This is actually an example in the other direction . . . my post-Enlightenment style evangelicalism didn't have room for this approach. So I've had to get away from sure pretty anachronistic eighteenth century assumptions in order to understand the Protestant Reformers. And I have also had to get away from some of the Reformation assumptions, which are basically late medieval assumptions, in order to understand the first-century and the New Testament . . .

Alister McGrath says, when it comes to reading the Apostle Paul on "works of the law," that "if N.T. Wright is correct, Luther is wrong" . . . So which is it? Is Luther still riding in the car with you or have you dropped him off at the last truck stop?

. . . Luther comes to the question, "How can I find a gracious God?" He approaches this question from his Augustinian framework. He was an Augustinian monk. Actually he claimed that he didn't understand Augustine that well until after he had been converted, which might not be the case. This we do know - his antithesis of grace/works, or faith/law, was very strongly conditioned by his own soul struggles, the struggles to be an obedient monk and what he thought this all hinged upon. This was all rooted in the world of late medieval Catholicism. Luther, then, is reading Paul looking for the bits and pieces that will help him resolve this particular question . . . the problem here is that this has led us down some pretty murky paths.

The way that I came into this is a bit interesting. I grew up as a somewhat typical middle-Anglican with a strong dash of evangelicalism, or put the other way around, I grew up in a Lutheran evangelicalism which left me with a strong antithesis between law and grace. I found this all profoundly unsatisfying until I met Calvin and Calvinism. I began to think, "Whew...the law is a good thing. It is holy and just and good. It is right and it has been fulfilled, not abrogated, in Christ." All of that is right. So, if you are faced with a choice between Luther and Calvin, you simply have to choose Calvin. I think a lot of evangelical debates in North America, at the moment, are still right around that axis although they don't come right out and actually say so . . . But I found then, and this was the mid-seventies before E.P. Sanders was published, before there was such a thing as a "new perspective," that I came out with this reading of Romans 10:3 which is really the fulcrum for me around which everything else moved: "Being ignorant of the righteousness of God and seeking to establish their own."

In other words, what we have here is a covenant status which is for Jews and Jews only. I have a vivid memory of going home that night, sitting up in bed, reading Galatians through in Greek and thinking, "It works. It really works. This whole thing is going to fly." And then all sorts of things just followed on from that. I mean Sanders was a great boost but he didn't start this for me and he hasn't given direction to what I did or was doing. It was more like Sanders was saying, "Actually first-century Judaism never was like what Luther said it was."

. . . The "new perspective" hasn't run out of steam. It's actually assumed now by probably three-fourths of British and North American Pauline scholars. But the phrase, "the new perspective," which is James D.G. Dunn's phrase is clearly a very, very broad brush. Those of us who live a bit closer to the canvas know that there are lots of different paint strokes that have to be taken account of. So I certainly don't want to be labeled as a clone of Sanders and Dunn.

. . . the "new perspective" is a way of saying, "Hey guys, there has been something quite remarkable happening in the last twenty years in Pauline scholarship but let's not imagine that this is anything other than a call to wake up and read the text a bit better . . .

. . . the big question throughout the 1517 to 1530 period [was] "Where have you been for the last 1500 years?" If that's what Paul meant, why didn't the church notice it before now? Luther was saying, "God's Word. God's Word. Here I stand." And thousands of people were saying, "Yes, yes, yes." So, this is always the puzzle. Then it's back to this methodological issue. I do think that God has new light to break out of Holy Scripture. But it's not new light in the sense of throwing away all that's good in the past.

. . . people have started to realize that our traditional readings of Paul have been part of a limited way of construing reality . . .

. . . When Paul is talking about justification he is talking about God's declaratory act of validating or vindicating those who are at this point in the ordo salutis, the point where they have come to faith. When people hear that they at once say things like, "This sounds like an odd mixture of what was semi-Pelagianism and hyper-Calvinism," because I believe that grace through the gospel causes people to believe and then when they believe God justifies them.

. . . Look at what Paul actually says when he talks about how people become Christians. Look for instance at 1 Thessalonians where he says quite a lot about it without ever using the word justify or any of its cognates. He talks about the gospel coming to you in the power of the Spirit. You accepted that word not as the word of man but as what it really is, the word of God that is at work in you believers. It's quite clear what Paul is talking about, that he comes into town announcing that Jesus is Lord, as a royal herald. He is saying that the crucified Jesus is the Lord of the world. And this is not, "Here is a way of salvation. You might like to apply it to yourself." It's not, "Here is a new way of being religious and you might enjoy it." This is really an imperial summons: "On your knees!" Nobody ever went into a Roman town and said, "Caesar is lord and you might like to have this experience of acknowledging him as lord if that suits you." They said, "Caesar is Lord, get on your knees and we want the tax right now."


I find Wright to be an extraordinary, exciting thinker and exegete. I haven't read him till now (only so many hours in a day . . .), but have heard a lot about him (with all the controversies going on in Reformed circles). I plan to read a lot of his stuff in the near future, and will highlight it and comment upon it on this blog.

Thomas Howard on the Sins of the Catholic Church

Rome's opulence, her political machinations down through the centuries, her tyrannies and hauteur and self-assertiveness, not to mention the Dionysian romp in the Vatican in the Renaissance, what with Borgia popes and catamites and so forth: all of that is bad -- very bad. The Catholic Church knows that. Dante, of course, had half of the popes head down in fiery pits in hell.

Chaucer, contemporary with the Lollard Wyclif, but himself a loyal Catholic, is merciless -- scathing even -- in his portraiture of filthy and cynical clergy. St. Thomas More and Erasmus, contemporary with Luther and Calvin, were at least as vitriolic in their condemnation of Roman evils as were the Reformers . . . [But] Israel was not less Israel when she was being wicked . . . The Church is in the same position in its identity as people of God. We have Judas Iscariot, as it were, and Ananias and Sapphira, and other unsavory types amongst us, but we have no warrant to set up shop outside the camp, so to speak . . .

Evangelicals, in their just horror at rampant evils in Catholic history, . . . unwittingly place themselves somewhat with the Donatists of the fourth century, who wanted to hive off because of certain evils which they felt were widespread in the Church. Augustine and others held the view that you can't go that far. You can't set up shop independently of the lineage of bishops . . .

As far as the ancient, orthodox Church was concerned, nobody could split off . . . The problems of the Roman Catholic Church (sin, worldliness, ignorance) are, precisely, the problems of the Church. St. Paul never got out of Corinth before he had all of the above problems. Multiply that small company of Christians by 2000 years and hundreds of millions, and you have what the Catholic Church has to cope with. Furthermore, remember that the poor Catholics aren't the only ones who have to cope.

Anyone who has ever tried to start himself a church has run slap into it all, with a vengeance . . . Worldliness, second-generation apathy, ossification, infidelity, loss of vision, loss of zeal, loss of discipline, jiggery-pokery, heresy -- it's all there.

("Letter to my Brother: A Convert Defends Catholicism," Crisis, December 1991, 23-24, 26)

C.S. Lewis on Faith and Works

Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ . . . It does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary . . . Good actions . . . done with the idea that Heaven can be bought, would not be good actions at all . . . If what you call your 'faith' in Christ does not involve taking the slightest notice of what He says, then it is not Faith at all -- not faith or trust in Him, but only intellectual acceptance of some theory about Him.

The Bible really seems to clinch the matter when it puts the two things together into one amazing sentence. The first half is, 'Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling' -- which looks as if everything depended on us and our good actions: but the second half goes on, 'For it is God who worketh in you' [Phil 2:12-13] -- which looks as if God did everything and we nothing . . . You see, we are now trying to understand, and to separate into water-tight compartments, what exactly God does and what man does when God and man are working together. And, of course, we begin by thinking it is like two men working together, so that you could say, 'He did this bit and I did that.' But this way of thinking breaks down. God is not like that. He is inside you as well as outside: even if we could understand who did what, I do not think human language could properly express it. In the attempt to express it different Churches say different things. But you will find that even those who insist most strongly on the importance of good actions tell you you need Faith; and even those who insist most strongly on Faith tell you to do good actions. At any rate that is as far as I go.

(Mere Christianity, New York: Macmillan, 1952, 129-130)

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Why Sola Scriptura is Self-Defeating & False if it Isn't in the Bible (vs. Kevin Johnson)

I've seen many Protestants deny the Catholic counter-reply that if sola Scriptura isn't taught in the Bible, it is a self-defeating belief, and therefore untrue. It certainly is self-defeating if in fact it can't be found in the Bible (as I maintain). The inexorable, unarguable reasoning works as follows:

1. Sola Scriptura (SS) is the view that the Scripture is the final authority and only infallible one in the Christian life, higher than councils and Tradition and the Church, none of which are infallible (this is what is known as the formal sufficiency of Scripture as a rule of faith; Catholics deny this), and that every true Christian doctrine is found in Scripture, either implicitly or explicitly (material sufficiency of Scripture, which Catholics agree with).

2. If SS can be found taught in Scripture (and if Scripture teaches what sola Scriptura denies: that neither Tradition nor Church possess binding, infallible authority, as Scripture does), then it is not only self-consistent, but a true and a binding belief (just like anything else taught in inspired, infallible Scripture: God's revelation).

3. But SS cannot be found in Scripture (Protestants have not succeeded in showing the contrary, that it is there), and Scripture indeed teaches that Tradition and the Church possess binding, infallible authority.

4. If SS is not in Scripture then it is (by definition and nature) an "extra-biblical" tradition and a mere tradition of men. SS obviously cannot be the rule of faith, if what it entails is the Bible being the sole infallible and ultimate rule of faith, because that means that whatever is included in the Christian faith (let alone the rule of faith) is found in Scripture (since it IS the rule of faith, according to SS).

5. But SS is not in the Bible; thus it cannot possibly be a guide as to the status of the Bible itself with regard to authority and its relation to Church and Tradition. It is merely one of many "traditions of men" that Protestants (again, quite inconsistently) detest when it comes to Catholic distinctives which they claim are "unbiblical" and "extrabiblical."

6. SS itself condemns extra-biblical traditions, and Protestants condemn mere traditions of men. These cannot be binding and obligatory upon believers.

7. Therefore, SS cannot be true by its own principles (IF it isn't in the Bible itself)! It is self-defeating (and nothing self-defeating can be true). Nor can it be true by ostensible Protestant principles. And it cannot be binding because all binding principles under the Protestant system must be found in Scripture itself.

8. If it's not in the Bible (or at the very least, clearly deducible from it), it can't be part of the Christian faith, and it obviously can't speak to whether the Bible is the sole rule of faith, because (not being in the Bible) that would mean that a non-biblical tradition has more authority than the Bible itself -- the very thing which the principle itself denies. So it is self-defeating and logical nonsense.

9. Of course, the canon of Scripture (quite similarly to this Protestant conundrum) is another non-biblical doctrine depending on Tradition and Church authority, which is also a huge epistemological difficulty for Protestants, but another issue.

10. Ergo, SS can not only not be true, but it cannot be binding either, and whatever is not binding cannot be a rule of faith (and untruths obviously cannot be binding upon Christian believers, as God's will).

11. Moreover, if SS is not the Protestant rule of faith, then they must find another coherent, true rule, and that necessarily, inevitably falls back upon some sort of authoritative Tradition and/or Church authority, thus putting them on the same exact epistemological and ecclesiological plane as Orthodox and Catholics and (well, in theory, anyway) Anglicans, who all appeal to an authoritative Tradition in their belief-structure and epistemology.

12. Which Tradition and which Church, then, shall a Protestant choose (SS having failed and having been shown to be a false principle)? Well, Orthodoxy or Catholicism. Then we enter into the controversy as to which is more worthy of allegiance.

But I am far less concerned with Orthodoxy than I am with Protestantism. I feel that we ought to stress our commonality with the Orthodox, rather than wrangle with them, which is why I removed almost all of my Internet papers on Orthodoxy (though I plan to probably compile them into a book).

Meanwhile, the Protestant rule of faith is thoroughly incoherent, inconsistent, unbiblical, unhistorical (it was never held to any appreciable extent till the 16th century), and unworkable in practice.

Let Protestants keep trying in vain to find this teaching in Holy Scripture. I've yet to see that, and I've written more about this issue than any other in my apologetic endeavors. If it isn't there, it either 1) can no longer be held, or 2) must be radically modified in definition. And if #2 is the case, I fail to see how it can even continue being what it is. If it incorporates tradition within its parameters as binding and obligatory, and/or infallible, it ceases to be what it is; it loses its very nature and essence.

Kevin Johnson (words in blue), an articulate Reformed Protestant, wrote in a comment in a previous thread:

I think perhaps you Roman Catholic guys have been shell-shocked by fundamentalist Protestants for a long time.

"Shell-shocked"? LOL I'm still waiting for those guys to get off a shot that hits anywhere near us! LOL The problem ain't being shell-shocked, it is either falling asleep or dying laughing at the sheer stupidity and goofiness of their claims, such as Eric Svendsen claiming that we raise Mary to the level of the Holy Trinity, or James White creating an absolute dichotomy between sacraments and grace, which would exclude St. Augustine and Martin Luther from the Body of Christ.

. . . so long that perhaps it is difficult to even conceive of a Protestant actually having credible arguments for what they believe.

I have no problem conceiving that at all. Usually that is the case (at least above the level of premises). I simply deny that this is one instance where a coherent case can be made. It is not only built upon false premises; it is self-defeating, which renders it unworthy of belief. And I am referring to all the most sophisticated versions of sola Scriptura, not the fundamentalist extreme Bible-Only or SOLO Scriptura stuff.

A more balanced view would recognize that men like Calvin and Luther made their impact because while they may not have always been right they were certainly formidable opponents to the Catholic clergy of their day and their arguments did make sense to at least some of the world they lived in.

Of course, but that is another issue. Here we are discussing the principles of authority that they introduced, which were contrary to the received Tradition.

. . . the argument for sola scriptura is not a matter of proof-texting different verses,

Whatever you call recourse to biblical argument and data, it is absolutely necessary in this case, by the very nature of the beast, as shown above.

rather it is a recognition of the authority inherent in the Word of God and a realizing that the whole text of Scripture must be taken into account on the matter.

Catholics don't disagree with that, but it doesn't settle the issues of whether 1) SS is true, and 2) whether it is in fact self-defeating. That question has to be dealt with of its own accord; again, because of the specific nature of the thing being discussed, which necessarily involves making an argument from the Bible itself. The Protestant task remains to prove the doctrine from Scripture, and they have not done so. If you say it is deduced, then we can come back and say that a binding Tradition and Church is taught explicitly in Scripture (both notions being fatal to sola Scriptura).

Fundamental interpretive issues like these should be discussed prior to proof-texting your way in or out of sola scriptura.

Sure, but this doesn't resolve the issue at hand, at all. Scripture is authoritative. It has inherent authority. All of it must be taken into account. All of these things are wholeheartedly accepted by Catholics. But your task is to show that Scripture somehow excludes the binding nature of Tradition and the Church and asserts this principle. And that clearly must be demonstrated in Scripture itself.

If it can't be found, it collapses, because sola Scriptura would then be an unbiblical tradition of men, which is contrary to its very definition and nature. Anyone can see this, if they can step aside from partisan concerns for the moment, and look at it purely in terms of the logical factors involved.

Otherwise, you have your verses and tradition and I have mine.

That's what the situation reduces to at length, anyway. Sola Scriptura is simply an entrenched, arbitrary, obligatory Protestant Tradition. But it makes no sense because it can't be proven from the Bible -- not even indirectly -- and much in the Bible contradicts it.

In a comment on the Pontificator's [Fr. Al Kimel's] blog, Kevin offered the usual rejoinder, that his opponents (in this instance, an Anglican priest) do not understand sola Scriptura and private judgment:

Your critique may indeed speak loudly to the more extreme modern elements of Protestantism that has divorced itself from a fuller understanding of the original Reformation vision. However, your comments do no damage to the doctrine of sola scriptura as it was framed by Calvin and several of the historic Reformed Confessions . . .

Then he goes on to state the outlines of sola Scriptura:

The Bible is self-interpreting. It does interpret itself. I refer you to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, paragraph 9 which says: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself…”

Thus, we have a tradition (the Westminster Confession) determining something about the Bible, in the very act of defining the notion that nothing outside the Scripture can do so. The blindness to one's own "philosophy" or "tradition" here fits in nicely with sola Scriptura. But where in Scripture does it teach that the Church cannot infallibly interpret it (or for that matter, where does it deny that Tradition and the Church can determine the canon: which books are in the Bible in the first place?).

Second, the Bible does belong to an obvious genre–it is the Word of God and uniquely so–as such it has a self-attesting authority as His Word and its revelatory nature dictates that it alone is the guide as to how it should be interpreted.

No one denies that the Bible is unique. But it doesn't follow from that that nothing outside of it can be an aid to interpretation. In fact, this is denied. To give two examples from the Old Testament itself:

1) Ezra 7:6,10: Ezra, a priest and scribe, studied the Jewish law and taught it to Israel, and his authority was binding, under pain of imprisonment, banishment, loss
of goods, and even death (7:25-26).

2) Nehemiah 8:1-8: Ezra reads the law of Moses to the people in Jerusalem (8:3). In 8:7 we find thirteen Levites who assisted Ezra, and "who helped the people to understand the law." Much earlier, we find Levites exercising the same function (2 Chronicles 17:8-9). In Nehemiah 8:8: ". . . they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading." The New Testament is no different:

And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch . . . seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah . . . So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said, "How can I, unless some one guides me?" (Acts 8:27-28, 30-31)

In fact, proper Reformed hermeneutics would demand that it is the guide by which all things are to be interpreted and understood.

Exactly; so this "all" would include sola Scriptura itself, the very rule of faith for the Protestant. You keep putting deeper into a rut and a pit. First, Scripture is totally clear and must interpret itself. Now it must be the source of understanding everything! So if Scripture is so clear and self-interpreting, where is sola scriptura clearly, self-evidently taught in it (as it must be)?

Because the Bible is God’s Word to men, it logically follows that not only does it mean something for us but the Scriptures also are clear to us–can anyone doubt that God the Father intended to place in His children’s hands a message that was comprehensible?;

That doesn't logically follow, but I agree that it is plausible. Even so, it doesn't follow (logically or as a practical matter) that the comprehensibility of the Scripture has to flow only from itself and without the aid of Church and Tradition. These things not only do not follow; the contrary is explicitly taught in Scripture.

The Jerusalem Council issued a binding decree and interpretation of Scripture on the matters of contraception and application of the Mosaic law in the New Covenant. The Bible even says that those at the Council were specially guided by the Holy Spirit:

Acts 15:28-29: For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity.

In the next chapter, we read that Paul, Timothy, and Silas were traveling around "through the cities," and Scripture says that "they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem" (Acts 16:4). This is Church authority. They simply proclaimed the decree as true and binding -- with the sanction of the Holy Spirit Himself!

Thus we see in the Bible an instance of the gift of infallibility that the Catholic Church claims for itself when it assembles in a council. This is neither sola Scriptura nor Luther's "Bible above popes and councils" revolutionary epistemological proclamation at the Diet of Worms in 1521. Not at all . . . but it is awfully biblical!

Key to understanding the limited role of tradition in relation to interpreting the Scriptures is the fact that while both men and the Church are (you will forgive I hope these references to classic Reformed systematic theology) justified, they are not completely sanctified. Men can and do err, they sin and we all look to Christ for forgiveness daily. The same is true for the Church. The Scriptures speak of ‘both/and’–we are clothed with Christ, yet we die to sin daily. Not until the eschaton are we going to be as we should. That being the case, offering a person an infallible role for the apostles or their hearers (as you posit here), the Church, or tradition is extremely suspect.

This doesn't follow, either, by the example of the Jerusalem Council. Those decrees were binding and understood as such by Paul, who went out and proclaimed them. It was an instance of an infallible Church giving authoritative pronouncement on biblical teachings. The same thing held for utterances of the prophets and (I should think) the apostles, when they went out and preached the gospel.

Peter in Acts 2, in his sermon in the Upper Room, and in other recorded sermons, gave an authoritative New Covenant interpretation of salvation history. It was binding before it became "inscripturated," because it was from an apostle. The writers of Scripture itself were sinners just like the rest of us (some, like David, even murderers and adulterers). But somehow God used those sinners to write an infallible, inspired Bible.

Papal and Church infallibility is a lesser gift than what Protestants already believed with regard to the Bible. If God can use sinners to write an inspired Bible, certainly He can use sinful men to proclaim infallible teachings in Tradition, as that is merely a protection from error, not a positive quality of inspiration.

Some have argued that the Church and her traditions have been guarded and guided by the Holy Spirit–and in general I agree. However, why can we not say the same for Word of the Husband (being Christ) that we do for His Bride, the Church?

I agree. That is not our problem. But you have a huge problem because you deny the proper role for the Church and Tradition that Scripture gives them. You want to follow, rather, the watered-down version of Church and Tradition that you received from Luther and Calvin. So you lessen the status of biblical and apostolic tradition based on arbitrary traditions of men.

Are we somehow going to argue that when God speaks, His words are unintelligible to those through whom the Spirit has given new life and written these very words upon their hearts?

That is not required in the Catholic position. It is not so much a denial that Scripture is clear in the main, as it is a protest against the anti-traditional, anti-biblical exclusion of Church and Tradition from the sphere of binding authority. Nor does it rule out the role of the Church in interpretation.

While I am the first to downplay the role of the individual in salvation due to the abuses in Protestantism especially in our day, we must admit the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individual believers. If the Word is truly written on our hearts, does it not follow that we understand what that word is by the work of the Spirit?

We have no problem with that. All we are saying is that if the Holy Spirit can so guide individuals, then He can guide His Church as well (and the Bible portrays this state of affairs as being the case in actuality).

After all this, however, let me say that I do believe the Bible outlines a teaching office for the Church, that it is important both now and historically, and that our interpretation of Scripture should take into account the witness of our Fathers. However, the witness of the Fathers must be faithful to the Word of God, not vice versa.

Of course. We believe that it is. It takes faith to believe that. The problem you and Protestants have is to explain how an individual can trump a received Tradition and the authority of the Church. If you discount the Church's binding authority because men are sinners, then you obviously have to discount every individual's interpretation, as each person is a sinner, too!

But you don't do that. You give the authority ultimately to the individual to decide, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, what is true and what isn't, while you deny it to the Church. This makes no sense. And it is not biblical teaching (which is that there is a binding, authoritative [infallible] Tradition passed down and preserved in the Church).

The Church had binding authority in the Jerusalem Council. At what point did it lose this? As soon as the last apostle died (John?), then the Church lost its authority to bind men to interpretations and laws; to "bind and to loose"? That makes no sense, and no such notion can be found in Scripture itself. There is no indication that this profound authority would later be lessened and that the Bible would be the sole infallible rule of faith. That had to wait till Martin Luther, 15 centuries later.

It's passing strange that a group which claims to be so concentrated on the Bible and opposed to traditions of men, would adopt a principle and rule of faith taken straight from a new, novel "tradition of man" (Luther), which says things about the Bible that the same Bible never teaches, and indeed, often directly opposes. There is no end to the logical and practical and unbiblical absurdities of this position.

But (again), I oppose sola Scriptura not at all because it is "difficult [for me] to even conceive of a Protestant actually having credible arguments for what they believe," but because of the intrinsic weakness of this particular position. It fails because it cannot stand up to biblical and logical and historic Christian scrutiny, not because we are so reflexively prejudiced against it, or because we are (supposedly) opposing only caricatures of the position. If you disagree with that, then please refute the reasoning above. I'm all for observing you giving "credible arguments for what you believe." Please do so; you are welcomed, and positively encouraged to make such an argument on my blog.

I will now reply to Kevin's comments on the Pontificator's blog. The latter made a reply of his own which (while brief) is well worth reprinting:

I’m afraid that I do not see how classical Reformation hermeneutics in any way avoids the problem posed by Newman on private judgment. You invoke the Westminster Confession for support, but this confession exemplifies the kind of private judgment that Newman decries:

(1) It rejects the infallibility of councils and denies their hermeneutical role as a “rule of faith” (XXXI.4).

(2) It asserts double predestination (III), which ecumenical Christianity rejects as heretical (Council of Orange).

(3) It rejects the veneration of images (XX.1), a practice that is explicitly commended and protected by the Seventh General Ecumenical Council.

(4) It asserts an understanding of Eucharist that would is rejected by both Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Lutheranism (XXIX).

The list could be expanded, but I’m sure you get my point. The Reformed faith as explicated by Westminster is, by ecumenical standards, idiosyncratic and heretical. But of course the Reformed are convinced that it faithfully explicates the written Word of God.

(Comment by Pontificator — 4/30/2004)
Now on to Kevin's later comments:

The Westminster Confession was not cited as support for sola scriptura. The relevant portions quoted were given as an example of classic Reformation theology on the subject to help differentiate between the doctrine as it is posed in line with the original intent of the Reformation as opposed to today’s more modern version of the doctrine.

Neither Pontificator's critique of sola Scriptura nor my own (nor Newman's, for that matter), depend on caricaturing it in order to fight straw men (per your reply and Tim Enloe's). The critiques apply to original, bona fide, Reformation doctrine; it goes to the roots. No one who is reading Pontificator's material lately can doubt that he is raising serious questions about original premises.

If you disagree, then you must demonstrate how either he or I are distorting the original Reformation conception of sola Scriptura, not merely assert it. For my part, ever since 1991 I have been operating with a definition of sola Scriptura from impeccable (mostly Reformed) sources such as R.C. Sproul, Charles Hodge, G.C. Berkouwer, and Bernard Ramm.

If you don't like those, then there is an easy solution: please provide a definition of sola Scriptura yourself, and I will be happy to show that it suffers from just as many shortcomings and errors as the one I have been using. You can't go on endlessly claiming your opponent is operating on a faulty definition, without actually arguing the matter at hand. At least not on my blog! LOL

That being said, I would have preferred to see interaction with what I wrote rather than side-stepping the issues and leaving a criticism of the Confession.

Amen! And I desire the same for what I wrote, too.

I confess I need to read more of Newman since it seems that much of popular Catholic apologetics these days is built off of his works–but perhaps you can tell me what he thinks of the historical fact that the Councils themselves contradict each other in certain instances–an odd thing to happen for an infallible tradition. I’m not sure his view is as realistic as some would like to admit.

Having criticized the Pontificator for "side-stepping the issues," you proceed to do a little fancy footwork yourself, and try to switch the discussion over to alleged contradictions of councils, rather than the internal incoherence and inconsistency of sola Scriptura. I must admit that I saw more than a little humor in that irony.

. . . Again, as I have stated, the Westminster Confession was mentioned merely to point out the original doctrine of sola scriptura to those who seem content to attack a more modern caricature of it.

You need to clarify. Since I am now interacting with you, please demonstrate where anything I have written in criticism of SS would not apply to the version of it held by the Westminster divines. Again, I maintain that all versions of SS fall prey to internal incoherence and self-defeating factors, no matter how sophisticated; no matter how "impeccably Reformed" and so forth. Thank you.

But the same dilemma exists for the Magisterium. On what basis, other than the claim of the Church, do we accept the Magisterium as the authority in interpreting the Scriptures?

Nice try at switching the topic again. Which Tradition one accepts is a completely distinct and separate question from the question of whether sola Scriptura can stand up to logical, biblical, and historical scrutiny. That is the current question. If you wish to concede that you are unable to defend sola scriptura, from the Bible or otherwise, feel free to do so, then we can move on. But I won't change horses in mid-stream when there is a legitimate, worthwhile, highly-important problem to be dealt with in the Protestant rule of faith.

This question is about the final appeal of authority.

That's right. But when the claim is made that one position is self-defeating or otherwise quite weak in its construction, then that has to be dealt with first, before moving onto much wider discussions of choosing an authoritative tradition.

The Word comes from God–it’s authority is just as self-evident as God’s ultimate authority as God and the Church has duly recognized this authority over the centuries no matter what communion you belong to.

Of course. No one is denying that.

No one questions the authority of the words of the President of the United States when he speaks and why we think we can question the authority of the Word of God when He has clearly spoken is beyond me.

Again, I have no idea whom you think is doing that. Questioning sola Scriptura is not the same as questioning Holy Scripture. Please read this sentence five times, till it sinks in.

I think perhaps many Catholics are used to arguing with fundamentalist anti-Catholics who blame everything on Rome.

Their mentality is easy to understand, and they don't interest me because they have nothing of substance to offer. Presently, I am dealing with a sophisticated Reformed Christian (you) who wishes to keep switching the topic to Rome whenever the going gets rough. I hope we can get beyond that, and that you will be willing to truly examine your own viewpoint, and defend it if you think you can, without ever mentioning the word "Rome"! I know you can do it if you really put your mind to it . . .

[passing over further attempts to move the discussion over the Rome's pre-Reformation culpability]