By Dave Armstrong (11-14-08)
See Part One and Part Two. This paper responds to Parts Three and Four of Michael Patton's multi-part series in defense of sola Scriptura. His words will be in blue.
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In [the] last two posts, I have tried to define the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura. Specifically, I have tried to distinguish it from any theory that allows for or requires two sources of ultimate authority, tradition and Scripture (dual source theory). As well (and just as important), I have attempted to disassociate sola Scriptura from the common misunderstanding that its advocates do not allow for any other authority. This extensive concentration on defining the doctrine is so that it might be properly defended. In other words, I don’t want to defend a doctrine that is mis-defined in the mind of the readers.
All good defenses (and dialogues) start with proper definitions. I think this has been done very well by Michael.
Before I move on to a proper defense of sola Scriptura, I want to attempt to defend its primary historical rival, the dual-source theory. I do this so that one might be able to see the full balance of the positions in perspective. In addition, by giving a short defense of why people hold to some form of dual-source theory, one can see the responses that advocates of sola Scriptura would give to such.
Good. I like the thoroughness and organization of Michael's approach. I shall attempt to give at least an equally thorough rebuttal!
Definition: The Apostle’s teaching is absolutely and ultimately authoritative as a rule for Christian doctrine and practice. This teaching was handed down in two forms: written and unwritten. The written teaching was codified in the Scriptures. The unwritten Tradition—the oral or “living” Tradition—was passed on through the succession of apostles (Apostolic succession) and is equal to Scripture as an authority in the Christian life, being that it came through the same source—the Apostle’s teaching. In the case of the Roman Catholic tradition, the Magisterial authority (Pope and the congregation of bishops) serve as an infallible interpreter, protected by the Holy Spirit, of both the unwritten and written tradition (the third leg of the three leg stool of authority).
[see chart image]
A fair and adequate description.
Defense of the Dual-Source Theory
1. The Scriptures clearly say that there were many other things that Christ did that were not written down.
“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”
The idea is that the body of revelation given by Christ was not exhausted by the writings of the Apostles. This, at least, evidences that there could have been oral teachings that were passed on and just as authoritative.
Indications that there was a lot more going on in interactions between Jesus, apostles, and other hearers (which is almost obvious, and common sense) are numerous: e.g.:
Matthew 13:3 (RSV) And he told them many things in parables, . . .
Mark 4:2 And he taught them many things in parables, . . .
Mark 4:33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it;
[by implication, many weren't recorded]
Mark 6:34 As he went ashore he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
[none recorded here]
Luke 11:53 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard, and to provoke him to speak of many things,
Luke 24:15-16, 25-27 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. . . . And he said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
John 16:12 I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
[cf. Acts 1:2-3 below]
John 20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;
Acts 1:2-3 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God.I've always noted how, in a single night of discussion, Jesus or Paul or other apostles passing along what they learned from Our Lord, could have easily spoken more words than we have in the entire New Testament. It's fallacious to think that none of that had any effect on subsequent teaching (even Bible writing) of these same apostles and disciples. One can remember encounters like this with extraordinary people for a lifetime: at least the main ideas, if not all particulars.
There is also clear indication of authoritative oral tradition:
1 Thessalonians 2:13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
2 Timothy 1:13-14 Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
2 Timothy 2:2 and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
1 John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.
1 John 2:24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father.
1 John 3:11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another,
2 John 1:6 And this is love, that we follow his commandments; this is the commandment, as you have heard from the beginning, that you follow love.
[cf. passages with "proclaimed" and "preach / preached"]
2. The New Testament writers clearly speak about the importance of Tradition.
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.”
Notice the dual sources of the one teaching.
“I praise you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I passed them on to you.”
This illustrates that traditions (paradosis) are what is being passed on. At the very least, this should help to take the focus off the way in which a tradition is handed down. In other words, the focus is not on written tradition as sola Scriptura advocates tend to believe.
“Dear friends, although I have been eager to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel compelled instead to write to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”
Notice, the faith was delivered to the “saints.” The “saints” represent a living entity of preservation, not a book, which we know as the Church.
And again, there is more:
2 Corinthians 3:6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.
[there are false traditions and true traditions, "according to Christ"]Furthermore, the related Greek words paradidomi and paralambano are usually rendered as (traditions) "delivered" (Lk 1:1-2; Rom 6:17; 1 Cor 11:2,23; 15:3; 2 Peter 2:21; Jude 3) and "received" (1 Cor 11:23; 15:1-3; Gal 1:9,12; 1 Thess 2:13) respectively (often from St. Paul).
Far from distinguishing tradition from the gospel, as evangelicals often contend, the Bible equates tradition with the gospel and other terms such as "word of God," "doctrine," "holy commandment," "faith," and "things believed among us." All are "delivered" and "received":
1) Traditions "delivered" (1 Cor 11:2), "taught by word or epistle" (2 Thes 2:15), and "received" (2 Thes 3:6).Clearly, all these concepts are synonymous in Scripture, and all are predominantly oral. In St. Paul's writing alone we find four of these expressions used interchangeably. And in just the two Thessalonian epistles, "gospel," "word of God," and "tradition" are regarded as referring to the same thing. Thus, we must unavoidably conclude that "tradition" is not a dirty word in the Bible. Or, if one insists on maintaining that it is, then "gospel" and "word of God" are also bad words! Scripture allows no other conclusion - the exegetical evidence is simply too plain.
2) The Gospel "preached" and "received" (1 Cor 15:1-2, Gal 1:9,12, 1 Thes 2:9).
3) Word of God "heard" and "received" (Acts 8:14, 1 Thes 2:13).
4) Doctrine "delivered" (Rom 6:17; cf. Acts 2:42).
5) Holy Commandment "delivered" (2 Pet 2:21; cf. Mt 15:3-9, Mk 7:8-13).
6) The Faith "delivered" (Jude 3).
7) "Things believed among us" "delivered" (Lk 1:1-2).
3. Christ gave authority over the Church to the apostles and their successors (apostolic succession). Roman Catholic Only: Peter and his successors were given the ultimate authority in the Church (papacy or the Seat of Rome).
[Christ, speaking to the apostles] “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.”
“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.”
This represents the ultimate authority of the Church which has the authority to “bind” and “release.”
“And Jesus answered him, ‘You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.”
For the Roman Catholic, this teaches that Peter was given a special and ultimate authority among the Apostles. Therefore, his successors (the Bishop of Rome, the Pope), would naturally carries this same authority.
4. Without the infallible declaration of the Church, there would be no way of knowing what books belong in the canon of Scripture.
Many on both sides of the debate agree. I think it is very strong, but that various indications of the self-defeating nature of the reasoning employed in sola Scriptura (that I have noted in now some 14 lengthy papers) are stronger, because I think it collapses under the weight of its own incoherence and irresolvable internal logical tension.
The idea here is that if the Scripture is the only infallible authority, then where does it infallibly derive its authority to be Scripture?
It does because it is inspired and this is directly from God, but that is another issue. The authority comes directly from God. But God allowed men and historical processes to determine the canon. That requires infallibility, lest (in Protestant eyes) the stream rise above the source, and so they are left with the conundrum of a supposedly non-infallible Church determining infallibly that Scripture is what it is. And that ain't sola Scriptura: any way you look at it.
In other words, there is no list of books that belong in the Scripture (canon) anywhere in inspired Scripture. Therefore, Tradition and/or the Church has to determine or recognize what books are indeed Scripture. If Tradition and/or the Church does not have infallible authority, then it’s pronouncement are fallible—even pronouncements about what books belong in the Bible. Therefore, advocates of sola Scriptura are left with a rather odd confession that they have a fallible canon of infallible books.
Exactly. I wrote the previous paragraph before I read this one. Bottom line: the canon issue requires an infallible Church and sola Scriptura disallows same. So either one starts questioning that the Bible is what it is, or one qualifies the sweeping nature of sola Scriptura. If the latter, then one immediately asks how it is that the Protestant creates a principle that was always unbiblical from the outset, and not found in Scripture, and now qualifies it? By what principle of reasoning is either thing done? If it can be qualified here, why not "there" in other areas, too?
Let me restate the above argument in more direct and clearer terms. I am noting how the canon issue raises further difficulties for the Protestant, with the following reasoning:
1) Protestants assert that only the Bible is infallible.
2) Yet the determination of the canon, which is what the Bible is (its parameters and contents) came from the Church and tradition; therefore was not infallible, by the criterion of #1.
3) Therefore, to strictly follow #1, one would have the "right" to question whether or not the canon (as proclaimed by the Church) is accurate.
4) If that is deemed unacceptable (as most Protestants would agree; hence the internal tension), then the alternative is to place a limit on the sweeping nature of #1, and allow exceptions in extraordinary instances (such as the canon). The Church can be infallible in only these strictly limited circumstances.
5) I then noted that sola Scriptura was always an unbiblical concept, yet it is applied universally; now that we see that it doesn't work in the case of the canon, it has to be qualified (if one accepts the canon): which has no more rationale or justification than sola Scriptura itself.
6) On what basis is sola Scriptura itself or the qualification with regard to the canon arrived at? Kevin Davis and Mark the Catholic (with whom I recently debated the general issue) claimed that sola Scriptura is not explicated in Scripture, nor does it need to be, nor is this (as Mark stated) even possible. So where does it come from? If it is extrabiblical, why does anyone choose to adopt it in the first place?
7) Lastly, if we qualify and limit sola Scriptura in the case of the canon, then what's to stop us from doing so in any number of additional areas? Then we no longer have a principle, but rather, merely a convenient and arbitrary road map or tentative approach to authority in the Christian faith that dies the death of a thousand qualifications.
5. Without the infallible authority of the Church, the Church would be hopelessly divided on matters of doctrine and morals. This would not be the Church that Christ started.
Of course, as opponents of sola Scriptura would argue, this is indeed the case with the Protestant tradition. The Bible alone is not a sufficient authority to keep unity as is evidenced by the thousands of denominations and disagreements within Protestantism. On the other hand, Christian traditions that advocate some sort of dual-source theory (Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox) are united under the living tradition and its regulating force.
Next I will provide a response to this from the sola Scriptura position to these arguments.
I look forward to it!
Please feel free to give any further defense of the dual-source theory if you feel I have left something out.
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In the last post of this series, I made an argument for the “Dual-Source Theory” of authority (shared by both Catholics and many Eastern Orthodox). Naturally, since I don’t hold to this theory, I have responses to each point of argument that was made. Please understand that while I am persuaded that the doctrine of sola Scriptura, understood correctly, presents the most viable and accurate view of Christian authority, I by no means mean to dismiss any Dual-Source Theory as ignorant or completely out in left field.
Let my responses be seen in light of such a perspective.
Cool! That is a far cry from the acerbic, insulting comments made by Keith Mathison about Catholics and Orthodox in his book, The Shape of Sola Scriptura.
I will restate each argument for the Dual-Source Theory and then provide what I believe to be a representative response for the sola Scriptura position. I may give each one their own blog post so as not to overwhelm you with a long reading.
Dual-Source Theory argument #1
The Scriptures clearly say that there were many other things that Christ did that were not written down.
It is self-evident that the Bible did not record everything that Jesus said and did. John’s purpose in telling his readers this is not because he wants them to seek out “unwritten Tradition” or some second source of authority other than his letter to learn of these “other” things, but because he wants them to know that what he has recorded contains sufficient information to bring one to salvation.
Notice the rest of the passage. This provides a good argument that the Gospel of John alone, from the view of the Apostle, provides sufficient information about Christ to, if believed, bring on to salvation.
I agree again with this proposition, but I disagree that it somehow is an argument against tradition. It's apples and oranges. One thing doesn't directly have to do with the other.
This ends up providing an argument for one aspect of sola Scriptura rather than against it.
Not at all, as I think I've shown. You have to somehow disprove that all the biblical indications of a legitimate, binding, authoritative apostolic tradition can be discounted, in order to maintain sola Scriptura. That is one of your burdens among many.
“Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (emphasis added).
There is no reason to think that people need exhaustive knowledge of all that Christ said or did. The Bible is not exhaustive history, it is theological history. If John felt that there was another necessary source that people needed to understand in addition to what he wrote then his assumption about the sufficiency of his record seems either misleading or erroneous.
In fact, Protestants contradict themselves already, in light of their difficulties in the canon issue, because that decree by the Church is granted infallibility. Thus, they have accepted that tradition. But if they accept that, then why not also others? And, truth be told, Protestants also accept a host of traditions within denominations, such as Luther's and Calvin's teachings, confessions, creeds, etc. All of these entail traditions, and it is foolish to deny it. The bottom line, then, is not "tradition vs. no tradition," but "true, apostolic tradition vs. false traditions of men."
But let me not overstate my case here. Catholics who deny sola Scriptura will respond by siting the difference between the “material sufficiency” and the “formal sufficiency” of Scripture. Catholics can—and often do—believe that the Scripture contains all the information necessary for Salvation (material sufficiency), but they also believe it lacks the ability to interpret itself.
Therefore, an absolute and authoritative interpreter is necessary to understand the Scripture. In this way, the Scripture lacks “formal sufficiency.”
Protestants, such as myself, would respond, at least with regard to the current argument about the Gospel of John, that to suppose John assumed his readers, whomever they may be, would need an infallible interpreter in order to understand his letter is a bit presumptuous.
I pretty much agree, but there is a simplistic aspect to this picture, too. There are things in John itself which are plainly shown as being difficult to understand. The clearest example of this is the eucharistic teaching in John 6. Anyone can see this. "Many" of Jesus "disciples" stated "this is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" (6:60). In 6:66 we learn that this inability to understand (or accept) caused disciples to stop following Jesus (the only time we ever see that in Scripture).
Now, if some of Jesus' very disciples couldn't understand what we have recorded in that chapter, doesn't it follow logically and from common sense that some reading it today would not understand, either? The same would apply, for that matter, to the entire gospel story of Jesus' life and death, because His own disciples didn't grasp what was going on (with Jesus saying at one point that Satan was speaking through Peter). If they didn't get it, then why not many millions who read about the story, too? They probably won't understand many things without the aid of the Holy Spirit and regeneration, just as the original disciples did not before Pentecost.
Therefore, John implicitly accepts the option that authoritative interpreters might be needed.
This is presupposed also in the passage in Acts (written by Luke) about the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip, where the former states that he couldn't understand the Scripture (in this instance, Isaiah) "unless someone guides" him (Acts 8:31). Now, if it were indeed the case that Scripture is always so clear to everyone, surely Philip at the time, or Luke in recording the incident could have made this known, by illustrating some error in the eunuch's method. But they do not. Instead, it is assumed that it is proper to seek an interpreter who knows more than one does himself.
In the Gospel of Luke we see Jesus Himself "interpreting" the Scriptures about Himself to two disciples (Lk 24:27). St. Peter informs us that biblical prophecies are not of private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20) and that some relatively difficult passages in Scripture are twisted by the ignorant to their detriment (2 Peter 3:16): and these from the letters of Paul, which make up a great deal of the New Testament. So there is plenty to show that in reality, given human beings and their limitations, many times Scripture is not so clear as Protestants defending sola Scriptura would have us believe. And this is the data from Scripture itself: not mere speculations from some supposed "anti-Bible" mentality from Catholics like me.
There is no indication that John felt that his letter lacked either material or formal sufficiency.
It stands by itself as an account of the life of Christ. But surely you wouldn't want to argue that John would think it was sufficient alone to constitute a whole Bible? The argument almost misses the whole point, then. John may be sufficient itself to enable someone to be saved, but it is only one book of 27 in the NT.
From my point of view, to say that the Gospel of John is formally insufficient to accomplish its proposed purpose (i.e. it cannot be understood without an infallible interpreter and, hence, people cannot have “life in his name” because of this lack), is to force a foreign notion into the mind of John that is in no sense taught, evident, or justified beyond one’s presupposed theology.
Beyond what I have already noted above, one must also distinguish between knowledge "sufficient for salvation" and knowledge of the entire Christian apostolic deposit or teaching or "orthodoxy" if you will. And then we must go on to examine various Christian doctrines drawn from this same Scripture and figure out why Protestants can't come to conclusions as to truth and falsity of same, without massive internal contradiction, given this "perspicuous" Scripture that is supposedly formally sufficient for the Christian to be equipped in every way, without the necessary aid of a divinely established and Spirit-guided authoritative Church.
In other words, most advocates of the Dual-Source Theory must see John in such a way, not because of the evidence, but because their presupposed Dual-Source paradigm demands such.
I believe that this is unjustified.
Again, this one response does not destroy the Dual-Source Theory of authority, it simply evidences, in my opinion, the weakness of this proposed argument for the theory. I will continue to deal with the other arguments in subsequent blog posts.
Thanks to Michael for the cordial dialogue. I look forward to continuing my reply.