Sunday, July 05, 2009

Do I Know and Understand the Definition of Sola Scriptura (Let's Have Some Fun With This One)?

I feel exactly like a kid in a candy store, with a gift certificate of $100: where to first?!; so many places I could go . . . I'm sure I could document literally a hundred or more places in my writings, along these lines. I've written more about sola Scriptura and the Bible and Tradition issue than anything else, by far. Seeing that I have over 2400 papers posted, 19 books, and additional magazine articles, that is saying something! I've written one book entirely about the topic: 501 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura: Is the Bible the Only Infallible Authority? Another book is about two-thirds devoted to this general theme: Bible Conversations: Catholic-Protestant Dialogues on the Bible, Tradition, and Salvation.

I've had an article on sola Scriptura published in the leading Catholic apologetics periodical, This Rock (September 2004). I've discussed the subject on the national radio program, Catholic Answers Live (10 October 2003: Listen in Real Audio / mp3). I have two major topical index web pages devoted to these issues (one / two), with scores of papers listed, as well as index pages for the related topics of the papacy and the Church.

I have refuted or debated or dialogued in writing with many of the leading defenders of sola Scriptura; for example: James White (one / two / three / four / five), Keith Mathison (Part One / Part Two), C. Michael Patton (a six-part response), John MacArthur, Gary DeMar, Jason Engwer (one / two), Carmen Bryant (one / two), David. T. King, William Webster, and Martin Chemnitz (one / two).

One would think that would be sufficient to show that it is quite likely (before even checking) that I know the definition of that which I am critiquing. It's not that complicated at all. Yet hyper-critics of mine claim that I do not understand what sola Scriptura is. It's easy enough to prove that I do. His many statements along these lines (launched without proof of any kind) are falsehoods and lies, which is, no doubt, why he never bothers to document his charges. But truth is truth, and facts are facts, and once in a while these innumerable anti-Catholic bogus charges have to be exposed as incompetent, intellectually irresponsible foolishness.

The first place I'll go to is my bestselling book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, which was actually completed in revised form in May 1996, thirteen years ago, and published by Sophia Institute Press in 2003. Chapter One ("Bible and Tradition" is 21 pages long. The first draft of this particular chapter was actually written in 1991, shortly after my conversion to Catholicism, so that this material is basically now over 18 years old. I very carefully defined sola Scriptura, citing many Protestant sources for my definition in the footnotes:
For Protestants, Scripture alone, or sola Scriptura, is the source and rule of the Christian faith. As such, it is superior to and judges all Tradition. It is sufficient in and of itself for a full exposition of Christianity and for the attainment of salvation.
The concept of sola Scriptura, it must be noted, is not in principle opposed to the importance and validity of Church history, Tradition, ecumenical councils, or the authority of Church Fathers and prominent theologians. The difference lies in the relative position of authority held by Scripture and Church institutions and proclamations. In theory, the Bible judges all of these, since, for the Evangelical Protestant, it alone is infallible and the Church, popes, and councils are not.

(pp. 3-4)

Recently, several evangelical scholars have frankly critiqued the weakness of either sola Scriptura itself, or else the extreme version of it, which might be called "Bible Only" (a virtually total exclusion of Church history and authority).

(p. 4)
In my Sophia book, The One-Minute Apologist (2007), the title of one of the two-page sections (p. 4) is "The Bible is the only infallible source of theological truth." The titles were statements that would be made by opponents of the Catholic Church, that are then examined and refuted. So this is another definition of sola Scriptura.

In my book, 501 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura: Is the Bible the Only Infallible Authority?, we see the definition essentially given in the subtitle. In the introduction (available to read online), anticipating these very clueless criticisms, I go to the greatest lengths to make sure sola Scriptura is defined by Protestant proponents, to the satisfaction of the most severe anti-Catholic Protestant critic. Thus, I cite at length, specifically for definitional purposes, Protestants Norman Geisler, Keith Mathison, and James White. Here are the quick, most concise definitions from Geisler, Mathison, and White, respectively, as presented in my Introduction (italics are all in the originals):
Norman Geisler

By sola Scriptura orthodox Protestants mean that Scripture alone is the primary and absolute source of authority, the final court of appeal, for all doctrine and practice (faith and morals).

Keith Mathison

Scripture alone is inspired and inherently infallible. Scripture alone is the supreme normative standard. . . . Scripture alone is the only final standard,. . . Scripture, however, is the only inspired and inherently infallible norm, and therefore Scripture is the only final authoritative norm.

James White

1. The doctrine of sola scriptura, simply stated, is that the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regula fidei, the infallible rule of faith for the Church . . .

2. All that one must believe to be a Christian is found in Scripture, and in no other source . . .


3. That which is not found in Scripture -- either directly or by necessary implication -- is not binding upon the Christian. . . .


4. Scripture reveals those things necessary for salvation . . .


5. All traditions are subject to the higher authority of Scripture.

In order to remain ignorant of the true definition, then, I must (logically speaking) disagree with the Protestant definitions that I present in the Introduction to my own book, where I wrote:

Before going any further, I should like to verify the preceding definitions of sola Scriptura [basically the same ones I used in Biblical Defense] by citing three of its contemporary Protestant defenders.
That would be an exceedingly odd state of affairs, wouldn't it? In case anyone is still missing the point, let me compare line-by-line, my 1996 definition in my first book, with the definitions of the three men mentioned above (aren't logic and grammar wonderful?):

Dave = black
White (Reformed Protestant) = blue
Mathison (Reformed Protestant) = purple
Geisler (Arminian Protestant) = green

Basic Definition

Scripture alone, or sola Scriptura, is the source and rule of the Christian faith.

the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regula fidei, the infallible rule of faith for the Church

Scripture alone is the supreme normative standard. . . . Scripture alone is the only final standard . . . Scripture is the only final authoritative norm.


Scripture alone is the primary and absolute source of authority, the final court of appeal, for all doctrine and practice (faith and morals).


Unique Supremacy of Authority

it is superior to and judges all Tradition.

All traditions are subject to the higher authority of Scripture.

any tradition, no matter how ancient or venerable it might seem to us, must be tested by a higher authority, and that authority is the Bible.


supreme normative standard. . . . only final standard . . . only final authoritative norm


primary and absolute source of authority, the final court of appeal


Sole Sufficiency

It is sufficient in and of itself for a full exposition of Christianity and for the attainment of salvation.

All that one must believe to be a Christian is found in Scripture, and in no other source

That which is not found in Scripture -- either directly or by necessary implication -- is not binding upon the Christian


only inspired and inherently infallible norm


Scripture is the sufficient and final written authority of God. As to sufficiency, the Bible -- nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else -- is all that is necessary for faith and practice


Relation to Church and Tradition

sola Scriptura
. . . is not in principle opposed to the importance and validity of Church history, Tradition, ecumenical councils, or the authority of Church Fathers and prominent theologians.

Sola scriptura is not a denial of the authority of the Church to teach God's truth
Sola Scriptura does not entail the rejection of every kind or form of "tradition."

it is a final standard that must be utilized, interpreted, and preached by the Church within its Christian context.


There are other real authorities which are subordinate and derivative in nature.

It must be emphasized that the fallibility of the Church does not render her authority invalid.


This is not to say that Protestants obtain no help from the Fathers and early councils . . . this is not to say that there is no usefulness to Christian tradition, but only that it is of secondary importance.


Sole Infallible Source

it alone is infallible and the Church, popes, and councils are not.

the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regula fidei, the infallible rule of faith

Scripture alone is inspired and inherently infallible.

Scripture, however, is the only inspired and inherently infallible norm

What Protestants mean by sola Scriptura is that the Bible alone is the infallible written authority for faith and morals
These essential characteristics are repeated endlessly in my papers. Here is a small selection of potentially innumerable examples:
. . . in Protestantism -- in the final analysis -- no church or ecclesiastical authority can override the individual's own biblical interpretation if the latter deems the authority to be inconsistent with Scripture (since according to sola Scriptura, Scripture itself is regarded as the ultimate authority over against any church; . . .

(23 November 2000)


[Jason Engwer] Scripture is the Christian's only infallible rule of faith (sola scriptura), to which all other authorities (government, parents, tradition, etc.) are subordinate. . . .

[Me] This definition is very standard, and understood by Catholic and Protestant apologists, theologians, and other scholars alike, so we need not belabor the point. We accept this definition as an accurate portrayal of the Protestant conception of the Rule of Faith, or "principle of authority" and will therefore utilize it.

(2002)

. . . sola Scriptura (which is properly defined as "Scripture is the ultimate authority and judge of Church and Tradition alike").

(28 January 2004)

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).

(4 May 2004)


I've cited the following five Protestant scholars many times, in an effort to highlight the differences between historic sola Scriptura, as held by the mainstream Protestant Founders (who are sometimes referred to as the "magisterial Reformers"), and an extreme "Bible Only" mentality (which is a distortion and cardboard caricature of legitimate sola Scriptura), but it will be worthwhile to do so again (especially since I am still being absurdly accused of not comprehending these major differences to this day):

[I proceeded to cite at great length Robert McAfee Brown, Bernard Ramm, (early period) Clark Pinnock, G. C. Berkouwer, and R. C. Sproul]

(14 May 2004)

Sola Scriptura: the belief that Scripture is the only final, infallible authority in matters of Christian doctrine.

(7 July 2007)

[C. Michael Patton] Belief that Scripture is the final and only infallible authority for the Christian in all matters of faith and practice. While there are other authorities, they are always fallible and the must always be tested by and submit to the Scriptures. . . .
[Me] Good description . . .

(19 October 2008)

. . . our Protestant brethren put the highest emphasis on Scripture, and make it the only infallible authority in Christianity

(21 April 2009)

Readers can readily discern that my definition has been consistent throughout 18 years of use. This comes as no surprise at all, of course, seeing that I was a Protestant apologist, too, and accepted sola Scriptura (with the same definition seen above) myself, prior to 1990. I had long since (from the early 1980s) adopted the belief and correct definition of sola Scriptura, as defined by its most articulate defenders today. Forgive me, then, if I find it uproariously hilarious that I am accused at this late date of not understanding a thing that in fact I understood almost thirty years ago.

Comments by one "Churchmouse" are illustrative of classic anti-Catholic vacuous insults:
Dave, my but you seem to be in a funk! Sorry, if my post offended you, but you must understand, early on--and you are correct--I was one of many "ignoramuses" who relied on the wordy "answers" that folks, such as yourself, provided for me. It was all good and it gave me the warm-fuzzies to know that there were such towers of apologetic eloquence, men such as yourself, to school me on the nuances of inferior Protestant mind and their inability to see the obvious (whatever that may be). After all, issues, such as SS, cannot be understood unless it comes from someone who's been there, wasn't the "ignoramus" that I was, and makes it a living to do so. Yet, in retrospect, it was equivalent to getting caught in the vines with a very dull machete.

Do I spot a challenge? Let me think this out: Do I want to spend hours trying to decipher a tedious, time-consuming, mass of wordiness just so you can pound your chest? And all because there are some here, including me, who don't take you all that seriously? I'm not one of those "ignoramuses" anymore, remember? In the past, I've tried reading your blog and the contents therein, but ultimately, I blank out and hear the incessant rambling of the late great Michael Jackson going "hee hee" over and over again in my brain. I have to tie my legs together just to keep from moonwalking. So, no, the truth is I won't even read it and I will continue being a blissful "ignoramus", at least as far as YOU are concerned. After all, I've got a life to live and very little time to live it.

Cheers! :-)

(9 July 2009)
I responded:
Hi mouse,

It wasn't my contention that you were an ignoramus. You informed us of this yourself:

"During my Catholic days, I was completely befuddled about SS and was stuck to the literality of the term and never once did I look for explanations. Yet, after years of negligence, . . .

All I did was follow up on that (adding no speculation to it), by stating:

"Just because you were a clueless ignoramus about SS when you were a Catholic, . . ."

You made the comment that those of us who oppose SS are ignorant of it, while admitting that you were profoundly ignorant of the meaning yourself, which strikes me as quite probable projection. When challenged to show me where my definition is inaccurate . . ., you respond with the usual load of insults.

Thanks, at any rate, for the classic display of anti-Catholic obscurantism and fine Christian charity. I have preserved it for posterity in my post.

(9 July 2009)
Churchmouse again:
Hi Dave,

Let me see if I got you correct: My being "befuddled" merits being called a "clueless ignoramus"??? And that's a nice thing?

My "wondering" (<<--qualifier) if those who deny SS yada, yada, yada...is read as me making a "comment that those of us who oppose SS are ignorant of it."

And last but not least, after the provocation, you say...

"Thanks, at any rate, for the classic display of anti-Catholic obscurantism and fine Christian charity. I have preserved it for posterity in my post."

Can I expect any less? After all, Dave does as Dave wants and he wins every time. He pontificates and it is. I stand anti-Catholic and uncharitable because Dave deemed it so.

Now, ask me if I care :-)

(9 July 2009)
And me again:

Let me see if I got you correct: My being "befuddled" merits being called a "clueless ignoramus"???

Not quite. What merits the description is your self-description of "completely befuddled about SS and . . . never once did I look for explanations . . . years of negligence" coupled with the projection of your ignorance onto those of us who have an honest disagreement as to the truth of SS, and also the complete lack of any rational argument in support of what you "wondered" about.

You are trying mightily to spin this to make me look like an arrogant jerk, but you're failing because you are clearly, obviously twisting my words. Twice now, you have implied that I called you a "clueless ignoramus" in a sweeping sense, which I did not do. I said "clueless ignoramus about SS" (big difference) -- and that was based on your own colorful description.

(9 July 2009)

Hi Mouse,

I misunderstood one of your earlier comments, thinking that your reading of my work was a contributing factor to your decision to leave Catholicism for Calvinism. You wrote:

"I . . . relied on the wordy "answers" that folks, such as yourself, provided for me. It was all good and it gave me the warm-fuzzies to know that there were such towers of apologetic eloquence, men such as yourself, to school me . . . "

Then I read in your combox for a February 2009 post, where you commented:

"I left about 26 years ago and there is no looking back."

Obviously, then, my apologetics had nothing whatsoever to do with your decision to switch affiliations, since that dates your change back to 1983 (when I was a fervent evangelical Protestant). I became convinced of the truth of Catholicism in late 1990 and was not active in Internet apologetics till 1997 (with some published articles in magazines starting in 1993). You couldn't possibly have seen any writing of mine, then, till ten years after you became a Protestant.

Musta been someone else other than myself. Since I misunderstood your meaning here, I figured some others might do the same; hence the clarification. It was other men (presumably apologists) "such as [my]self". I wonder who they were, back in 1983 and earlier? I know Peter Kreeft was writing at that time.

(9 July 2009)

* * *

10 comments:

Randy said...

Scripture Alone: Exploring The Bible's Accuracy, Authority, and Authenticity

I have not read James White's book but the title seems wrong. Scripture Alone does not mean the bible is accurate, authoritative, and authentic. The key word is "alone". It is not really about scripture. It is about denying the accuracy, authority, and autheticity of Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium. Saying nice things about the bible will never get you to Sola Scriptura. That title makes me wonder if James White gets that. Perhaps he is misstating it on purpose. Who knows? It is a purely negative teaching. Maybe he is trying to make it sound positive. Scripture Alone could be called God's Word Alone (except when it comes via that pesky church). Then there is that other pillar Grace Alone (except for graces that come though that same church).

Dave Armstrong said...

Yeah, I think you have a good point about the title and what it wrongly conveys, but White does understand SS itself, in its basics.

He probably goes on to claim more for it and go beyond the definition, than is warranted, but what can we say? Protestants will always tend to do that when it comes to Scripture, because many assume that a rejection of SS automatically means a sort of derision or disrespect for Holy Scripture.

I argue that precisely the opposite is the case, because we Catholics accept all of Scripture: including the parts that discuss tradition, Church, succession, councils (Jerusalem Council), etc. (stuff that Protestants largely ignore or minimize).

Jeff Olsson said...

This posting basically ignores the fact that there is no evidence what so ever for the existance of God what so ever.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Jeff,

Do you have your deconversion story posted online? I have been in the mood lately to refute some more of those.

Nelson said...

Jeff,

If I close my eyes this basically confirms the fact that there is no evidence for your existence what so ever. But if I reach out and touch you my ignorance of you is no longer justified. I must then admit to myself that there is something OR someone there that I never suspected existed before. So for you to say there is basically no evidence for God’s existence what so ever is not necessarily true. Maybe it’s a fact that YOU haven’t reached out and touched God but others may have .

Carmelite said...

Hey Dave

Do you believe that Protestants need to show where there definition sola scriptura is in the Bible? To me it seems it is lot of assuming what they want sola scriptura to be. The Bible no where defines what sola scriptura is and whats its not,,, its a nebulous sand castle in the sky they create.

Paul Hoffer said...

Hi Dave,

I thought I would share my thoughts that posted over at Beggars All about my "befuddlement"

"Golly gee willikers... here I was busy reading up on ol' proto=protestant and sola scripturist (not) St. Gregory of Nyssa and while I have been gone I get all mentioned in an article written by Mr. Swan.

One can represent that I am befuddled and do not understand sola scriptura, but I would suggest the real problem here is that you do not understand what Tradition really is or means to Catholics, which is why I expressed my incredulity at your statement about sola scriptura, Mr. Swan.

In summary:

St. Gregory of Nyssa was a bishop of the Catholic Church, an appointed successor to the apostles themselves. As a bishop of the Catholic Church, he had the right, authority and responsibility to interpret Scripture and to teach others the intent or meaning of Scripture and to bind others to such.

I laughed until I cried when I saw Mr. Fan discuss St. Gregory's hermenutics which in truth is a fundamental aspect of what Tradition is--how doctrines are determined and formulated from the Word of God, whether it comes from written Scriptures or from the writings of the early Church as to what the Apostles taught, liturgical practices, etc. as practiced INSIDE the Church.

Tradition simply put has two components--the thing being transmitted and the act or manner in which that thing is transmitted. The Church and those in it give that Tradition value and authority.

How Catholics use the word Tradition is either inhesive and/or constitutive. Inhesive Traditions are doctrines that are found or described in the written Scriptures. Constitutive Traditions are doctrines not found in Scripture, but can be harmonized with Scripture and are shown through the teaching authority of the Church not to conflict with what is in the Scriptures. Doctrines and dogma taught by the Church fall into these two categories or a combination thereof. If a tradition (or to be more literal a teaching) that is passed on does not fall into those two categories or a combination thereof, then they are not Traditions nor are we required to believe them.

That being said, it is true that we Catholics believe that all Traditions which are approved by the Church, whether they are considered Divine Traditions, Apostolic Traditions, or Ecclesiastical Traditions command our respect. However, even Ecclesiastical Traditions (those which do not expressly contain in themselves the revealed Word of God) are authoritative only because Christ expressly taught "He that heareth you (the Apostles, the disciples, and their successors, the bishops of the Church), heareth Me." (Luke 10:16).

It all boils down to this-sola scriptura can not work because because those who practice it do not recognize the successors of the Apostles as having the authority to bind and loose what one is to believe. Rather, you recognize the non-scriptural notion of private judgment which places you at the pinnacle of authority in opposition to the Church.

It is all fine and good to quote St. Gregory of Nyssa as someone who looked to the Scriptures as ulitmate proof of his teachings, but that is not a problem for Catholics because we believe that the ECF's could authoritatively interpret Scripture and then teach how we, the Faithful, are to understand them. The point where we part ways is the fact that you do not recognize St. Gregory's authority to interpret or teach. You reserve for yourselves the right to pass judgment on what is taught placing yourselves even above the Scriptures.

Paul Hoffer said...

Comment cont.

What is the point of quoting St. Gregory of Nyssa if you are not going to accept what he teaches? Are you now going to tell me that you accept the teaching of St. Gregory that the substance of the bread and wine are really changed during the Divine Liturgy into actual, physical Jesus Christ? Do you now recognize the Mother of God as the Theotokos, ever-virgin, and the New Eve? Do you now believe in infant baptism and that baptism sacramentally regenerates souls? Do you acknowledge his teaching of the value of intercessory prayer to Mary and the saints?

Tell me, does St. Gregory of Nyssa teach that anyone has the right and authority to interpret the Scriptures and to disregard the teachings of the bishops who lead the Church and yet can call themself a member of the Faithful? Does he teach any of the Calvinistic notions of TULIP? Does he deny the sacerdotal nature of the priesthood or the fact that the sacraments are the means by which God distributes grace?

Are you getting the idea of why I expressed my incredulity at your definition of sola scriptura? Because without its bastard child, private judgment, your expression of sola scriptura is actually reconcilable with what the Catholic Church itself teaches.

Most annoyingly, the fact that folks would cite St. Gregory of Nyssa, who expressly taught the Real Presence, the Sacraments, a fair number of the Marian dogmas, purgation of the soul after death, the generative powers of Baptism, etc., miss the whole point of what Tradition is. While I have no problem with St. Gregory of Nyssa looking to the Scriptures as being authoritative, you are the one with the problem because you do not recognize St. Gregory of Nyssa to interpret the Scriptures authoritatively. Tradition is nothing less than, "the living and teaching body, consituted by Christ, to guard and explain to the Faithful, the Deposit of Faith" of which St. Gregory was a part of himself as a bishop.

BTW, Churchmouse, as I see it, the problem was not whether you were befuddled about sola scriptura, the fact is that you were actually befuddled over the meaning of the word Tradition. I will pray that you return to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church will be sooner as opposed to later.

Since some folks are in the mood to suggest bedtime reading, I suggest that folks read Msgr. George Agius' book, "Tradition and the Catholic Church."

God bless!"

Anyway Dave, I enjoyed your article and the picture of the "trumpeter" swan at the top of your article. In the future a "mute" swan might be more apropo though.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Carmelite,

Do you believe that Protestants need to show where there definition sola scriptura is in the Bible? To me it seems it is lot of assuming what they want sola scriptura to be. The Bible no where defines what sola scriptura is and whats its not,,, its a nebulous sand castle in the sky they create.

Absolutely; I agree 100%. It's required in the nature of the case. I wrote about this:

Why Sola Scriptura is Self-Defeating and False if it Isn't in the Bible

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2004/05/why-sola-scriptura-is-self-defeating.html

Dave Armstrong said...

Great stuff, Paul! It's a futile effort, though. These crucial clarifications always accomplish nothing at all with anti-Catholics. They only see what they want to see.

None on that blog will make the slightest attempt to prove by actual documentation, that either of us is ignorant of what SS means.

I think you make a very important observation: that the real problem is that the Protestants in this instance don't know what Tradition means, and has meant throughout Church history. So they project their radically unbiblical rule of faith back onto the fathers. It's the same old story. This sort of revisionist anachronism has been refuted by several apologists at least 25 times by now: all to no avail whatever.

But onlookers and neutral parties are also reading, so we need not despair. The truth will have its effect on those who are open to it.