Monday, March 1, 2010

Sola Scriptura Isn't Scriptural

In a previous post, I argued that Sola Scriptura leads to pluralism.

But it gets worse. Sola Scriptura, which literally means "Scripture alone", is itself not scriptural.

Some might point to 2 Timothy 3.16-17 as an example of where sola scriptura is taught by Scripture:
"16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
It should be noted that much of the New Testament has not been written at the time of this letter. Paul is then referring to the Old Testament Scriptures and possibly a few apostolic writings regarded as Scripture that would later be compiled into the New Testament. Thus, if one takes the word "thoroughly" to mean that Scripture is the only thing that one needs for "teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness", then most of the New Testament becomes unnecessary. Paul here is saying here that Scripture is useful for a person to become thoroughly equipped, but is not saying that Scripture is the only thing that is useful. For isn't preaching useful? Aren't spiritual disciplines useful? Isn't discipleship useful? Isn't confession useful? Isn't even personal experience sometimes useful? Of course, all of these things are useful. The Scripture, already in existence as Paul is writing this letter, as well as the Scripture that was later written, is a very important part of a person following Christ.

Suffice it to say, it's difficult to prove this negative except to say that the doctrine of sola scriptura is simply nowhere to be found in Scripture.

But I can show you where the opposite is found in Scripture:
"So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter." (2 Thessalonians 2.15)

Paul is saying that those at the church in Thessalonica should "stand firm and hold to" all of his teachings, whether communicated to them orally or in a written form. Clearly, Paul is affirming the authority of his teachings even if they are not written down. His apostolic authority was not only effective when he wrote something down. It was also effective when he spoke to them. Paul does not say, 'Test everything I say by what I write, because only my writing is inspired by God and is authoritative.' No, he tells them to follow his teachings transmitted in both forms.

Also, remember that Jesus himself, the full manifestation of God's revelation to humans, didn't actually write anything down. Everything we know about Jesus has been passed on to us in some way.

Catholics refer to what has been passed on orally from the apostles as Tradition (not to be confused with a tradition, which is a man-made custom that develops over time; see end of post for more). Some try to place Tradition in opposition to Scripture, often wondering which one supersedes the other. Catholics, it is claimed by Protestants, place Tradition above Scripture, while Protestants supposedly place Scripture ahead of Tradition - if they recognize Tradition to have any place at all in theology. The issue of whether Tradition is above Scripture or vice versa is only a question if one assumes that they ever contradict.
The true Catholic teaching sees no opposition here because Catholics view Tradition and Scripture as simply two different means by which the whole Word of God has been passed down.

Here is part of the Church's teaching on this issue in her own words:
"In keeping with the Lord's command [to preach the Gospel], the Gospel was handed on in two ways:
orally 'by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received—whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit' (DV [Dei Verbum], 7);
in writing 'by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing.' (DV, 7)" (CCC [Catechism of the Catholic Church], paragraph 76)
The equality of Scripture and Tradition is also clearly affirmed by the Catholic Church:
"Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal"
"Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence."
(CCC 80, 82; DV 9)

The Church recognizes the importance of believing in Tradition in order to make sense of early Christianity:
"The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus' teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition." (CCC 83a)

Included in Tradition are not new revelations, but only that which has been passed on from the Apostles:

"Throughout the ages, there have been so-called 'private' revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.
Christian faith cannot accept 'revelations' that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such 'revelations.' " (CCC 67)

Lastly, in the comment section of a previous post, I accused a commenter of confusing the Tradition with traditions. This is what I meant:
"Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical, or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church's magisterium." (83b)

Sola scriptura is simply nowhere to be found in Scripture. It is a man-made tradition invented in the Reformation. In fact, Scripture itself explicitly teaches against sola scriptura. The Church's understanding of Tradition is not that Scripture is ever superceded or corrected by Tradition, but that they both form the one, authoritative, infallible Word of God.

7 comments:

  1. Brantly,

    Could you explain more why 2 Thessalonians 2.15 "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter." does not refer to the teaching of Paul that we have now as part of our cannon? It seems like that would be evidence for a sola scriptura because as a doctrine it holds firm to the teachings in scripture and gives ground for interpreting difficult passages in light of clearer ones. Could you give a fuller account of why the interpretive move you suggest should be taken to mean Tradition rather than sola scriptura as I have explained? Also, can there be allegorical interpretation without the implict principle of Sola Scriptura? It seems implicit in Augustine's teachings in De Doctrina Christiana.

    Many thanks for sharing your thinking and writing!

    Peace,
    Makilah

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  2. Brantly, this is Derek Brown from Camp Harlow. Remember me? It is good to see you have progressed on with your sharp mind to study such important matters. I've read a few of your entries and thought I would chime in as a good ol' evangelical.

    I must question the grounds of your objection to Sola Scriptura in the post. For who claims that it is "Scriptural?" I don't think that is what the reformers thought. Their mantra, "by Scripture alone," is fundamentally a statement against their view of the (Catholic) church of the time in their quest to reform it. Thus as much as it stresses the unique authority of the Scripture it also excludes the need of the Magisterium for interpretation of the Scriptures. It is thus not a statement taken from Scripture or nor one necessarily proof-texted by various scriptures. Rather, Sola Scriptura is a hermeneutical move to reclaim the main avenue by which the reformers believed God speaks to man. It is an interpretation of what the Scripture says about the ways in which God speaks to his people.

    I think your analysis of 2 Thess 2:15 is misguided since you're wanting Paul to speak to something he is not addressing here: a doctrine of scripture. You say the verse doesn't testify to Sola Scriptura. I agree. You also say it says the opposite. I disagree. He makes no claims of exclusivity for written or oral communication in the verse. Paul isn't concerned with scriptural authority here; rather, he writes to one of his churches because he is concerned about their faith, and so he reminds them here not to sway from their faith which is based on what he and his companions—who were not all apostles—communicated to them.

    ~Derek

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  3. Brantly,

    Some good points. I have a few thoughts, as Sola Scriptura is pretty dear to my heart.

    We all have to lay down foundations. You can't appeal to Tradition to disprove Sola Scriptura.

    Next, I believe you mischaracterize Sola Scriptura by playing the game of literal definitions. If this were true, all the Solas would be at odds with one another. You can't have 5 'onlys.' The point is that Scripture is the only final authority and is complete...the one non-negotiable, not that it is the only 'useful' construct in Christianity. Pastors are useful insofar as they teach Scripture. Traditions are useful insofar as they propel us to God's word and are aligned with its doctrine. Discipleship is essential not just because it is but because it is commanded in the Great Commission in Scripture. It is Scripture that gives usefulness and authority to all these other people, traditions, and disciplines.

    As for those verses, the point is not to play proof texting (just try to do that with doctrines like the dual natures of Christ), but to understand from the larger framework of Scripture that Scripture thinks VERY highly of itself...and even says they come directly from God. One only needs to skim-read Psalm 119 to understand the fantastic authority and wonder Scripture gives itself. Regarding 2 Timothy, we all believe it is breathed out by God, so why shouldn't we extrapolate that verse to the New Testament as well? If we all believe Scripture is inspired, that means the New Testament applies in Paul's writing, though he didn't know it.

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  4. @beinghtebrowns: If sola scriptura doesn't need to be scriptural then it doesn't make the slightest bit of sense. You believe that you cannot believe anything that is not in scripture, yet you base that belief on something that is NOT in scripture. That line of thought is kind of absurd, don't you think?

    @Chet: regarding 2 Timothy, you say why not extrapolate to the new testament too... without the Church to tell you, how do you even know which books go in the new testament? I mean, the Bible itself doesn´t say. Why not throw in the Shepherd of Hermas too? How do YOU know it is not inspired?

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  5. Hey everyone,
    Thanks for reading and commenting.

    Makilah,
    You wrote:
    "Could you explain more why 2 Thessalonians 2.15 ... does not refer to the teaching of Paul that we have now as part of our cannon?"
    The part of the verse that says "or by letter" most certainly does refer to writings of Paul that are now in the canon (such as 1st and 2nd thessalonians!). However, there is no reason, Scriptural or otherwise, to think that the teaching that gave "by word of mouth" are necessarily now in the canon. And my point for bringing up this verse is to show that Paul thinks that his teaching, whether given orally or in written-form are authoritative.


    beingthebrowns,
    You wrote:
    "Rather, Sola Scriptura is a hermeneutical move to reclaim the main avenue by which the reformers believed God speaks to man. It is an interpretation of what the Scripture says about the ways in which God speaks to his people. "
    And my question is why we should think that written Scripture is "the main avenue by which...God speaks to man", see as Scripture itself doesn't teach that. Scripture itself, as I have pointed out 2 Thess 2.15 as an example, shows that God communicates his truth authoritatively by other means.

    You wrote:
    "He makes no claims of exclusivity for written or oral communication in the verse. "
    That's actually my point. He clearly doesn't think that his teachings are authoritative only when they are written, but that also what he has spoken to them is authoritative and they need to follow it.

    You wrote:
    "he reminds them here not to sway from their faith which is based on what he and his companions—who were not all apostles—communicated to them. "
    Yes and that faith was communicated by word of mouth and by letter authoritatively. He makes no distinction. Thus, we also should follow that which the apostle have passed on, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
    Even if Silas and Timothy did not have apostolic authority at this time (which they may have been given through ordination), Paul certainly does and so the authority of the teaching can be based on him.

    Chet, my comment was too long with my responses to you. So it'll be in my next comment...

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  6. Chet,
    I actually agree with much of what you wrote. I think must have just not been very clear in my post as to what I was trying to say.

    You wrote:
    "You can't appeal to Tradition to disprove Sola Scriptura."
    I didn't do that in this post. I appealed to Scripture to disprove Sola Scriptura. I did put down quotes from the CCC, but only to show how Catholics think about the issue, not to prove my point. Sorry if I was unclear.

    You wrote:
    "I believe you mischaracterize Sola Scriptura by playing the game of literal definitions. If this were true, all the Solas would be at odds with one another. You can't have 5 'onlys.' "
    I agree. I was only giving a translation of the Latin so people knew what the phrase meant for those who don't already. I didn't intend to be explaining the whole idea of Sola Scriptura when I wrote: 'which literally means "Scripture alone'

    You wrote:
    "The point is that Scripture is the only final authority and is complete...the one non-negotiable, not that it is the only 'useful' construct in Christianity."
    I completely agree, which is actually my point. Remember, in that first part I was trying to show how 2 Tim 3.16 doesn't teach Sola Scriptura. 2 Tim 3.16 only says that Scripture is useful. Because that isn't really what Sola Scriptura is saying, 2 Tim 3.16 doesn't teach Sola Scriptura, as I have heard some people say. Maybe you already know that 2 Tim 3.16 doesn't teach Sola Scriptura.

    You wrote:
    "Traditions are useful insofar as they propel us to God's word and are aligned with its doctrine."
    I just want to point out that you are assuming that God's Word is found only in Scripture. I agree that Tradition must align with Scripture.

    You wrote:
    "As for those verses, the point is not to play proof texting (just try to do that with doctrines like the dual natures of Christ), but to understand from the larger framework of Scripture that Scripture thinks VERY highly of itself...and even says they come directly from God."
    I agree that Scripture thinks very highly of itself and that Scripture is God's Word. But I don't think that it is the only source of God's Word to us today. There's the rub. Remember, Catholics have pretty much as high a view of Scripture as one can have.
    Here is what CCC, quoting the Vatican II document DV, says about Scripture: "Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit."

    You wrote:
    "Regarding 2 Timothy, we all believe it is breathed out by God, so why shouldn't we extrapolate that verse to the New Testament as well? If we all believe Scripture is inspired, that means the New Testament applies in Paul's writing, though he didn't know it."
    I agree that God is the author of all Scripture and that therefore Scripture can mean things that even the human author wasn't intending. Catholics actually have much high view on this issue than most Protestants (which is possibly a topic for a future post if you're interested to know what I mean by this). My intent with the point of mine that you're referring to is with the word "thoroughly". There are two ways of interpretting it. (1) Since all of Scripture hadn't been written yet, and since one needs all of Scripture for Scripture to be complete, this verse was simply false when it was written and only became true after the rest of the NT was written. OR (2) This verse is true at the time Paul was writing, referring to the Scripture that had already been written, AND it is true for future Scripture that was written later. But this means that when Paul said "thoroughly" he didn't intend to mean that it was all we needed to be equipped. I hope I have explained my point here clearly.


    Whoo! That was long. Thanks again for everyone taking the time to not only read but to comment as well. I really appreciate all of your guy's thoughts.

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