Friday, August 21, 2009

Sola Scriptura - My Opening Statement

I am glad to invite one and all to this, my first formal-ish debate. I would like to thank David for challenging me to a debate, for accepting the topic offered, and for his efficient and helpful email interaction in refining the topic and structure of it. I also thank him for the time, effort, and trials he has committed to the service of our country, even so far as to have recently completed a tour of duty in an overseas warzone, and appreciate his contribution to the preservation of our freedom of expression. I look forward to our interaction.

As the affirmer of the resolution, I will present a positive case, and then I will attempt to head off some of David's arguments at the pass. Then, in my first rebuttal, we will take stock of whether he has avoided the pitfalls I warned him of.

The Witness of the Old Testament

Psalm 119 alone offers glowing and highly significant affirmations of the sufficiency of Scripture - its sufficiency in breadth, its power to guide, its clarity and authority, its ability to give wisdom and enlighten. How can he who denies the resolution at hand also affirm the words of Psalm 119?

The OT is also full of prophetic utterances, originally given orally, now committed to writing. The pious person must inquire what could be equal or higher in authority to the very speech of God.

An Argument from Jesus

Given Matthew 4:4, it would behoove us to determine what words have indeed proceeded out of the mouth of God. Jesus gives us a clue in His temptation in the desert – He quotes from…the Scripture, three times, to resist the Devil. Notably absent is any extrabiblical "tradition" from Moses or David or Elijah.
The Lord Jesus quotes incessantly from the Old Testament Scriptures throughout His ministry, and usually precedes His quotations with a reverential formula indicating the divine nature of the words He's quoting. Such statements as
, Matt 5:17-18, Matt 23:23, or "…have you not read what was spoken to you by God: 'I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM…'" (Matt 22:31, emph. mine) indicate Jesus' regard for and opinion of the Scripture.

Were They Aware of It?

Jesus apparently knew that He, at least, was "writing Scripture": Matt 24:35. Peter thought Paul was: 2 Peter 3:15-16. Over and over again, prophets in the Old Testament write "Thus saith the Lord". Such examples are numerous. But let me turn now to the question of the authority of the Scripture.

The Preparation - God Is the Final Word

Hebrews 6:13 - For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself...”
Who knows more than God? Who can see farther? Who can stop Him from performing His will? Nobody; God is the final arbiter and judge, and He is the lawgiver. What He says, goes. So when we find God's communication, we are obligated to live and abide by it. Obviously I believe I know precisely where this communication is found - in Scripture. David, to deny the resolution successfully, must show us some other source of divine communication on par with or above Scripture.

An Argument from Paul and the Stated Nature of Scripture

In 2 Timothy 3:15-17, we see the richness of what the Scriptures are, and what they do:

-can give one wisdom…
-…so as to be saved (through faith)
-breathed out by God (cf: Matthew 22:31)
-profitable for teaching and correction
-can train one in righteousness
-to render the man of God adequate for every good work.

Notice the context of chapters 3 and then 4 – Paul writes Timothy to explain how he should live and pastor in the middle of very difficult circumstances in which he expects innumerable challenges to present themselves, of false doctrine and teaching, of false living, persecution, etc. To what does he point Timothy? Oral tradition of the elders? Something separate that was for his ears only? Or the Scripture?

The Category
Scripture As Sufficient Guide

Also notice that Paul is speaking of the category of Scripture. What is Scripture, what is God-breathed? Every word from Jesus, for one thing (Jesus being God). Peter says Paul's letters are. The Old Testament, which clearly expected the New (see Hebrews, Epistle to the). That which is Scripture falls under this description. And honestly, looking at the list of things that Scripture is and can do, what else does one need? Paul apparently thought it was enough. Jesus thought enough of it to say "The words I have spoken are spirit and are life" (John 6:63). The Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC) holds to the same New Testament (it's in their sort-of-official Orthodox Study Bible and read from in their Divine Liturgies under the title "New Testament"), so this should not come under dispute from David. David has some work to do – to show us an equivalent source of authority.

Scripture as Judge of Tradition

Mark 7:1-13 is the other main passage on which I'd like to concentrate, especially 7-13. The Pharisees claimed to have a rule, a tradition handed down from the elders. It was old and respected and generally held to among the leaders and hierarchy of the covenant community of God. And yet, it was wrong. How did Jesus prove it was wrong? By appealing to the Scripture. The tradition was in conflict with Scripture, and therefore, it was incorrect. Thus Jesus tells us – do not invalidate the word of God by tradition handed down (v. 13). Scripture stands as judge over tradition.
One can easily imagine someone dissenting and breaking away from the unity of the synagogue to practice what the Scripture actually says, much like the Reformation, and then being called factious and sinful for doing so, much like our Romanist and Eastern friends do. Oh wait, we don't have to imagine that at all. Jesus did that very thing…and was crucified for it.

How Do You Know?

The EO-dox claims that the Church is the arbiter of the correct interpretation of Scripture and tradition. We will probably see in David's presentation some expression, however subtle, of the idea of Viva Voce – the living voice of The Church®, the authoritative interpreter of Scripture and tradition. It is alleged that The Church® keeps us from going astray in our private, fallible interpretations of Scripture. In real practice, it defines which writings and ideas from which church writers and fathers are Sacred Apostolic Tradition® and which are merely their own personal opinions, and offers no standard outside of The Church® to corroborate that judgment. Athanasius might say on one hand: "Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith's sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrines so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture" (De Synodis, 6), but that is not in fact part of SAT®. How do we know? The Church® says so. Maybe not in so many words, but there is no other conclusion to be drawn. Thus, Athanasius, whom EO-dox quote as an authoritative voice on many other issues, becomes an empty suit when he expresses something The Church® doesn't like.
For one thing, this is not particularly intellectually honest. For another, are there not other candidates for the status of The Church®, or the infallible interpreter, out there? Rome? The WatchTower? The Latter-Day Saints? David Koresh? How can we choose which infallible interpreter really represents The Church®, if Scripture is not sufficient for that task? After all, all would shape "Tradition" in the way that best serves each one, picking and choosing, ignoring this and emphasising that.
Fortunately, we have a better way, the way of Jesus - Isaiah 8:20.

What Sola Scriptura Is Not

1) A claim that the Bible contains all knowledge.
A denial of the Church's authority to teach God's truth.
A denial that God's Word has been spoken or communicated orally at times in history, such as during inscripturation, when NT letters and books were still being written. SS deals with the church in its normative state.
A denial of the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding and enlightening the Church.

Errors To Avoid

Keep in mind that David will not be taking this opener into account before posting his own. Let this list of common faux pas guide your reading, and hopefully he will avoid them so our interaction can be better:

-Canon - "Without The Church®, you don't know WHICH books belong in the Bible."
For one thing, this is not the topic, and others have debated it better than we (or at least, I) ever could. For another, his own church's canon isn't even closed, so he's in no position to chuck pebbles.

-Appeal to Tradition - we will probably see this from David. Watch out for equivocation - does he define how we know what is good Tradition and bad tradition without a circular, question-begging appeal to The Church®? Does he take into account when the same church writer he cites elsewhere claims that Scripture is sufficient for the church?

-Appeal to age - the Church is old, ergo it's right. Remember, the OT precedes the church, and the NT is the very record of the earliest believers in Jesus.

-"The Church gave you the Bible". Remember the OT? Also, so what? Does said Bible point us to follow the Church as final authority? That's the question.

-Empty "we believe"s - We're not debating what Orthodox believe or don't. Watch out for unsupported assertions.

-Errancy - From earlier conversations, I know that David does not hold to the inerrancy of the Bible. One must therefore ask why he is even engaging in this debate. John 3:12 - "If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?"

-Making too much of John 20:30-31 - Does David give us a solid backing for claiming to know that these other things came from Jesus and the apostles through oral tradition? Does he tell us where? Or is it "The Church® says so" again?

-"That's just your private interpretation"- Of course, that statement would be his own interpretation. Further, he has to personally interpret Church statements and conciliar statements. This is a conversation-killer and a cop-out, more worthy of liberals and Emergents than someone who takes the church seriously.

-Making too much of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 - Does David prove that the word of mouth is different in content than the letter mentioned? That the tradition mentioned there is distinct from the Scripture?

-Blueprint for anarchy/thousands of denominations - the misuse of a sufficient source is not a valid argument against that source.

  1. It's not the Bible's fault if some people neglect, ignore, or misuse parts of it.
  2. The Bible never guarantees unity or unanimity, but rather expects disunity in the epistles, the churches of Revelation 1-3, and 1 Cor 11:18-19.
  3. That's often because of human sin and contrasting preferences.
  4. Is it EOC's fault that the inerrantist and errantist positions both exist inside their camp? Or ethnic divisions that squabble? Or some churches that chrismate Protestant converts and others that baptise them? Old Calendarists? Does that make EOC invalid for that reason?
  5. Perhaps David would like to compare apples to apples - Scripture + infallible interpreter model vs Sola Scriptura model. The Scr+ model includes the disparate cults and groups mentioned above. Not a favorable comparison. Or we can compare the unity of EOC to Southern Baptists. Either way, I like my position's chances.

(Word count: 1988)
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