Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Reply to Anonymous Sola Scriptura Comment

Not too long ago [27 August] I put up a post called Divisions in Sola Scriptura in which I gave an attempted outline of just why the Roman Catholic argument that a large number of Protestant denominations falsifies or renders improbable sola scriptura is specious and ultimately a complete non sequitur.

After the thread went off the page, an anonymous commenter asked:

So if we can't depend on "Sola Scriptura" to arrive at the true meaning of the text, what good is it? Leaves both Protestants and Catholics in the same epistomological swamp of depending entirely on their own private interpretation.

The question itself is flawed, for to ask "what good is sola scriptura" is to assume that sola scriptura derives its impetus from being some sort of utilitarian problem-solving device. In contradistinction to this view, conservative Protestants hold to sola scriptura because they think it to be true. SS is a statement about reality; there is nothing in the statement that connotes that SS "does" or "achieves" anything.

So, then how do we arrive at the true meaning of the text? By reading the text the same way we'd read any other document, taking word-meanings, syntax, semantics, context, setting, audience, etc into consideration. I'm not reading Romans [the PP flavor o' the month] any differently than I would, say, Dante's Inferno or a Shakespeare play. And, I can defend my interpretations with solid evidence and lines of argumentation, just like any Evangelical commentator.

For the record: the process of reading a text is a straightforward matter. You don't need mysticism, deep and possibly obscure metaphysical systems, or to be abreast on the lastest po-mo and/or pseudointellectual offerings of precocious students, philosopher wannabes, and scholars, all who have affectations of being recognized as intellectual greats.

On private interpretation:

(i) The words "private interpretation" are usually used in a derogatory or accusatory fashion, as if one is, in true renegade style, imposing one's meaning on the text instead of the other way around. For Evangelicals, our so-called "private interpretation" is normed quite heavily by textual, contextual, lexical, grammatical, historical, and linguistic matters, and I don't know of any scholarly Evangelical commentary that ignores what others have said [not to mention the above constraints] in putting forth an interpretation of a difficult passage.

(ii) When somebody does "private interpretation," they ought to be able to defend their interpretation using the same rules of reasoning and evidence that are used in any other sort of dispute. For example, why do I think Paul is speaking of Christians [both immature and mature] and of himself in Rom 7:14-25? My answer, which is coming up in a few threads, will be supported by clear argumentation that people ought to be able to follow if I'm reasonably clear.

That is my somewhat longwinded reply to the anonymous post, whose contents, due to their ubiquity, deserve a response.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Conservative Protestants hold to Sola Scriptura because they think it to be true."

What do you mean by "...think it to be true."? Do you mean the doctrine of s.s., or the scriptura itself (the Bible)?

If you mean the Bible, then you agree with the Catholic Church, and there should be no quarrel.

In one way, the Catholic Church affirms one aspect of Sola Scriptura in that nothing in Catholic doctrine can be contrary to Scripture.

If you mean s.s., then you affirm the understanding that the Bible is the only authority we have for faith and morals, and that the text itself has authority over every interpretation and interpreter. (At least, that is what I understand sola scriptura to mean.)

It is obvious that different people reading the same Biblical texts arrive at different conclusions. So the question remains: "What good is it?" As an interpretive tool. What good is the principle of sola scriptura unless it can reliably interprete the book it holds to be the sole authority for faith and morals.

There are differences of opinion within the Catholic Church, and the Protestant denominations are a living demonstration of how well a book interpretes itself. The Catholic Church has mechanisms by which questions of interpretation can be ultimately resolved. "Roma locuta est, causa finita est." (Whoever said it). Protestants have no such mechanisms, and this allows full reign to the internal fissiparous tendencies and results in a plethora (just watched Three Amigos!) of interpretations.

We all believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. I read it, and find Catholic doctrine. You read it and find Protestant doctrine. IMHO, if sola scriptura were valid, we would arrive at the same interpretations. So it is useless as an interpretive tool, or trivial as a statement of fact.

Thursday, September 15, 2005 7:22:00 PM  

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