Thursday, September 29, 2005

Sola Scriptura: Not Self Refuting

Sola Scriptura: the canonical scriptures constitute the sole infallible rule of faith.

The usual claim from Romanist and Orthodox polemics is that SS is somehow self-refuting, since, so they contend, SS is a statement about God's revelation that isn't directly or implicitly stated in scripture itself. The idea of pulling an extra-scriptural statement and using this to in turn uphold the claim that the canonical scriptures constitute the sole infallible rule of faith is self-stultifying at worst, or viciously arbitrary at best. Or so the general Romish/Orthodox claim would go.

How would one attempt to parry this charge, if indeed it can at all be parried?

The first possibility is to exegetically demonstrate that the scriptures themselves teach or imply SS. If it can be exegetically demonstrated within reasonable bounds of confidence that scripture does present itself as the sole infallible rule of faith, then the Romanist/Orthodox charge of self-refutation dissipates into nothingness.

Some good Protestants take this line, by the way. People can evaluate on their own whether they find the arguments well-supported or not.

Speaking for myself here, such arguments leave me not fully satisfied. After reading such arguments, I find myself like the man who is still hungry at the dinner table while the hostess is already putting away the pots and pans.

My parrying of the charge that SS is self-refuting takes a different tack, and, at least in my own eyes, it is much simpler, yet I haven't seen this tack taken in much of the internet discourse [but then again I don't get around that much online]. I believe it is pretty obvious, or at least it should seem obvious after being presented.

This different tack, which I take, is not that I claim SS comes from scriptural exegesis. [As stated just above, I'm not fully convinced that it does, though I'm not saying that it doesn't either. I'm merely saying that I'd prefer more evidence.] My claim instead is, in line with my evidentialist idiom, that there is nothing else out there that has the evidence and attestation that it is God's revelation to mankind as do the canonical writings. In other words, the purported evidence and attestation of the Roman Magisterium and Tradition don't, so far as I can tell, measure up to the level of the evidence and attestation of the Roman Magisterium.

For example, why do I treat the Pauline Epistles [I hold all 13 of them to be genuinely Pauline, though I wonder about the authenticity of the very final doxology of Romans] as if they're the infallible Word of God? Answers:

(1) Paul was an inspired apostle. Why do I believe this? Because Paul had miraculous signs and wonders accompany his call as well as his work, and he didn't contradict the scriptures currently used in his time.

(2) The external attestation that Paul wrote, say, Romans or Galatians or Ephesians, etc, is strong enough for me to not really have too much doubt that the claim that Paul did write the letters that begin Paulos is a true claim.

Now, on the other hand, why should I accept portion X of [say] Augustine's work Y on topic Z to be the Word of God? [Clearly if X lines up with the OT or NT, then I should accept X. I'm assuming here that X is neutral with respect to scripture.] Perhaps there are arguments [philosophical, linguistic, contextual, etc] as to why X should be taken as true. But these arguments exist or fail to exist independently of whether we consider Augustine as capital-T Tradition. I agree with a lot of Augustine's writings, but I also don't agree with some of his writings, and, frankly, I have not the slightest shame in thinking him a bit batty on occasion, though overall he is one of the great voices of Christian antiquity who should in many ways be emulated. Apart from independent argumentation, why should I take part of what Augustine says as on a par with scripture? Where is the level of miraculous verification [and signs, wonders, etc] that accompany him to mark him as a prophet or apostle?

In the end, this evidentialist finds that while the early Christians have some good things to say, he has yet to find any evidence on a par with, say, St Paul, regarding miracles and such. If there is such evidence, I haven't seen it, though at the same time I don't know if I've seen all of the purported evidence out there.

So, from my [idiosyncratic?] vantage point, SS for me isn't a self-refuting thesis. It is a conclusion from looking at the evidence for/against other possible infallible rules of faith. After looking at the Roman Magisterium, the ECF's, etc, scripture still has the evidence to commend it. Now maybe I'm wrong, or maybe I've misevaluated the evidence, or maybe I haven't seen all of the evidence [or maybe I'm right]. Regardless, whether I'm right or wrong, SS as a thesis arrived at PP-style isn't self-refuting.


Blogger Jason Engwer said...

I hold the same view. I would add that if there is some material to be added to scripture, some non-Biblical traditions that can be traced back to the apostles, those traditions would have to be small in number, and they wouldn't be equivalent to Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox tradition. Probably the most plausible candidate would be the premillennial traditions of Papias, since they appear so early and come from a source who probably was a disciple of the apostles, and Papias claimed to have consulted other disciples of the apostles. Yet, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox reject premillennialism. George Salmon made some comments similar to yours:

"I think it much better, then, instead of running away from this ghost of tradition which Roman Catholic controversialists dress up to frighten us with, to walk up to it, and pull it to pieces, when it is found to be a mere bogey. You say that you have other evidence as to the teaching of our Lord and His Apostles as trustworthy as the Books of the New Testament. Well, produce your evidence, and let us see what it is worth. When the question is looked at in this way it will be found that the appeal to tradition by Roman Catholics means no more than this: that there are doctrines taught by the Church of Rome which, it must be acknowledged, cannot be found in Scripture, and which she is unwilling to own that she invented, or to pretend that they were made known to her by a new revelation. It remains, then, that she must have received them by tradition. But the baselessness of this pretence appears when we come to look into the testimony of antiquity with respect to each of the peculiar doctrines of Romanism." (The Infallibility of the Church [London, England: John Murray, 1914], p. 133)

Jason Engwer
New Testament Research Ministries

Thursday, September 29, 2005 6:47:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Oh Jason, btw, that lingerie party article you put up at NTRMin is darkly hilarious. I used to make a joke about "Christian orgies" because such a thing is oxymoronic, but, from the article, there may be some "Christian orgies" in the future!

I was going to tell you this there, but the comboxes are turned off [as you of course know].

Thursday, September 29, 2005 7:30:00 PM  
Blogger c.t. said...

Faith enables you to know what Scripture is, and the discernment of the Spirit of Truth (the Holy Spirit) enables you to know a false idol when you see one.

RCs are great false idol worshipers. Anything put in the place of God and worshiped and believed as if equal or greater than God is a false idol, and RC's tradition is just that.

Friday, September 30, 2005 6:29:00 AM  
Blogger Richard Froggatt said...

The church has witnessed to the authenticity of scripture for two thousand years.The witness stands accused by her children, now it is taken for granted by the children of the witness that these are the words of God. They have seen her in her old age and wish to lock her away and wrest away from her her rightful place. Tragic.

Saturday, October 01, 2005 6:36:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

What is tragic is when somebody makes a semantic equivocation between "church" in the Bible and in ancient writings and his version of the "Roman Catholic Church."

I'd give that a 6 out of 10 on the witty repartee scale! :-)

Saturday, October 01, 2005 7:27:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Well, Frogg, let me be sure I understand you, switching to non-popping-off mode. If I understand you and anticipate correctly, [and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong], you're going to argue that the evidential basis for scripture's being authoritative comes from the RCC, and hence when I talk about what I see as the comparative lack of corroborative evidence for the authority of RC tradition [say], I'm undercutting what gives the thesis that scripture is authoritative, etc, its impetus.

Is this anywhere in the ballpark? If not, feel free to correct me.

Saturday, October 01, 2005 7:31:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

On the other hand, Frogg could be responding to c.t. and not me. Not sure.

Saturday, October 01, 2005 7:32:00 PM  
Blogger Richard Froggatt said...

Thanks for the 6 :)

Can you prove (as you say) a corrabative lack of evidence? I see about as much evidence for the authority of scripture as I do for the authority of the Church. As far as I'm concerned, you can't have one without the other.

Maybe I'm naive.

Also, rest assured, I'm not replying to c.t. I've made that mistake enough times already.

Saturday, October 01, 2005 8:21:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Well, let's try to make it precise.

(i) St Paul's ministry [say] was accompanied by miracles and signs.

(ii) St Paul was specially commissioned by Jesus Himself to be a missionary and teacher among the Gentiles.

(iii) St Paul has a self awareness that he is speaking for the Lord. This is most evident in the places where he states "It is I speaking, not the Lord," for this indicates that the default position is that Paul is speaking for the Lord.

(iv) St Paul was in direct contact with the other apostles, for whom
(i)-(iii) hold.

This is pretty good evidence that the epistles of St Paul are God's revelation to us.

Now, in turn, I don't see, say, Augustine upholding (i)-(iv). I don't see Jerome upholding (i)-(iv). Etc. I read Augustine and Jerome the way I would any other non-inspired book: critically. Where I disagree with them, I ought to be able to give good reasons why, and so on.

To be sure, I'm not knocking the ECF's, but I'm not going to esteem them any more highly than, say, a Cranfield or Lightfoot or Calvin or Luther or Carson or .... etc. We take the good with the bad, just as people have to do with me!

Sunday, October 02, 2005 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

I'll also mention while it is still on my mind that [unlike you?] I don't just gratis identify the early Christian church as the RCC. I can see where you do of course [since that is what RCC's are supposed to assert], but I don't make such an identification.

Sunday, October 02, 2005 1:13:00 PM  

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