Thursday, October 06, 2005

Charlie's Angles

I put up a thread that argued that my version of sola scriptura, contrary to the popular Romanist internet claim, is not self refuting. Along the way, I made the following basic points:

(i) I'm not quite convinced by the exegetical arguments that scripture teaches that our canonical writings are the sole infallible source.

(ii) Instead, I take a different tack as far as presenting sola scriptura. Quoting myself from the link above:

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 scripture.

[Note: the last word "scripture" there was apparently in the original post "Roman Magisterium and Tradition" --- an error on my part that I somehow failed to detect. I believe it was clear I was comparing the RM&T with scripture. But perhaps this caused a bit of confusion?]

The idea is not that sola scriptura is something I go into the whole Rome-vs-Protestant with as an assumption; rather, it is a conclusion based on the phenomenon in the italicized and bolded words above.

A commenter named Charlie chimed in on the comment box, stating, among other things:

Please excuse me for saying this, but your comments betrayed one of the worst non-sequiturs I have ever seen- in a long, long time.

Let's see what Charlie gives as a supporting argument. I'll present his post and comment on it. The quotations are given complete and in the order in which they're presented. He's italicized; I'm not. After quoting my thread, he begins:

PP can not make the claim-if this is partly what he means by his "evidentialist idiom" - that Sola Scriptura is a doctrine that is "evidential" from Scripture itself. It isn't. [I have met some Protestants who have taken this approach, and set out to prove Sola Scriptura by claiming that the Scriptures themselves do not mention any other "Word of God" than the written word of the Bible].

Charlie's first angle is to place a possibility on me that I reject: I don't argue in my post that SS is evident/evidential from scripture.

I'm under no obligation to argue for a position that I don't hold, so I don't have to deal with his hypothetical above. Let somebody who holds to his hypothetical take up the banner.

However, going through his post gives me the opportunity to say some things that I was going to say anyway over the next few weeks, so I might as well take this chance to say them now.

Tradition and the Magisterium both appear in Scripture as authoritative, independent sources of divine revelation- the former appear in part as numerous injunctions to Christians in the Gentile world by the Apostle Paul to hold firm to the traditions that they have received (see, eg., 2 Thess. 2:15, 3:6, 1 Cor. 11:1, etc.), the latter appear in part as the word of the Apostles speaking to the Church, such as at the Council of Jerusalem.

The second angle that Charlie is playing is to play the prooftext game regarding capital-T Tradition.

(i) 2 Thess 2:15: In a parenetic section, Paul [who I contend wrote 2 Thess, though some liberal Catholics would deny this] tells his readers to hold firm to the traditions received through "us" [Paul and his cohorts], whether these traditions were oral or written.

(ii) 2 Thess 3:6: Paul exhorts his readers to keep away from those who do not live according to the traditions his readers received from "us" [Paul and his cohorts]

(iii) 1 Cor 11:1 [Charlie means 1 Cor 11:2] Paul commends the Corinthian readers for holding firm to traditions passed on by Paul.

These passages seem to be, for Charlie [and other RC's] just slam-dunk prooftexts for Roman Catholic Tradition. But they're not:

(a) It is a semantic anachronism fallacy to import without argument the Roman Catholic meaning of tradition onto these passages. That is, Charlie and others see the word "tradition" in the Biblical texts, and instead of asking just what this term's semantic range is for Koine Greek, they reflexively think "Roman Catholic Tradition."

This, by the way, is no different than the other favorite RC semantic anachronism fallacy applied to ekklesia, whereby the word "church" or "assembly" in one's translation are taken reflexively to mean "Holy Mother Church."

Now this might be fine if we're sitting at the weekly St Alphonso's Pancake Breakfast. But, such eisegetical games merely make Protestants with any sophistication shrug their shoulders and say "whatever."

(b) It is a reductionistic fallacy to equate sub-apostolic tradition with apostolic tradition without giving an argument for why the two are the same. I'm assuming Charlie was trying to give an argument against my position, so he'd know that I don't equate the two. On the other hand, if we have a RC cheer rally here complete with pom-poms and blowhorns, one can make all sorts of gratuitous pro-RC assumptions. But then what's the point of pointing me to such an article?

If Paul tells me something, I'll believe it. The medium by which Paul communicates something to me is irrelevant with respect to its truth value. Paul could whisper it in my ear. He could write whatever he'd like to in a Hallmark card. He could bake me a cake and spell out whatever he wishes in the frosting. He could send smoke signals if he wishes. He could beam the proposition directly to my brain. Or, somebody other than Paul can tell me X, and Paul can confirm X.

But Charlie [and other RC's], when lathered up in their defend-Mother-Church froth, seem to think that sub-apostolic tradition is ipso facto the same as apostolic tradition. Sorry. We don't accept that without an argument.

(c) Charlie's comments on tradition also beg the question of just how we know something was tradition. If it were written, we'd have it; if it wasn't written, we have to weigh the testimony for it being apostolic independently of our allegiance to whatever church body.

Note that points (a)-(c) are not profundities that people reading this PP blog will have found out before the rest of the Protestant world. These are basic, remedial points of argumentation and exegesis. They're not subtle. It personally causes my eyes to roll when I see for the nth time an ardent admirer of Rome throw these passages around with the attitude of Gotcha!.

As a public service to Roman internet apologists, this is what needs to be done to make citation of those passages into something resembling a convincing argument. Consider it a gesture of goodwill from the editorial staff here at PP, even more so than the giving out of the nefarious PP coffee mug:

(alpha) cite the above passages
(beta) give an argument that the meaning of tradition in those passages lines up with the RC version of tradition
(gamma) give a separate argument that apostolic tradition lines up with sub-apostolic tradition

Of course, Pedantic Protestant can try to explain away these evidences in however manner he likes, but the fact is that Sola Scriptura as a rule of faith is hardly "evidentialist" in the Scriptures themselves. In fact, if Scripture is "evidentialist" about anything, it is about the Catholic thesis of the Word of God- the three legged-stool of three seperate (but not equal) authorities of Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium, which is brought into clear relief during the age of the Fathers. PP can deny this- and try to rationalize away all the objections brought to his thesis- but even then, the idea that Sola Scriptura finds an "evidentialist" testimony in the Scriptures themselves would by then be abandoned. Additionally, PP should show us why Scripture as Word of God is "evidentialist", while Tradition and the Magisterium are not.

Of course, Pedantic Protestant just explained them away, showing that those evidences are hardly evidences in lieu of the arguments required in (beta) and (gamma) above, and itemizing the fallacies underlying whatever is thought to give those purported evidences their evidentiary value.

At best, Sola Scriptura is a Scriptural doctrine that is presented in an extremely obscure way, or at worst, it is simply a doctrine that is read into the text (in a very unconvincing manner). But it is not "evidential" from Scripture, by any means. I would go further and state that Sola Scriptura is neither "evidential" from history or Tradition, either. Ultimately, PP's judgment about Sola Scriptura is not formed by anything else but a vaguely-defined "evidentialist characteristic" he imposes on Scripture, one which he refuses to allow for either Tradition or the Magisterium.

Correction: At best, Sola Scriptura is actually true. At worst, it is false, but, if it is false, it is not because of its being self-refuting. Again, refer to what I actually wrote in the post.

Charlie's next angle is to charge my position with being vague. It seemed clear enough if we recall this snippet.

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.

Charlie continues with another angle:

Pedantic Protestant gives only two reasons to support his thesis of the "evidentialist idiom". They have nothing to do with Scripture, its sufficiency, or its relation to the Magisterium and Tradition. Furthermore, they are actually not a defense of Sola Scriptura. They are a defense of Scriptural Inspiration (and a very meager one, I might add), and have nothing to do with the debate on Sola Scriptura, much less on whether Sola Scriptura is self-refuting. This phenomenon is very observable in Protestant apologetics: people think that by defending belief in Scriptural Inspiration, they are therefore proving Sola Scriptura. Pedantic Protestant provides two defenses of Scriptural Inspiration; one, that Paul was manifestly an inspired individual because he both performed miracles and that his teachings were in line with the Old Testament, and two, that the writings of the Scriptures are all externally attested to in Christianity.

Both of these apologias for Scriptural Inspiration have holes in them big enough for a plane to fly through, but we will not take the space here to deal with them. The topic which PP was supposed to be addressing was whether Sola Scriptura was self-refuting or not.

Charlie severs the idea of scriptural inspiration from a discussion of scripture's authority. Scripture's authority comes from [at least in part] its inspiration; that is, inspiration is logically prior [at least for our side of the fence] to authority. Yet, Charlie asserts that inspiration has nothing to do with the debate on SS. So much for acquainting yourself with the other side's position. So much for acquainting one's self with St Paul's appeals to his apostolicity.

As a public service to Charlie and to others, I'll again state what was going on in the original thread:

(i) I assert that SS isn't self-refuting.
(ii) To do this, I give positive reasons for why I consider scripture inspired. This upholds the second S in SS.
(iii) To uphold the first S in SS, I show that, according to my standards, the ECF's don't meet the same standards as scripture.
(iv) Putting (i)-(iii) together shows where I get SS.
(v) Putting (i)-(iv) together shows how I contend that SS is not self-refuting.

You see --- strap on your seat belts for this --- I'm giving reasons for my position. Usually, when I make claims, I try to give some valid indication as to why I hold them, preferring not to make bare assertions. But that's just me.

Charlie's next angle is to assert that the basic outlined points for why I consider, say, Paul's writings are inspired and authoritative, "have holes in them big enough for a plane to fly through, but we will not take the space here to deal with them." There is nothing like a sweeping unsubstantiated claim to keep up appearances.

Pedantic Protestant seems to half-admit what Catholics have been arguing about all along: that it isn't possible to exegetically prove the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. His admission is somewhat hesitant, somewhat cautious; of course we may expect that from a person with a strong bias towards this doctrine.

Yet he is quite right in half-admitting this. The most common verse given by Protestants, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, can be applied to Sola Scriptura only by a very implausible reading of the text. Formal sufficiency is not a conclusion reached by any serious exegete; it is an idea which is read into the text by doctrinaire Protestants or by their apologists. However, this post is not be concerned with refuting these specific arguments.

It is correct that I don't find the arguments convincing. Here is what I said:

"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."


"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.]"

This post is concerned, however, on whether Pedantic Protestant has shown that Sola Scriptura isn’t self-refuting. The entire argument put forth by Catholic apologists is that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is self-refuting. For this to be proven (of course, this is a conclusion which would not be very favorable to the views of a protestant), all that must be shown is that the Bible doesn't teach Sola Scriptura. Really, the entire argument is quite simple:
1) Sola Scriptura teaches that Scripture is the only authoritative source of authentic Christian doctrine.
2) Scripture doesn't teach Sola Scriptura.
3) Therefore, Sola Scripture is a false doctrine.
Pedantic Protestant, however, doesn't quite understand the thrust of this simple reasoning. He purports to show that Sola Scriptura isn't self refuting- by trying to explain why, according to his own non-Scriptural principles, why he believes the doctrine.

Actually, Pedantic Protestant does understand. More precisely, he understands what the difference is between a conclusion following from the listed premises as compared to the conclusoin following from the listed premises and some unstated premises.

Charlie can't distinguish between those who uphold SS through scriptural exegesis and those who uphold SS based on the fact that [to them] the evidence for the inspiration and authority of the canonical writings is much stronger than is the evidence for the inspiration and authority of whatever Rome's Tradition happens to encompass.

There is nothing in the least unsatisfactory about holding a proposition X that, while not being stated in scripture, does not contradict scripture. I hold a lot more things about reality than are stated in scripture. What matters is how well-supported X is from the evidence. Really, I shouldn't have to point out things this obvious.

(3) follows if we sneak in another premise, call it (A):

(A) All evidence for any position P must be strictly intra-scriptural to be considered.

But I certainly deny (A). For example, I hold that John bar-Zebedee authored the Fourth Gospel [certainly a theologically significant view] not based strictly on exegesis, but on the internal and external corroborations. Isagogical questions are often answered by external appeals.

Let's reset things. Another way that (3) might follow from (1) and (2) is if we sneak in the premise (B):

(B) A doctrine cannot possibly be true if it isn't in scripture.

But again, I deny this as well. I allow for the possibility that the distinctly Roman doctrines on Mary might be true. [I just don't see the evidence for them to commend them to my conscience.]

Now maybe there are people out there in Protville who hold (A) and/or (B) listed above. If so, Charlie can throw his syllogism on them. For myself, his syllogism fails immediately, as I don't hold them.

So, in the end, 'tis not I who fails to understand the alleged simple thrust of Charlie's syllogism. Rather, Charlie can't detect extra non-subtle premises being snuck into an argument, or, he's not aware that many a good conservative Evangelical Protestant, like me, fails to affirm (A) and (B).

But this Catholic argument against Sola Scriptura isn't concerned with any non-Scriptural issues at all- neither PP’s rationalizations or his principles. It is concerned immediately and exclusively with the Scriptural text itself- to see whether Scripture does, in fact, teach Sola Scriptura. Pedantic Protestant is merely attempting to explain why, according to his contrived "evidentialist idiom", he believes in Sola Scriptura. He does not show that Sola Scriptura is not self-refuting. And indeed, if it is self-refuting, then it doesn't matter what principles Pedantic Protestant (such as his vague "evidentialist idiom") or anyone else uses to vindicate the doctrine.

Well, in Charlie's world, my claim that the evidence for the ECF's and whatever happens to be Tradition [it depends on the RC you ask] is not as strong as the evidence for scripture is "contrived." Dealing with the evidence for things is contrived, allegedly. People can make up their own minds on this.


So, how would one argue me out of SS? Again, as a public service announcement to all starry-eyed Roman Catholics out there, here is how you mount an argument to knock down PP-styled SS:

(i) You can show that my standards of evidence [the standards that the ECF's don't meet in my book] are too strict or incoherent.

(ii) Or, you can take my standards of evidence and point me to actual tangible non-question-begging assertions, facts, evidences, arguments, etc, that whatever happens to be Tradition and such meets them.

On the other hand, internet RC's on fire for Mother Church can resort to the same triumphalistic prooftexting employing the same fallacies, and they can resort to the same faulty syllogisms, and they can sneak in all sorts of questionable premises. In other words, same-old-same-old, biz as usual.


Anonymous Diane said...


Don't you think that you should reveal which scriptures/bible translation(s) you deem authoritative before any discussion on Sola Scriptura can begin? Since I know that there are different books in the different denominations, I think that it is only fair that we know where your arguments come from.

A discussion of the history of how the books in the various denominations bibles came to be might also prove illuminating.

Otherwise, we will just be talking at cross-purposes.

Friday, October 07, 2005 6:50:00 AM  
Blogger steve said...

The Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox have the same canon of the NT. And there's very little if anything distinctive to the Catholic/Protestant divided riding on a somewhat different canon of the OT.

Aside from the fact that the PP has studied both Classical Hebrew and Koine Greek, I daresay he could making his general case using an RC version like the New Jerusalem Bible.

Friday, October 07, 2005 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Answer: the Hebrew/Greek/Aramaic autographa are authoritative. There are 66 of them. Gen through Apoc, last time I checked. :-)

Unless I'm being my typically dense self, I don't see the point of the question.

If this is "the" Diane, please send more Thom and Gus pix so I can rightly honor and esteem those papist pusses of yours.

Steve --- if this is "the" Diane, she has suffered through my pedanticisms in these areas for six+ years. She knows about the infamous PP book collection, having availed herself to my own personal Library of Alexandria on more than one occassion!

Friday, October 07, 2005 1:20:00 PM  

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