Friday, July 25, 2008

Sola Scriptura and ecumenism

I am Catholic and I don't believe Sola Scriptura. But here I want to engage in some friendly theologizing, trying to figure out what would be the best thing for me to say about Sola Scriptura were I evangelical. The main difficulty for Sola Scriptura is the standard self-defeat argument. Evangelicals typically take Sola Scriptura to be an important Christian doctrine, important enough that one can base theological arguments on it (e.g., arguing against some Catholic or Orthodox belief on the grounds that that belief is not found in Scripture). But let us take Sola Scriptura to be the claim that all true, Christian doctrines are found explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. Then, we have a self-defeat argument against Sola Scriptura: it is proposed as a true, Christian doctrine, but it is nowhere found explicitly or implicitly in Scripture, and hence by its own claim is not a true, Christian doctrine.

The fact that Sola Scriptura is not found in Scripture might be disputed. A standard proof-text for Sola Scriptura is 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says that Scripture is inspired by God and has as its purpose that one might be "thoroughly equipped for every good work" (NIV; one may also query points in the translation). But of course the opponent of Sola Scriptura does not need to deny that all Scripture is inspired by God. Moreover, the claim that Scripture exists to equip us for every good work does not entail that Scripture is all that is needed to equip us thoroughly for every good work. After all, plainly, lots of other things are needed—air, food, water, intellectual skills, and, above all, God's grace. And even if Scripture were sufficient to equip us for every good work, it would not follow that Scripture contains all true, Christian doctrine. Finally, it is very unlikely that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 contains Sola Scriptura, since the "Scriptures" referred to are the ones Timothy learned "from infancy" (v. 15), and hence are the Old Testament. And the Old Testament surely does not contain all true, Christian doctrines. In fact, when this text was penned, Scripture was not yet completed, and there were surely Christian doctrines not yet in Scripture (such as the Christian doctrines taught in the next chapter of 2 Timothy!).

Nor is it likely that Sola Scriptura would be found in Scripture, since at the points at which most of the New Testament was being written, there was much reliance on apostolic preaching, or on reports of apostolic preaching.

So, what can an evangelical say in defense of Sola Scriptura given the self-defeat argument? One suggestion is to limit the scope of what is claimed. Thus, instead of claiming that Scripture contains all Christian doctrine, one instead claims that Scripture contains all the Christian doctrine that is necessary for salvation. A problem with this more limited claim is that it makes Sola Scriptura a not very interesting doctrine on standard evangelical views of what is necessary for salvation, namely faith that Jesus Christ is Lord. On such views, one can seemingly replace the claim that Scripture is sufficient for salvation with the stronger claim that some collection of three or four verses is sufficient for salvation. And surely one doesn't want Sola Scriptura to simply follow from the sufficiency of three or four verses.

I want to suggest that a better answer to the self-defeat argument is to say that the argument does not show that Sola Scriptura is false. Rather, the self-defeat argument only shows that Sola Scriptura is not a true, Christian doctrine, i.e., that it is either not true, or not a Christian doctrine, or neither. The evangelical can opt for saying that while Sola Scriptura is true, it is not a Christian doctrine. After all, many true claims, even claims about Scripture, are not Christian doctrine. For instance, it is true that Scripture has been translated into Swahili, or that most Bibles are printed in mostly black ink, but these facts are not Christian doctrines. This solution is not original to me—I heard it from a Protestant friend, I think.

Now this way of taking Sola Scriptura has a pleasant ecumenical consequence. It is not appropriate for an evangelical to consider a Catholic or Orthodox Christian to be unorthodox for denying Sola Scriptura. For only the denial of a Christian doctrine can make a Christian unorthodox, and Sola Scriptura is not a Christian doctrine. This reduces the division between evangelicals and Catholics and the Orthodox, though division remains on the other side (Catholics believe that the denial of Sola Scripture is a true, Christian doctrine, and there is no parallel self-defeat argument against their belief here).

Moreover, one might query the epistemological basis of affirming Sola Scriptura once one no longer takes it to be a Christian doctrine. After all, if it is not a Christian doctrine, then one cannot know it one the basis of public divine revelation. One might claim to believe Sola Scriptura on the basis of a private revelation (an angel whispering the doctrine to one), but that is unlikely to convince many others. Could one, perhaps, know Sola Scriptura empirically or maybe by a careful application of a priori reason? I doubt it. Surely one cannot know it empirically. Nor does it seem at all a candidate for a priori knowledge. Maybe one might think there is some way to combine empirical and a priori reasoning with divine revelation to get Sola Scriptura, but I doubt this.

If Sola Scriptura is not a matter of faith (since it's not a Christian doctrine), and cannot be known to be true, I think what would be most reasonable for an evangelical, short of chucking Sola Scriptura altogether, would be to take Sola Scriptura to either be a negative first person claim—"I am not aware of any source of true, Christian doctrine other than Scripture"—or as a working hypothesis.

What is interesting is that in both cases there should be an in-principle openness to the possibility of other loci of divine revelation, such as the Tradition that Catholics and the Orthodox refer to. Adopting either the "negative first person claim" or the "working hypothesis" view of Sola Scriptura would, thus, move ecumenical dialog forward. One might, of course, think this is a minus, but I don't.

13 comments:

Kevin said...

Hi Alex,

I'm a confessional Lutheran and have been taught a little bit by some Lutheran seminarians (the more conservative/orthodox LCMS kind). I always understood Sola Scriptura as a kind of political catch-phrase that popularized a simplified version of a more complicated point. Evangelicals (and Evangelical influenced modern Lutherans) make the simplified, catch-phrase version the whole idea.

Really the idea is more like Prima Scripture. That in some sense, Scripture is 'self-interpreting' and is the epistemological GROUND of all interpretation. Let's compare it to Catholicism: In Catholicism if a well thought out interpretation of the Bible conflicts with the Church's interpretation, you go with the Church. But in Protestantism, because of the 'Sola' Scriptura doctrine, the defeat condition works in the opposite direction.

Catholics have argued that this leads to 'private interpretation' but I don't think that's true. The standard Lutheran practice has been to have seminarian run church bodies where there's a community of seminarians working through doctrine systematically with many bases of evidence (Scripture, history, and yes, even tradition). I think Lutherans often even hold tradition to have authority but they think that authority is defeasible, rather than infallible in some cases. (Catholics think small t tradition is defeasible but prima facie reliable - Lutherans think that all theological truths not directly derived from Scripture are defeasible - at least that's how I understand it).

I think the defense of this doctrine is fairly simple. It seems fairly obvious that humans are incredibly wicked and as such giving absolute interpretive power to a monopolistic body would lead to the perversion of true doctrine. I grant that Catholics argue that this is impossible due to the Holy Spirit, but suppose you came to a legitimate place in your epistemic life to where you had at least *some* reason to question this doctrine.

Luther was a very intelligent scholar and in his pre-1517 years studied enough to come to believe that people had interpreted Romans 1:17 and other standard Protestant passages incorrectly. He was convinced on a very deep level. Catholics say this is a kind of 'epistemic arrogance' but I don't think its anything of the kind. Luther's cognition occurred within a community and within a tradition. He just thought that after studying the tradition there had been a serious error. In this case, he faced a conflict between two beliefs: (1) his well thought out theory of justification and (2) the doctrine that the church is an infallible interpreter. He thought there was less reason to believe (2) than (1).

Even if you think that the case for (1) is weak, I think its fairly easy to argue that NOTHING in Scripture suggests that the Church is an infallible interpreter (even if the Pope has SOME authority). All of those arguments were based on quasi-probalistic arguments about God giving us certainty about the right interpretation of Scripture (like Eck's argument- or at least I think it was Eck). But certainly a humble, reasonable person could think those arguments had problems and that therefore and individual has more reason to believe (1) than (2) when they conflict.

I think this sort of thinking led to the 'Sola' (but probably Prima) Scriptura doctrine - its not that tradition has no weight (that's the Radical not the Magisterial Reformation's position - anabaptist vs. Lutheran and Reformed and Anglican) its that in cases of conflict Scripture can 'speak for itself' to some degree and be used as an epistemic base weighty enough to override tradition.

The Catholic response, I think, must be that Scripture is too 'dark' to justify taking such an epistemic stance. That is what Erasmus argued against Luther, anyway. I think that's hard to substantiate for most of the relevant Protestant passages. Its quite clear that the Catholic doctrine developed from Augustine forward through a complex intermingling of Platonic and Hebraic thought - with Augustine reading Plato's conception of Justice into a Jewish thinker (Justice being the right ordering of the soul.)

I think the Reformers had a pretty good point when they suggested that God's revelation probably doesn't need to be supplemented with Pagan metaphysics to be made sense of. That's why although I like Greek philosophers I'm partial to the 'de-hellenization' theory of the Reformers.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Kevin,

1. It does seem that Prima Scriptura escapes the self-defeat criticism.

2. There are still some difficulties. Here's one. Prima Scriptura was not the practice of the Church before the New Testament was written. At that time, the Old Testament was presumably not seen as self-interpreting, but was interpreted in the light of the words and life of Jesus as passed on by the apostles.

The idea behind Prima Scriptura, then, has to be that at some point between, say, 33 AD and 133 AD, it became true that Scripture is the epistemological ground of all interpretation. Presumably, this happened when the last book of Scripture was completed (or disseminated?), since all of Scripture is important for the interpretation of all of Scripture.

But what is now our epistemological ground for believing Prima Scriptura? It is unlikely to be a doctrine found in Scripture, since while Scripture was being written, the doctrine was not yet correct (unless maybe the doctrine is embodied in the last book to be written).

But as I read you, the argument for Prima Scriptura is not Scriptural (which is fine, since you do not espouse Sola Scriptura). Rather, the argument seems to be based on the claim that Scripture is infallible but nothing else is.

But here is one worry. The fact that human beings are very sinful is just as much a reason to question the infallibility of Scripture as it is to question the infallibility of the magisterium. Once we say that by a miracle God preserved the authors of Scripture from error, we can equally well say that by a miracle God preserved the magisterium from error.

A second worry is that even if we grant that Scripture is inerrant and that nothing else is, that still does not yield the "self-interpreting" claim. After all, imagine a possible world where God inspires only one book of Scripture, which is somewhat obscure and not self-interpreting, and does not protect anything else from error. In that world, Scripture is the only inerrant thing, but it is not self-interpreting.

3. I think the problem is not so much the darkness of Scripture as that any interpretation of, say, the texts on justification fits some texts better than others. Maybe one can make a Lutheran interpretation of all the passages that are difficult for that view of justification (such as the Book of James, and the assurances in the Gospels that the Last Judgment will be based precisely on whether one has loved neighbor), and I do think one can make a Catholic interpretation of all the passages that are difficult for it (such as Romans). Both interpretations fit some texts very plausibly. But then each interpretation has to work hard, and with somewhat less plausibility, to read other texts. I think an honest exegete is likely to always feel some discomfort at some text that fits less well. (But, then, why should we expect every text to fit equally well? Some texts, after all, may just be clearer than others. Scripture is all equally inerrant, but it is not all equally clear.)

One way to solve the problem is to declare that some particular set of texts of Scripture are central, and then everything else should be interpreted around that. This is tempting, but misguided (on what authority would one declare some texts as central).

Another way to solve the problem is to declare that some particular set of interpretations of Scripture are normative, such as the patristic ones, or the ones that do not contradict the Councils.

Justin Capes said...

Alex,

Great post. I've had several friends, both Catholic and Protestant, who are thinking seriously about these issues, and they have challenged me to think about them as well. I don't really have a worked out view, but let me bounce some thoughts off you.

As an evangelical who does not particularly identify with the reformers on a number of points, I would characterize my own beliefs regarding Sola Scriptura as follows. It is not a Christian doctrine in the sense of being essential for salvation, though of course it is a doctrine to which many Christians adhere. I thus escape the self-defeat problem. So what, then, about the motivation? The motivation, I take it, is this: The teachings of Christ and His apostles contain--whether implicitly or explicitly--all doctrines essential for salvation. And since Jesus was in a real sense the apex of God's revelation (God become man), His teachings (and those passed to us through his apostles) are the ultimate source of Christian doctrine. Because the documents that make up the New Testament (and the Old as understood in light of Christ) are the most reliable source we have of those teachings, they are the benchmark by which further attempts to develop and systemize doctrine must be measured. The teachings of the Church are therefore authoritative but only insofar as they are derived from, and consistent with, the teachings of Christ and the apostles. If this is the basic rational behind Sola Scriptura, it would, it seems to me, address the worry you raise in response to Kevin under (2).

Several protestant friends have expressed a similar worry to the one you discuss in (3) in your response to Kevin. For some reason this has never bothered me that much. I suppose there are roughly two reasons for this. First, I think that the wish for some final, authoritative word on certain fine theological matters is going to be impossible to find. We can, using our best exegetical methods, do our best and, with God's help, come to reasonable conclusions about how to interpret the scriptures. That is the best we can do (or so I'm inclined to think); we are epistemically limited in this way, but what we have is basically good enough, even if it doesn't always settle disputes. Second, and probably more importantly, I'm inclined to be a theological minimalist in the sense that I'm inclined to think that the beliefs required for salvation are relatively few and that they are pretty clearly taught in the NT. I'm very sympathetic to the picture painted by Lewis in Mere Christianity. The issue of Justification is a prime example. Christ died for our sins and rose again that we might have everlasting life. We need only believe that it works, not how. Or so says Lewis, and I'm inclined to agree, with perhaps a few necessary caveats.

Sorry for the longish reply.

Alexander R Pruss said...

First of all, I want to thank both Kevin and Justin for measured, honest and careful responses, responses that are a model for Christian discussion.

Justin:

It sounds like you, too, are inclined towards Prima Scriptura rather than Sola Scriptura. Scripture, you say, is the most reliable set of documents about the teaching of Christ and the apostles. Put that way, you appear to be open to the possibility of there being other sources of knowledge about the teaching of Christ and the apostles, sources that are less reliable, but nonetheless could be genuine sources of knowledge.

You write: "The teachings of the Church are therefore authoritative but only insofar as they are derived from, and consistent with, the teachings of Christ and the apostles." What is interesting to me is that as far as I can tell from your comment, you also think exactly the same thing about the New Testament. So there is no contrast here between the teachings of the Church and Scripture. The contrast, rather, seems to lie in the degree of reliability.

But maybe you believe Scripture is perfectly reliable (at least in matters of faith and morals)? If so, then you have a qualitative distinction, and not merely a distinction of degree. But then the challenge is to give an argument for the perfect reliability of Scripture that does not at the same time show the perfect reliability of the Church. (E.g., a priori arguments about how God would want us to have an infallible source apply equally well to the Church as to Scripture, or maybe even apply better to the Church.)

One little thing. It does not follow from the fact that data set A is more reliable than data set B that A is the benchmark against which B is to be measured. Suppose that I have two sets of scientific observations. Any particular datum in A is 97% likely to be correct. Any particular datum in B is 85% likely to be correct. It can, nonetheless, be the case that several pieces of data from B can trump one piece of data from A. Thus, if I have three pieces of data from B, each of which contradicts one piece of data from A, then I might say that it is more likely that the one piece of data from A is wrong than that all three of the pieces from B are.

For "benchmark" status, one needs the better set of data to be extremely reliable, and much more so than the other set, and not just more reliable.

Kevin said...

Hi again Alex,

First, thanks for your gracious reply and compliment. I greatly appreciate it. I also enjoyed Justin's reply, but let me reply to your post on my reply first.

"Prima Scriptura was not the practice of the Church before the New Testament was written. At that time, the Old Testament was presumably not seen as self-interpreting, but was interpreted in the light of the words and life of Jesus as passed on by the apostles."

Well, this depends on what "Scripture" comes to. I think they regarded the texts that were in common practice in their areas as authoritative but that the Council of Nicea brought those books together and gave good enough reason to link them (and exclude others) to justify granting it some authority (do try to catch me on believing councils have some authority - I have a reply!).

Prima Scriptura then would be a rule which would apply to "Scripture" depending how much of it you had. So, suppose you're on a desert island and only have the book of John. Prima Scriptura as a doctrine would apply only to John.

"Rather, the argument seems to be based on the claim that Scripture is infallible but nothing else is."

Note: I am not sure Scripture is infallible because I'm not sure how to specify the modality in "can't be wrong". I think that all of the propositions in the Bible concerning faith and morals are true under the correct interpretation (which I argue is much closer to the literalist pole than most, but not all the way there). I differ with my LCMS churchmen on that but I think that's only because its not entirely clear what 'infallible' comes to.

"The fact that human beings are very sinful is just as much a reason to question the infallibility of Scripture as it is to question the infallibility of the magisterium. Once we say that by a miracle God preserved the authors of Scripture from error, we can equally well say that by a miracle God preserved the magisterium from error."

Not quite. I see the historical arguments for the infallibility of the Papacy being developed within a historical discourse. The arguments were rarely clearly articulated until Luther (and some others in the past) began to challenge them. He said, "Why do we need the Papacy's guarantee?" And they responded with the arguments you've given. He was giving a kind of reductionist argument: the point of the Papacy was to interpret Scripture infallibly, but we don't need an infallible interpreter. I take it that the Protestant claim is just this - that we don't need an infallible interpreter (or at least that we don't have one).

Another note: I recognize that Catholics think the Papacy is for much more than guaranteeing a correct relevation of Scripture.

"A second worry is that even if we grant that Scripture is inerrant and that nothing else is, that still does not yield the 'self-interpreting' claim."

I think the 'self-interpreting' claim is an inference from the following dialogue:

"Q: How do we know what Scripture means?

A: Pope?

Q: No, no, something else.

A: Another individual?

Q: No, no, that's not right either.

A: Could it communicate its own message?

Q: That has to be it."

Its more like a what's left over kind of idea. At least that's how I think about it.

"I think an honest exegete is likely to always feel some discomfort at some text that fits less well. (But, then, why should we expect every text to fit equally well? Some texts, after all, may just be clearer than others. Scripture is all equally inerrant, but it is not all equally clear.)

One way to solve the problem is to declare that some particular set of texts of Scripture are central, and then everything else should be interpreted around that. This is tempting, but misguided (on what authority would one declare some texts as central)."

I love that you brought this up. You probably don't know this but I primarily work in social and political philosophy and we talk about the problem of knowing what the law means in the same terms. Hobbes thought you needed an infallible interpreter who could impose his will. And many defend the Supreme Court as having this role today. But the Supreme Court can revise its opinion based on new arguments. Its not infallible. Think also about science. Some individuals are thought to be authoritative but not infallible on many subjects. How do we get interpretative certainty (about the law or data) for either group? The process of dialogging about the evidence. We come to tentative conclusions and over time evidence builds around certain ideas and others are overturned. Why can't theology proceed like that? Right now we don't have the right interpretations - I think Lutherans must get *some* things wrong even if I think Catholics get the things wrong that would prevent me from being a member of their church. In fact, I think we're all wrong about something. And I think the best thing for us to do is to have dialogues like we're having right now - where we talk to each other without anger, write articles, extend lines of argument, and let the Holy Spirit guide the interpersonal, fallible process of interpreting Scripture. I think this will yield more than enough certainty for almost any Christian purpose.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Kevin:

Thank you for a very thoughtful answer.

Take the year AD 35. It would make no sense for the Christian community to practice Prima Scriptura then, since, as far as we know, the only Scriptures they had were the Old Testament, and they were not interpretating the OT in terms of the OT. Instead, they were interpreting the OT in terms of the life and teaching of Jesus as taught by the Apostles. So Prima Scriptura was not yet a practice of the Church then. At some point, on your view, it became a practice of the Church. But the fact that it wasn't the practice of the earlier Church should worry one at least a little.

Let's leave aside the modal issue, and just talk of freedom from moral and doctrinal error. Presumably, in a work of the size and complexity of the NT, for the text to be free of moral or doctrinal error would take a miracle. Now we get the question: What reason do we have for positing such a miracle? Here is a suggestion I want to make. The best reasons we have for positing such a miracle are also reasons to suppose that the Church's interpretative tradition is free of moral or doctrinal error. For instance, one good reason to think Scripture to be free of error is that the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, believes the Scriptures. But to use that argument is to accept the Church's authority. Another reason is the idea that the revelation in Christ was definitive and that Christ lives with his followers now. If Scripture were occasionally false, then the further we slipped historically away from the memory of the Apostles, the less we would have of the revelation in Christ, since the less able we would be to judge which parts of Scripture are false. But the definitiveness of the revelation in Christ and his living with his followers now can, and I think should, be understood to mean that our beliefs can be less sure than those of the early Church. This gives us reason to think the Scriptures we accept are infallible. But it equally gives us reason to think there is an infallible interpreter.

I agree that even with a partially wrong interpreter one could get to a lot of truth. But by parallel, even with a partially wrong text one could get to a lot of truth. The same argument that appears to establish the lack of need for a perfectly doctrinally correct interpreter would also establish the lack of need for a perfectly doctrinally correct text.

Let me end with a somewhat different argument. It seems to me that it is extremely difficult for those who do not claim to have an infallible interpreter to withstand opposed cultural forces. This seems very sadly clear in sexual cases. Until the early 20th century, just about all Christians, including the most famous reformers, were opposed to contraception. Then, this opposition crumbled very quickly, with the only major ecclesial bodies opposed to contraception being the Catholic and Orthodox (the Orthodox opposition is somewhat weaker than the Catholic because of their doctrine of oeconomia). Likewise, it is clear from both Scripture and tradition that remarriage after divorce is impermissible for those who had entered into a Christian marriage--that it is adultery. (One can talk about the "porneia" exception. But if one takes every text of Scripture to be true, then one must also take the Gospel of Luke to be true, and the Gospel of Luke affirms the rule with no such exception. The principle of letting Scripture interpret itself shows that in Matthew, "porneia" must be read as an exception that is not really an exception--i.e., as a reference to cases where there is no marriage there in the first place, but instead an immoral relationship, such as an incestuous one.) But, again, as far as I can tell, the only major ecclesial body that stands firm on this is the Catholic Church.

In other words, fallible interpretation seems extremely liable to following the changing whims of society.

I suppose you can say that magisterial interpretation is liable to following the changing whims of a sinful magisterium. But it seems that there is a miraculous stability in magisterial interpretation.

wrf3 said...

Hi, Alex. It's been a long time since the "heady" days of s.r.c.b-s. I was delighted to find your blog, which was linked to from Stones Cry Out.

Concerning the practice of Prima Scriptura, you wrote: Take the year AD 35. It would make no sense for the Christian community to practice Prima Scriptura then, since, as far as we know, the only Scriptures they had were the Old Testament, and they were not interpretating the OT in terms of the OT. Instead, they were interpreting the OT in terms of the life and teaching of Jesus as taught by the Apostles. As a counterpoint, I would say that since Jesus is the Word made Flesh, He is both scripture and the interpretation thereof. There can be no conflict between "interpreting the OT in terms of the OT" and interpreting the OT in terms of Jesus and His apostles. In addition, one of Paul's defenses of "his" Gospel in Romans 4 was that it wasn't new. In fact, I think everything Paul says in Romans can be found in the OT.

Also, what is your take on 1 Cor 4:6: I have applied all this to Apollos and myself for your benefit, brothers and sisters, so that you may learn through us the meaning of the saying, “Nothing beyond what is written,” so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another.? IMO, Christendom would be a lot better off if we really took this to heart. We like to connect dots. Sometimes the lines we draw go outside Scripture instead of staying within it.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Thanks for the kind words.

I agree that there is a strong analogy between Christ and the Scripture. But if Sola Scriptura is to be understood in this kind of a mystical way, then it is quite compatible with Catholicism, since the Tradition is, after all, believed to hold the teaching of Christ.

1 Cor. 4:6 is a bit of a problem for everybody, in that Paul in some sense seems to be constantly going beyond what is written in his writing. Your mystical identification of Christ and Scripture is one way of reconciling this text with Paul's practice, but if we read it in this mystical way, then it's not much of a restriction in practice.

I'm not a Koine scholar, but couldn't one translate huper ha gegraptai also as "above what is written", so that the verse would condemn setting oneself superior to the Scriptures? I know that both the Protestant Edition RSV and the Catholic NAB translate "beyond", but perhaps the use of "huper" is meant to suggest a certain attitude of superiority to the text?

Or perhaps the implied context is that of the interpretation of Scripture, and hence what is forbidden is stretching the text to affirm things that go beyond it? We know the kind of exegesis that pulls out of a text much more than is there. (Sometimes perhaps we engage in it ourselves.)

Or maybe it is yet another warning against private interpretation? Maybe the implied context is individual exegesis, and in individual exegesis, one needs to stay very close to what is written?

Kyle said...

Hi alex,

I have found this discussion very interesting and helpful for my own thinking.

You suggest that arguing for the authority of scripture based on the authority of the church assumes the authority of the church. I think this is correct, but it does not assume equal footing between church tradition and scripture.

You can believe that all true biblical interpretation takes place within the church without believing that the church is an infallible interpreter.

However, I am struggling to see how this issue could be decided. I think that Sola Scriptura should be described as the belief that 'the bible is an infallible source of knowledge, and I have found no other'.

You can come to this belief through non-infallible means. After all there will always be something you can doubt. Even if you believe there is an infallible interpretter then you could still worry about whether error creeps in in trying to understand the interpretter. Furthermore, who should decide between competing interpretters?

I'm not suggesting that these questions are arguments against a catholic position, but that I think both sides have questions surrounding how it is that a fallible group of people could use an infallible source of knowledge.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think a part of the puzzle is that faith is actually infallible. I know this sounds weird--especially in light of the way some people oppose faith to reason--but I think it's true. Faith is a gift of God, and God is not a liar.

Now, one might say that this makes faith only infallible by stipulation. But I think something deeper is going on. Faith is a kind of infallible knowledge. I am not an epistemologist, and there are really hard issues here, so I really can't say more about this right now...

spockvondeutschland said...

Part of the issue with 1 Cor 4:6 is translation.  

The word rendered here as farther is υπερ-hyper, which means 'above'. Of course SS adherents will want it to mean "beyond" but that is doing violence to the passage. This 'hyper' is the same word used 2 seconds later in the second half of the verse about not puffiing oneself up above your neighbor. 

So it's intellectually dishonest to insist it means "farther than" (beyond) the first time it's used but 'against' the second time. 

There is no word 'go' here either. Per the Nestle Aland Novum Testamentum Graece the verb in this clause is completely absent in the most reliable manuscript tradition. The MSS that have a verb show φρονειν-phronein. This verb means "to think" but in context it means "to think oneself". See the concordance tools at blueletterbible.org for more on this. 

What Paul is saying is:

"Apollo and I have set an example for you of these things for your sake. Follow our example and do not consider yourselves above what is written, so you don't puff yourselves up one above the other."  

(there is no against here either).  It's just a crummy translation. Beyond is meta or peran, against is kata. Those words aren't in the verse. It is 'hyper' both times. 

Notice how much sense this makes in context. Don't consider yourselves above following what I'm writing you in this letter!  It makes no sense in context to think Paul is telling them to not go beyond, or think themselves above, all of Scripture. 

Adrian Joseph Combe IV

Danny Kh said...

"But let us take Sola Scriptura to be the claim that all true, Christian doctrines are found explicitly or implicitly in Scripture."

That would be wrong. Not even Calvin, the most protestant Protestant, seems to have thought that. Sola Scriptura simply means that Scripture is sufficient for what needs to be known for salvation and godliness; and to that extent, its teachings are infallible.

Our reasons for believing this is that we believe the the apostles, moved by God, made explicit to their readers all things necessary for salvation and Christian living, especially at times when the original audiences did not have full Bibles.

Indeed, John seems to imply this at the close of his Gospel: "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (John 20.31). Thus, what John has written, in just this one Gospel, is sufficient for the readers to "have life in His name." How much more so is this true of the Scriptures as a whole?

Danny Kh said...

"But let us take Sola Scriptura to be the claim that all true, Christian doctrines are found explicitly or implicitly in Scripture."

That would be wrong. Not even Calvin, the most protestant Protestant, seems to have thought that. Sola Scriptura simply means that Scripture is sufficient for what needs to be known for salvation and godliness; and to that extent, its teachings are infallible.

Our reasons for believing this is that we believe the the apostles, moved by God, made explicit to their readers all things necessary for salvation and Christian living, especially at times when the original audiences did not have full Bibles.

Indeed, John seems to imply this at the close of his Gospel: "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (John 20.31). Thus, what John has written, in just this one Gospel, is sufficient for the readers to "have life in His name." How much more so is this true of the Scriptures as a whole?