Does God's word exist only in the written text of the Holy Scriptures? RE-OPENED

michael_legna's picture

This is a response to a post from Jeff which he made in the Reform Theology thread. I started this new thread so there was a place to respond without disrupting the other thread.

Jeff said -
ML, I agree with your conclusions that man has free will to decide to accept Christ or reject Him. But what troubles me is that you continually argue against Sola Scriptura and yet your arguments does not appear to be valid. Perhaps because I haven't addressed it previously you believe your reasoning is sound and so you keep reusing it with the various posters here. But there are many problems with your argument.

I disagree but I do not doubt many here think there must be, and in fact I am surprised no one before has taken the opportunity to address the weakness they must think exist in a denial of sola scriptura. You are the first I remember who attempted to present any type of organized consideration of these issues. But unfortunately many of your points are not founded on addressing my position but on what you figure my position must be since I deny sola scriptura. This may be because you have never seen a post of mine where I express the alternative in any detail. I have not done so in a long time since most of the regulars as seen it and so no point in repeating it until now.

Jeff said -
First, your statement referring to the Protestant use of scripture to understand scripture (Sola Scriptura) as "a common ploy used in Protestant circles" is actually an accusation against the Protestant faith suggesting that to your mind they are intentionally deceitful or at least disingenuous in their approach to understanding scripture. But hopefully what I present here will help clear that up.

I assure you I do not think most Protestants are intentionally deceitful or disingenuous in this approach to understanding scripture. In fact I don’t think most Protestants have given it any real thought at all. They simply use what has been taught. I did not intend to insult or even jibe the average Protestant with this word. I intended it to mean exactly what Webster intends it to mean.

Webster defines ploy as – A: a tactic intended to embarrass or frustrate an opponent or B: a devised or contrived move: a stratagem.

This is precisely what the intent of this approach was when it was developed by Luther during his examination. He needed to invent a new approach since he was denying the previously existing method of understanding scripture and so to provide some rationale and perhaps save his own skin, (since it was a serious accusation he face), he devised or contrived this stratagem or tactic and did so with the full intent and purpose of embarrassing or frustrating the Church. It is a natural approach since it is how we usually read scholarly texts, and is even part of the teaching/learning process. But as I will show as we go through your complaints it does not apply to situation where it is the only process at work, especially when that text is acknowledged as inerrant. Then it becomes illogical

Jeff said -
Second, if someone cites a passage or two, or three, you are quick to point out that verses cannot be understood in isolation but that "the only way to be certain (using sola scriptura) that we have a proper understanding is to reconcile all verses to each others at the same time." Yet, when you give your proof texts you fail to follow your own advice citing only one or at most a few scriptures. So there appears to be different standards for judging others.

I think you mistake defending a truth with investigating that truth. When I defend a point I put myself in the position of claiming to already understand the truth of the point, so I do not need to review all the verses in scripture, and this is especially true because I do not claim to use sola scriptura to do the research needed to find the truth (but more on that later). I do put myself in the position of teacher and in that sense I of course do not provide every last piece of evidence (at least initially) to those I am trying to teach since they need time to digest it. Then the learning process continues with them questioning some aspect they either do not understand or do not accept. Then I provide more evidence that they will accept and the process repeats. The point we cannot miss here is that it matters not where the knowledge of the information comes from – the teaching can use an entirely separate source for its evidence. Think of a school environment where the teacher may have learned what they are teaching from different books, or even through different means, such as hands on experience (like a career welder teaching welding in high school) but now teaching out of a book. Such an instructor may quote only small parts of the text at a time even though cautioning the student that to really understand the concept they need to understand the entire book (or put in years of experience and hard knock – though he doesn’t actually say that). I will get into this more but I hope for now you see that there is a difference between researching the truth to discover it and defending the truth once you know it. If I could, I would not defend Christian truths by way of just using scripture. I think I could do it more effective the same way the Church came to know it. But I have said I can defend the truth of Catholicism with scripture alone, at least to the point of showing those teachings are not contrary to scripture and so I do. But on top of that I don’t think most people who visit here would accept the other approach – but again that must wait to the proper question.

Jeff said -
Thirdly, the Bible is unique among books. God has written many books by inspiration but all of those books are combined into what we call The Bible. Because of this you seems to hold that one cannot use the various writers of scripture to confirm the words of other writers.

I am not sure where you are getting this from because I have never believed nor said anything remotely like that. I have said that it is not enough to verify one inerrant statement with just one or even just a dozen inerrant statements. What is logically required is to verify your personal interpretation by comparing it to every inerrant statement to make sure your interpretation is not contrary to any of them. We know the statements are inerrant and so cannot contradict one another but our interpretations are not inerrant and so even if we can reconcile a great number of the actual inerrant statements does not mean we can reconcile them all and if our theology is systematic (as all truth is) then we can never be sure of it until we have done so. But perhaps you have something else in mind as to some comment I made. I do not know.

Jeff said -
It is true that God is the Author and He is one but there are many writers and many books. Collectively there is no problem using the works of one writer to confirm the works (or truth) of another. This is a very common practice in use in all aspects or our lives. Scientist use the works of various authors to check the veracity of new works. But sometimes those new works are so radical that they must be judge based solely upon their own content. The Bible is such a work. It is so radically different from the works of other secular writers that it is not possible to use those works to criticize the Bible.

I agree that this is done with texts we know is not inerrant, but then we do not expect our understanding from any collection of those texts to be inerrant. In fact it is well known that secular knowledge is ever changing and being replaced with new and better theories, it is not even called knowledge anymore. But that is not the condition we can accept for the truth of religion or theology since our eternal security is dependent on it. We MUST know the truth if we are to worship in spirit and truth. But the manner of coming to that truth is not through sola scriptura. That is because in that approach there remains the chance that we will run into some inerrant statement of scripture which our previous (apparently successful) attempts to reconcile other verses does not work in this newly stumbled upon statement which we had not previously considered. That might mean and probably does mean that our entire systematic theology would have to be reconsidered. That means our approach to salvation had previously been wrong and so to our knowledge of Christ our worship of God and even our relationship with Him because we had formed one with a complete misunderstanding of who He is.

Jeff said -
Fourthly, to those who believe in the Bible as the Words of God there is no need of another resource to validate its truths. For example, we do not rely upon the laws of foreign countries to validate the laws of the United States. We have judges who interpret the application of the laws but even their judgment is judged by the very law they sit to judge. This gives us recourse should we feel our case has been unjustly judged. We can bring our case before another judge using the law as the standard to prove our case. Our course, today we have many precedents which do not always reflect the correct understanding of the law and in those cases we may still appeal to the law itself. Likewise, when attempting to understand the Word of God, the Bible, we do not turn to an external source but rather to the source which is the final authority. It matters not that some interpret it one way and others another because one can always appeal to the Bible itself.

You have the cart before the horse here. Scripture is not being validated, it was already validated by this other source long before it became scripture. The New Testament was determined by the Church based on its understandings of the true message of God and Christ as presented to them by the Apostles and their students. If their understanding was wrong then the wrong texts were admitted to the scriptures. If their understandings were correct then there is no need to rely on a man made approach like sola scriptura to understand scripture (since it was already understood) especially when there is such a huge logical hole in the approach of studying an inerrant body of text.

Jeff said -
Fifth, the notion that the Bible cannot be understood by common men but that he must appeal to the church magistrates to correctly interpret scripture is riddled with difficulties.

Let’s see if these are true difficulties or merely reflect your personal preferences.

a) it places all authority with the magistrates,

No it places all authority with the word of God, just in two sources. You apparently don’t think of the presenting of the one source of God’s revelation (the Scriptures) to the flock by the Church put all the authority with the magistrate, so how can the Church presenting two sources suddenly increase their authority to absolute. If anything this additional source reduces their hold on authority.

b) it forces the common man to be dependent upon the magistrate,

This isn’t a problem this is a personal preference of yours. The common man is dependent on the Church and should be, just as the common man is dependent on Physicist to explain science to them

Rom 10:13-15 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

We see here that scripture teaches we cannot be saved, unless we believe but we cannot do that unless we hear (not read – this is a big difference and not to be minimized) and we cannot hear unless we are preached to and those who preach cannot do so unless they are sent – and who sends them? The Church.

c) the magistrate then stands in the place of the Holy Spirit as the spiritual guide of the so-called ignorant,

No the magistrate never claims to stand in place of the Holy Spirit, that is just your personal fear you have picked up through some teaching you have been subjected to. The Holy Spirit works through the Church, supplying gifts to the members of the Church so they can do the preaching and teaching mentioned above.

For the common individual to claim access to the Holy Spirit for this guidance without receiving such gifts is both contrary to biblical teaching and in practice is shown to be unreliable since millions of people claim such access and the result is millions of different opinions, such that no one can be sure who truly received such guidance and who merely convinced themselves that they had.

d) it provides a focal point for the devil to concentrate his efforts for if he can deceive the shepherd of the flock the entire flock will be led astray,

True but then the Church does not fear Satan, as God has promised protection such that even the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. Before we worry about your application of this verse to the Church today we need to ask ourselves was the Church more vulnerable when the original shepherd (Jesus who is referred to in the verse you allude to) was here on earth, because He was struck and the flock was scattered. But the Church survived even that. Would it be worse now when the shepherds are not near as important?

e) it discourages the laymen from even reading their Bibles because if they cannot understand it properly then what's the point,

This simply is not the case. They read it to reinforce the teachings they receive. A practice the Church encourages. It is no different than reading the text book after being lectured by the teacher in school. Reading the text book on its own with no assistance in understanding it and with no one to ask questions of when something is not clear (and you cannot question a static written text) is not an effective learning method. Good teachers do not stand in front of the class and read from the text book either. A good teacher passes on what they know already and then point out where it is supported in the text or are prepared to point it out and explain it when the student comes to a stumbling block. Only the poor students refuse to read the text book when the teacher send them home with homework. So it is only the poor disciple who is discouraged from reading scripture.

f) it prevents the common man from discovering truths from scripture by convincing them they must believe as they are told and thereby making it nearly impossible for them to escape the sphere of control those who teach such things retain over them.

It does not prevent them in discovering the truths it assists them in discovering the truths since we have already seen above there is no guarantee that truth, in any absolute sense (and that is the only one that matters in salvation) can be arrived at through sola scriptura.

But the most important of these difficulties is that it convinces ignorant men that they must submit themselves wholly to the watch-care of human beings and grant all power over their souls to these mortal men.

Funny you should chafe at this idea since it does not come from an the existence of an alternative source of God’s revelation – it comes straight out of Scripture. So rather than rebel against this idea you should embrace it.

Heb 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

Jeff said -
Sixth, your claim that "sola scriptura is unworkable" because "it is beyond mankinds ability to hold all of scripture and all of our interpretations of scripture in our head at one time and at that same time compare all of them to each other" forgets that Christ sent the Holy Spirit for this very reason--to bring all things to our remembrance.

But we have already covered this, and the reliability of this approach is clearly in question due to the many sincere Christians who claim this leading coming up with so many different interpretations. Beside that there are clear specific teachings in Scripture which express this leading, coming the form of gifts is given to specific individuals in the Church in very specific manners.

Jeff said –
I have found in my own personal experience that even before the difficulty arises the Lord presents to my mind a truth to shield me from the error. Now, granted, one cannot bring to remembrance that which he has not remembered. But if one learns of Christ, to know Him personally, through the pages of the Bible which testify of Him, then when a verse is presented to him he is able to reconcile it with his knowledge of Christ in the same manner a witness may testify in an earthly court regarding the character of an individual they have known intimately for years. The Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit.

An interesting claim but it has two problems. First it actually is contrary to sola scriptura because it makes the direct communication with the Holy Spirit a second source of God’s revelation (just as the prophet Elisha received above and beyond the scripture of his time).

Second this experience is of no use to others, since personal experience cannot be a shared experience so it cannot be allowed to be persuasive to others since many personal experiences are as much delusion as fact. As sincere as you may be, there are mad men in the world who just as sincerely claim they are unicorns and claim to have had personal experience which support that. I am not implying you are mad, just that personal experience is not persuasive and should not be to anyone but the person who experiences them. However doctrine based on personal experience instead of the word of God is not something I would lean towards, and I have had my own personal experiences.

Jeff said -
Seventh, you claim regarding Sola Scriptura that "this entire argument is illogical because it appeals the same authority it is attempting to prove as being the sole authority" and you conclude that "it is a convoluted form of circular reasoning." But there must be a singular authority else conflict would never be resolved.

Yes but that singular authority can be of a higher level and then come in multiple forms. In other words the single authority can be the word of God and that authority can come in three forms (all in agreement with each other) those being Holy Scripture (the written text which requires interpretation), the Sacred Tradition (which are the teachings of the Christ, through the Apostles and their successors on orally through the ages), and finally the Teaching Authority of the Magisterium (which as I showed earlier is miraculously protected from error by the Holy Spirit, a claim you practically make for yourself in an effort to support the idea of sola scriptura).

Jeff said -
In our court system in America we have the Supreme Court. If you disagree with the ruling of the Supreme Court, say Roe v. Wade, then to what authority would be appeal? To a lower appellate court? No, you must appeal to the highest authority in the land.

Your example is erroneous because you miss that there is a source which the Supreme Court is interpreting – the Constitution, a static written document which is misinterpreted by its readers all the time. And there is another source which is even higher than the Supreme Court, the Congress which can do more than just interpret laws but actual write them and with the impetus of the people can even over turn the Constitution itself. So your example fails to support the idea of sola scriptura or appealing to other sources over a written text in any form.

Jeff said -
In spiritual matters the Bible, as the inspired Word of God, holds that place alone.

That is your premise, it cannot be spoken as a supporting argument to that premise.

Jeff said -
There cannot be a dissenting view and those who disagree tend to have reason to desire to either raise themselves up to a level with scripture or place the authority of the Bible beneath their station. By this method they gain power of the souls of men. A cult does this very thing in practice. ----snip----

I won’t even repeat the rest of this paragraph because it is just embarrassing for you ruining what is basically a thoughtful argument against the rejection of sola scriptura with anti-Catholic rhetoric.

Jeff said -
Eighth, you contend that, "Interpreting difficult verses based on our understanding of the apparently more obvious ones is a completely backwards approach for interpreting an inerrant body of work," yet this is the very principle we employ in every other occupation of life.

That is because in ever other endeavor we know that the source is not inerrant and we have no expectation of ending up with an inerrant understanding, which is what we need to avoid coming to a wrong relationship with Christ by worshipping Him in the wrong way or conforming our lives in a wrong manner such that they conform not to His will but some other will.

Jeff said -
Even the Bible suggests learning occurs in this way and understanding comes gradually using "line upon line, precept upon precept." We start with what is clear to us, that which is plain, and build upon that foundation.

If you look at what you just wrote you will see that the Scriptures do not speak of plain verses complex it speaks about learning by studying line upon line, in other words comparing the teachings of scripture to each other to come to an understanding and that as I have shown is too large an endeavor for one man to do. Even comparing one single verse to every other in scripture would be years of work, and then it has to be done all over again. So much easier to simply (as the Apostles did) learn the truth from a teacher who knows it all and then can tell you (with no need of interpretation) the real message. Then even when you do not understand he is there to answer questions, something a written text cannot do and forcing you to search each and every verse until you are sure you have the answer. Because to stop with the first few verses you find which may answer your question could be a terrible mistake.

Jeff said -
For example, in my works as a computer professional I often encounter manuals describing functions or program I am unfamiliar with. Yet, to understanding them I must start by reading them and trying to comprehend.

This is the correct approach if you do not have an instructor who can tell you the proper understanding you are expected to come away from the text with, and if you are satisfied with only a partial understanding of the text because the results of such an incomplete understanding of the text has minimal consequences, and if the text is not inerrant and so there is no possibility of coming away with and inerrant understanding even if you did completely understand that text book. Other than that your example is completely applicable. J/K

Jeff said -
As I read I may understand very little of what I am reading because the acronyms and lingo may be quite foreign to me. But slowly as I grasp points which are somewhat obvious I am able to apply that knowledge to decipher the more cryptic passages.

But you also get much of what you read wrong and in relation to theology and salvation that can be exceedingly dangerous. And even if you were to not die before you got to the point you thought you understood the lingo and acronyms you might still be wrong. If the text is long enough you might never in your life time come to the one critical verse and also recognize it so as to clear up these mistakes and so your understanding of the topic might never be proper enough to perform the work correctly.

Jeff said -
In fact, this very method was employed to decode encoded messages sent during the war. They began looking at patterns and tried substituting letters until finally a few words appeared. Once they had those few words they could then apply context and voila! the code was broken.

I think you simplify the approach to code breaking and perhaps even have the story wrong depending on which code you are discussing because the German code was not broken until we captured one of their own devices used to decode the messages.

Jeff said -
Ninth, no man understands the Bible correctly or completely regardless of his calling or station in life and therefore he should not present himself as one who holds the keys of knowledge.

Christ did, and He taught the correct understanding of doctrine to His Apostles who taught it to men like Iraeneus and others of their disciples and the early Church relied entirely on this understanding in lieu of the written scriptures until that very same understanding was used by a Council of Bishops (descendent of the same Apostles) to decide which of the many possible texts were to be canonized into the New Testament Scriptures. That oral tradition is one of the other sources of God’s word for that very reason. Today the Church is under protection from God to bind and loose on earth as in heaven in matters of doctrine and so too the Church has that as a third source of the word of God since any protected decision on earth will be the same as that decision as it was made in heaven, which makes it God’s word.

Jeff said –
When a discussion is held each attendee should realize that perhaps God will reveal to the lowest of the low some things which have not been revealed to those in high position. Thus, everyone can learn from everyone else.

That is possible but not to be expected since Peter established the office of Deacon for the very reason that the Apostles should not leave the study of the word to wait tables and so each person in the Church has their gift and office and we should not expect to change things from the way God has established them.

Jeff said -
In Christ's day the Pharisees would have done well to learn of the widow, or the taxpayer, or the prostitute, but they esteemed themselves superior to such common peoples and they hardened their hearts to the very truths they needed to learn.

They would have done well to learn from those common folk with regards to how those same Pharisees led their personal lives, but not with regard to doctrine – otherwise Christ would not have told us to –

Mat 23:1-3 1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, 2 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: 3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

Jeff said -
Let's not forget that God gives grace to the humble while He resists the proud.

Don’t mistake the fact that someone is a leader with them being proud and do not assume that because someone is lowly that they are humble.

Jeff said -
Tenth, you claim Sola Scriptura is unworkable because, "all it takes is one difficult or less obvious verse (that we cannot interpret in a way that is consistent with our doctrine no matter how intensely we apply our knowledge of the obvious ones) to throw our whole system into chaos." But I say that every seeker has been promised that he will find what he seeks. If he seeks truth with all his heart then we must not suppose that God will not give him he desires of his heart. Will God give us a serpent when we ask for an egg? Is it His character to disappoint and refuse to grant us our desire to know truth when He has expended such infinite work in our salvation? Does it please Him that we remain confused in darkness? So I say to all who seek truth, ask of God and be humble enough to hear His answer.

But this promise does not imply that He will give these answers directly to us. His answer might very well be that He has provided us the Church to do precisely this teaching. To demand that Lord answer us directly is like the man who is sitting on his capsized boat and a Coast Guard cutter comes along and offers to rescue him and he says no God will provide. Then a helicopter comes along and offers to rescue him and he sends them off too saying God will provide. Finally an entire aircraft carrier comes along and offers to rescue him and he sends them off too. But once they are gone he slips from the boat and drowns and dies. When he finds himself standing before God he says where were you I counted on you saving me and God looks at him and says – What do you want I sent you a boat a helicopter and a carrier.

Jeff said -
Eleventh, consider that no one is going to stand up and claim to know an incorrect interpretation of scripture. It would be rare if not unheard of. Everyone claims to know truth.

True but this speaks against the idea of individuals claiming to understand Scripture through their own study. However the Church is identified by Scripture itself as the ground and pillar of truth, so it can be trusted in matters of doctrine.

1Ti 3:15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

Jeff said -
If we are convinced that they are wrong then we must also consider that they are just as convinced we are wrong. So to what authority will you appeal? Perhaps the only safe course is to consider that it could well be you that is wrong.

No once again Scripture tells us just how to proceed.

Mat 18:15-18 15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. 18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

The final appeal on earth is to the Church.

Jeff said -
Although October 31st marks the anniversary of Martin Luther's 95 Theses I am not going to duplicate his efforts here. I am stopping at this point. However, I want to leave you with this scripture passage...

Isaiah 8:20, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, [it is] because [there is] no light in them.” Thus, we are to test everything by the law and testimony of scripture—that is, the law and the prophets which affirms that "all scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." Applying the principles I have laid out above will make this seemingly insurmountable task highly successful. But don’t expect to know all things at once or to understand the deepest mysteries so you can amaze your colleagues. But trust that God will reveal that which is most needful to you if you seek and ask and believe.

Of course none of this is saying that Scripture is the only source of God’s revelation. It is saying that Scripture is dependable and that any other source should be in agreement with it, but then that only makes sense because God will never give conflicting revelation. These verses you quote and allude to do not say that we should base our understanding of God’s will or even our doctrine or our spiritual guidance on scripture alone.

michael_legna's picture

The Church is more than just a body of believers

ML writes, "...the idea of making our personal understanding and interpretation more important than the leading of the Church (which scripture calls the ground and pillar of truth and which scripture says has the authority to bind and loose on earth as in heaven does not make sense."

Jeff said - I have no argument with you that scripture calls my Church the ground and pillar of truth granting to it the authority to bind and loose on earth.

Let's keep the discussion on the up and up here, you know I never identified a specific Church as to being the ONE Church which is the ground and pillar of truth and you also know I certainly never specifically identified your congregation or denomination as that Church.

Jeff said -
But what is the Church but a body of believers. So then my personal understanding and interpretation of scripture becomes the understanding and interpretation of the Church. And so there is unity.

The Church is much more than just a body of believers because those believer have to have a recognizable hierarchy and organization which they can come to in matters of disagreement with one another so as to have it make the final determination.

Mat 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
Mat 18:16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
Mat 18:17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
Mat 18:18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

It has to have access to a counciliar form of elders, such as at Jerusalem to decide issues of doctrine.

Act 15:6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.