Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The supreme judge of all religious controversies

“The real problem with defining sola scriptura is that there is no one, single definition by which all adherents to sola scriptura accept.”

In which case it’s incumbent on the Catholic opponent of sola Scriptura to identify which version he’s attempting to refute.

“In the example I cited above ‘If it's not in the Bible, don't believe it!’ then this objection fits!”

That’s a straw man definition of sola Scriptura. I believe the sun rose this morning, although I can’t find that in Scripture. Does my extrabiblical belief in the sunrise refute sola Scriptura? No, since that’s not how sola Scriptura is formulated.

“Sola scriptura is not taught in the Scriptures, the canon of Scripture is not taught BY Scripture, thus without Scripture telling us which books should be contained therein, by this standard sola scriptura is most definitely self-refuting.”

i) That overlooks the intratextual, intertextual, and paratextual evidence for the canon of Scripture in the canon of Scripture itself.

ii) Moreover, Scripture also has a doctrine of providence. It’s not unscriptural to consider external (as well as internal) lines of evidence.

“The problem with relying on implicit teaching is that reduces the definition to a matter of interpretation.”

i) Of course, one also has to interpret the church fathers, catechisms, papal encyclicals, conciliar canons and decrees, &c. So that objection either proves too much or too little.

ii) Moreover, Scott has strayed from the issue at hand. The question at issue is whether sola Scriptura generates an internal contradiction.

To say that if the Scriptural self-witness to sola Scriptura is implicit, this reduces the definition to a matter of interpretation is irrelevant to the claim that sola Scriptura is self-refuting. Those are two entirely different ideas.

“For example, many Protestant apologists will turn to 2 Timothy 3:16.”

Since that was no part of my argument, it’s beside the point.

“The problem we'd have with this logic is that while the BIPM may be a standard of measure it is not the sole standard of measure.”

And suppose the BIPM was the sole standard of metrics. Would that render it self-refuting? How?

“Again I would have to reiterate that when one hears ‘sola scriptura’ the next question has to be "which definition are you going by?’"

That’s a good question. And it’s a question that a Catholic apologist needs to answer for himself before he tries to attack sola Scriptura.

“The phrase alone is not self-explanatory or self-defining.”

That’s because “sola scriptura” is a slogan. One of the fallacies which Catholic apologists are prone to is to generate a contradiction on the verbal basis of a slogan. But the slogan “sola Scriptura” is not a definition of “sola Scriptura.” It’s just a label.

“The other definition, that from James White ‘Sola scriptura teaches that the Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church." Again, sola scriptura, alone, doesn't teach us anything beyond "Scripture Alone’ - White needs to add ‘infallible rule of faith for the Church’ to give some sort of definition to it. Now for that rule to be valid, we should expect that that rule exists within Scripture - and for that matter - how does one even KNOW what Scripture is?”

A disappointed “expectation” is hardly equivalent to a logical self-contradiction. Notice the inability of some Catholic apologists to even focus on the issue at hand.

“The teaching of sola scriptura does not exist in Scripture…”

Notice how Scott is building on tendentious premise.

“And to KNOW what Scripture is - we have to go with some OTHER SOURCE and if we don't trust that source to have infallibly declared the Canon of Sacred Scripture, then we don't really have infallible knowledge of exactly what constitutes Scripture!”

i) Of course, that only relocates the (alleged) problem. For we’d then need to have infallible knowledge of the one true church.

ii) Did OT, Intertestamental, and 2nd Temple Jews not know what Scripture was before Trent “infallibly” defined the canon in the 16C?

When Jesus, the apostles, and NT evangelists appeal to Scripture in their debates with 1C Jews, are they citing something of which 1C Jews were ignorant?

iii) Why does knowledge have to be infallible? What’s wrong with plain old knowledge?

iv) Most importantly, Scott has once again drifted from the issue at hand. Whether or not we have “infallible knowledge” of the canon is completely irrelevant to the question of whether sola Scriptura is self-refuting.

Notice how consistently illogical Catholic apologists like Scott show themselves to be.

That’s in large part because they rely on pat objections to the Protestant rule of faith. They are unable to adapt to any argument that doesn’t dovetail with their pat objections.

“So, if the canon is closed - who closed it?”

The Bible writer who wrote the last book of the Bible closed the canon–by writing the last book of the Bible.

“Does Scripture itself, anywhere, list all the books which should be contained therein?”

Of course, that’s a simple-minded objection. To begin with, there’s an elementary distinction between having a preexisting list, and having the raw materials to generate a list.

“The truth of the matter is that for the first four hundred years of the Church the canon was not set…”

i) Trobisch has argued on text-critical grounds that the NT canon was standardized in the mid-2C AD. For a useful summary and evaluation of his argument, see the discussion by Kellum, Quarles, and Kostenberger in their recent intro. to the NT.

ii) Freedman has argued that (except for Daniel), the OT was standardized c. 5C BC.
And Sailhamer has supplemented Freedman’s analysis by arguing for the pivotal role of Daniel in the canonization of the OT (in The Meaning of the Pentateuch).

iii) Scott is also confusing internal evidence for the canon with various forms of ecclesiastical recognition.

“And then when it was set that same authority which set the New Testament Canon set the Old Testament Canon with seven more books than the Protestant Bibles have.”

i) So from the time Moses wrote the Pentateuch until the Council of Trent in the 16C, the Jews were without a canon of Scripture.

ii) What is even worse for Scott, popes, Latin Fathers, and Roman Catholic bishops didn’t even know what Scripture is until the ink was dry on text of Trent.

“Logically speaking, if you're trusting THAT authority for the Christian New Testament, then why turn to a DIFFERENT authority for the Christian Old Testament?”

i) Needless to say, that disregards Jewish evidence for the Hebrew canon. A good place to start is Roger Beckwith’s standard monograph on the subject.

Observe the consistently anachronistic perspective which Catholic apologists take in relation to the canon.

ii) Moreover, the question of who or what we “trust” is irrelevant to whether or not sola Scripture is logically self-refuting. Scott keeps advertising the inability of Catholic apologists to focus on the issue under review.

“Ironically, the authority Protestants turn to for the Old Testament is that of those who had Jesus put to death as an imposter and false prophet.”

i) Well, you learn something new every day. I didn’t realize until now that Philo, Josephus, Ben Sira et al. were members of the Sanhedrin when Jesus was condemned to die.

Come to think of it, Freedman has argued that Ezra was instrumental in the canonization of the OT. It would be ironic if the authority that Protestants turn to for the OT is a Christ-killer like Ezra. Oh, well.

ii) It’s also revealing when Catholic apologists take refuge in Jew-baiting rhetoric as their last resort. But that’s consistent with the grand tradition of Catholic anti-semiticism.

“If though there were some disputes on the canon, St. Jerome for example argued for the deuterocanonicals to NOT be counted as canonical - however in HIS CANON, the Latin Vulgate, those books are indeed included. Why are they included? Because he yielded to due and proper authority.”

So when push comes to show, ignore the evidence and go with the papacy.

“Every authorized Bible from that time forward contains the deuterocanonicals.”

Authorized by the papacy? A nice, circular appeal.

“It would not be until the time of Protestantism in the 16th century that some translations would be published without them.”

i) A circular appeal to tradition to validate tradition.

ii) It also disregards dissention over the scope of the canon when Trent was convened.

“Even the initial King James Version includes the deuterocanonicals - without putting them in a separate appendix, that would come later - and then later still they would be left out entirely.”

Anglican editions of the Bible were subject to whatever royal policies prevailed at the time.

iii) Once again, this is all irrelevant to whether or not sola scriptura is self-contradictory.

“Hays here oversimplifies the ‘Catholic rule of faith’ and then makes it dependent upon the Protestant rule of faith for validity. His argument is flawed to the core. First off, the Catholic Faith (and thus rule) existed long before there ever was a Protestant rule of faith, and long before anyone ever heard of sola scriptura. Thus to begin with Hays assertion is wholly anachronistic. Secondly, Catholics do not base their acceptance of the authority of the Church based on the consequences of accepting the Protestant rule of faith. Catholics accept the authority of the Catholic Church because Jesus Christ established the Church Himself and even the book which Protestants hold so high affirms this truth! It must be noted as well, the Catholic Church does not receive this authority from Scripture, she received it directly from Jesus Christ - and Scripture just happens to record this granting and transfer of power.”

I could comment on the specifics, but it’s sufficient to point out that this is irrelevant to the issue at hand. I was responding to the aprioristic framework of Catholic apologists like Cardinal Newman and Michael Liccione. Once more, Scott is constitutionally unable to wrap his head around the actual state of the question.

“Well, first off, Hays is building upon the faulty premise we've already exposed here, but the fact of the matter is - the Catholic rule of faith IS self-referential!”

Even if we credit that tendentious claim for the sake of argument, it’s irrelevant to the issue at hand. The a priori argument we find in Newman and Liccione doesn’t require the Catholic rule of faith to be self-referential.

It would really behoove a Catholic apologist like Scott to acquire a modicum of mental discipline.

“Scripture is PART OF the Catholic Faith and Scripture records Jesus giving His Church this infallible authority (Matthew 16:18-19 and 18:18).”

i) I’m well-acquainted with Catholic spooftexting. I’ve responded to that on many occasions.

ii) I appreciate Scott’s tacit endorsement of the perspicuity of Scripture. Of course, that renders the Magisterium superfluous.

“Thus in Hays haste, he seems to overlook this fact which utterly destroys his comparison.”

My comparison was drawn from the a priori type of argument we find in Catholic apologists like Newman and Liccione. They don’t adduce verses from Matthew to make their case.

“Again, the Catholic argument is not simply axiomatic nor a priori, in fact Hays himself states that Catholicism bases her argument on the consequences of accepting the Protestant argument - which by default would make his argument for Catholicism an a posteriori argument! Neither is the Catholic argument axiomatic (self evident) for as we have seen, it is supported by Scripture - the source Protestants accept as authoritative!”

What is Scott’s problem, exactly? Is he just too dense to follow the argument, even when I explicitly identify the referent? I’m addressing the a priori type of argument for the Catholic rule of faith which we find in apologists like Newman and Liccione.

The whole point of an a priori argument is that it doesn’t require a posteriori supplementation. Rather, it has to stand or fall on its own terms.

“No Mr. Hays, it is not just because the Protestant rule of faith contains the word "only" and ours does not. Yes, that would be superficial and a foolish reason to base ones acceptance or rejection of a rule of faith. You present no Catholic making such an argument, you're merely inventing this argument and throwing it at the wall to see if it sticks - well, it doesn't. All you've done is establish a straw man and then proceed to knock it down.”

Really? Catholics don’t regard their own rule of faith as the only true rule of faith?

“Clearly Mr. Hays has not examined the Catholic objections objectively and the only muddleheaded verbal tricks we see are coming from his invented straw man arguments.”

Scott consistently misses the target because he keeps targeting a different target than I took aim at. I specified that I was discussing the issue according to the way in which Catholic apologists like Newman and Liccione chose to frame the issue. Scott can never keep his eye on that frame of reference, even though it’s Catholic apologists who supply that frame of reference.

“Dr. Beckwith, you have not gone wrong in your reasoning, but another thing to consider from the statement you quoted - they claim ‘the 66 books are the supreme authority on matters of belief...’ - that would be a definition of ‘suprema scriptura,’ not ‘sola scriptura.’ Saying something has supreme authority does not give it sole authority - I submit those writing that are not true sola scripturists, at least not if that is their credo.”

i) And how is that relevant to the actual terms of my post? It isn’t.

ii) Moreover, sola Scriptura doesn’t mean there can be no subordinate authorities. Scott is confusing a slogan with the position denoted by that label. In fact, the Westminster Confession, to cite one representative example, even says:

“The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture” (WCF 1:10).

“Supreme” authority is perfectly consonant with subordinate authorities.

Back to Scott:

“Perhaps the best objection to sola scriptura, outside of the fact that Scripture itself does not teach this rule, is that Scripture itself provides us with ANOTHER INFALLIBLE RULE! In both Matthew 16:18-19 and Matthew 18:18 Jesus states that His bishops have the authority to bind or loose whatsoever they choose and whatsoever they bind or loose on Earth is bound or loosed in Heaven.”

i) Scott needs to exegete the concept of the Roman episcopate from his prooftexts.

ii) He also needs to exegete the “binding and loosing” language.

iii) He also needs to demonstrate how the locus of infallibility in Catholicism corresponds to whatever “binding and loose” denote in Matthew. Where does Jesus refer to ecumenical councils or ex cathedra pronouncements by the pope? I must have missed that in the wording of his prooftexts.

iv) I do appreciate Scott’s straightforward appeal to the perspicuity of Scripture–but, of course, that negates the rationale for the Magisterium.

“So, given that typically all Christians accept that the Bible itself is God's infallible word - then if the Bible itself points to something other than itself as also infallible then there is no ‘sola.’”

It points to the Apostolate. The period of public revelation–which came to an end.

Scott’s next paragraph simply repeats something he already said, which I already addressed.

“I thank you for your time and appreciate your comments.”

We’ll see how appreciative he is.


  1. Great post Steve,

    Is there any place you know of that surveys different views of sola scriptura?

  2. Scott: "In both Matthew 16:18-19 and Matthew 18:18 Jesus states that His bishops have the authority to bind or loose whatsoever they choose and whatsoever they bind or loose on Earth is bound or loosed in Heaven.”

    Steve: "Scott needs to exegete the concept of the Roman episcopate from his prooftexts."

    Steve, does the following citations of "FACTs" from Scott qualify as exegesis according to you? If not, what does it qualify as?


    FACT (Truth) - Jesus told His bishops, "whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven" (Matthew 18:18).

    FACT (Truth) - Error cannot be bound or loosed in Heaven.

    FACT (Truth) - Jesus gave to His bishops infallible authority.

    FACT (Truth) - Jesus was sent by the Father in His ministry, and part of that ministry was to select bishops and grant them this authority.

    FACT (Truth) - Jesus said to His bishops: "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you" (John 20:21).

    FACT (Truth) - If the bishops did anything less than described above, they would not be doing what Jesus sent them to do.

    [Note: Furthermore, Scott posits that all the Apostles were bishops too.]

    I included a couple scriptural references supporting key elements of that series of FACTS.

    The Apostles held the office of bishop, this is a fact already proven. That would make the office of bishop an apostolic office. Today's bishops hold an apostolic office. St. Paul is also called an Apostle - though he is not one of the 12. St. Barnabas is also called an Apostle in Acts 14:14. An apostle literally means one "sent out" and in Luke 10:1-16 we find that Jesus "sent out" 70 others, two by two.

    The name "Apostle" is not limited to "The Twelve."

  3. Steve,

    I'm curious about how the five solas came about. Do you know of anyone who has documented the origin of these five slogans?

  4. The supreme judge of all religious controversies

    Easy Answer: God.

    The controversy: Scripture vs. Magisterium.

    Frequently, both Protestants and Catholics cite the Early Church Fathers.

    I thought this quote by Martin Chemnitz (hat tip to Rev. McCain) regarding the Early Church Fathers is apt:

    “The opinion of these fathers is that a thing should not be believed or accepted because someone of the fathers either thought or said so, unless he proves what he says from the canonical Scriptures, that the fathers could have thought differently from what truth demands, and that we have been called by the Lord to that liberty that we may freely judge about the writings of any and all persons according to the canonical writings, and that when we disapprove of anything in the writings of the fathers which does not agree with the Scripture and reject it, this is done without rashness but by a just judgment, without injury or disgrace to the fathers, without prejudice to their honor, and with their consent, and this is done by those also who are incomparably inferior to the fathers.”

    From Chemnitz's book, "Examination of the Council of Trent," I:261

  5. So, what happens when you find two Fathers, or whathaveyou, who come to opposing conclusions and both base their argument on Scripture? Then what?

    In JMJ,
    Is Sola Scriptura Self Refuting?