Tuesday, May 18, 2010

James Anderson on Sola Scriptura

I'm posting (with permission) something Dr. Anderson recently said in email correspondence:

I agree that the RC objection typically involves a level confusion: conflating the rule of faith with the special revelation it identifies.

So it's quite possible to state SS in a way that is not self-refuting but still preserves the core concerns that motivated the Reformers. Take this statement, for example:

SS1: The Bible alone is the Word of God.

This would certainly distinguish the Protestant position from the RC position (as per Dei Verbum). But it doesn't require that SS1 itself be taught in the Bible. It could be justified on other grounds: part biblical, part extra-biblical. It doesn't face the obvious epistemic self-defeat that, say, Clarkian Scripturalism does.


SS2: The Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice.

Again, this distinguishes the Protestant position from the RC position. But even if SS2 weren't taught in the Bible, there would be no self-refutation unless the further claim were made that the epistemic ground of SS2 is infallible. (Sproul says somewhere that the canon is "a fallible collection of infallible books". I take it he's making a similar point.)


SS3: The Bible is the sole final authority in matters of doctrine.

Once again, this would separate the sheep from the goats. But even if SS3 weren't taught in the Bible. the charge of self-refutation wouldn't apply unless (a) the Bible taught something incompatible with SS3 or (b) SS3 were conjoined with the additional claim that SS3 is on an epistemic par with the doctrines taught in Scripture.

And so on for any other formulation that could do the work the Reformers wanted SS to do.


  1. I am a little puzzled by that last sentence, to wit I ask, "what about what God wants the Reformers to do?

  2. "So it's quite possible to state SS in a way that is not self-refuting but still preserves the core concerns that motivated the Reformers."

    I like that.

    Out of curiosity, is it possible for Catholics to state that their position that the Magisterium has infallible authority without it being self-refuting?

  3. This is one way (of others) I would inductively argue for Sola Scriptura to someone who is interested in becoming a follower of Jesus. I would point out that most professing Christian groups affirm the infallibility and inspiration (even inerrancy of) Scripture (whichever Canon they may hold) even if some also hold to 1. an infallible Oral Tradition; 2. an infallible teaching magesterium (e.g. Catholicism); 3. infallible councils (e.g. the 7 or 21 [if Catholic] Ecumenical Councils); 4. living prophets (e.g. Mormonism). I'll be as thorough as I think necessary to help Catholics of various types understand specifically what I/We mean. I'm typing this as fast as I can. Forgive me if I make some logical leaps or typos.

    1. I would point out that history, patristics, and and the most commonly accepted *core* books of the Christian Scriptures affirms that during OT and NT periods the people of God believed that God's Word (whether theophanic, (presently/occurently) Auditory, via Dream, via Vision, via Angelic Message, or one of the preceding types now Orally transmitted, or one of the preceding types now textually transmitted in Scripture), if it was known to be God's Word (or believed to be so, rightly or wrongly) [IT, the Word of God] was to have the highest authority among them (the people of God) collectively and/or individually.

    2. That at some point (obviously) the "Word of God", in addition to being given occurrently given, was also given and/or preserved in writing by the time of Moses (e.g. the Pentateuch) if not for the first time, at least to our knowledge via history and the "core Scripture" (a definition of which can be supplied at some other time).

    3. At that time when the Word of God was now being written down, when there was a question as to what exactly was the truth or command of God in a particular situation or on a particular subject, the people of God both collectively and/or individually could go to the Scriptures, and/or to the living prophets, and/or consult the Urim and Thummim, or even receive new Revelation from God (in one of the various forms mentioned above).

    4. All supposed or claimed new (additional) revelation of God (i.e. Word of God in any form) had to conform with (and not contradict) pre-existing revelations of God or existing revealers/prophets of God. So, for example, one could go to Isaiah for instruction since he was (like other prophets) considered a genuine prophet of God who had a record of being accurate and correctly representing or speaking for God (even if, it was also known that there can be false prophets, or good prophets turned bad, or at the very least inconsistent prophets; cf. the incident of the lying older prophet to the younger prophet in the historical books).

    5. Even living prophets themselves could contradict each other or that of known pre-existing Revelation. In such cases, the only recourse was to compare the teaching/command to pre-existing and generally acknowledged (by the people of God) Revelation of God and/or via divine confirmatory miracle.

  4. 6. History, Scripture and most Christian traditions affirm that Universallly binding Inerrant Infallible Revelation has stopped (i.e. the Canon is closed and there are no longer prophets and apostles on par with OT Prophets and NT Apostles even if continuationism is true and cessationism false). This believed by the three main branches of Christianity (i.e. Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism) and if an argument can be made for this from the core Scripture which most Christian groups affirm, then this would rule out sects like Mormonism (this can be fully argued for in an additional sub-argument which doesn't appear here). This would include Divine confirmatory miracles that function like Revelation.

    7. The reliability of Orally transmitted (genuine) Revelation degrades after time as generations come and go. This is not to say that all traditions are wrong or that none are authentic. The point is that unlike Scripture, they do not contain ONLY true. They contain both truth AND ERROR.


    Now that there are no longer any new inspired and inerrant Revelations of God being given by prophets or apostles with full Prophetic and Apostolic perogatives (# 6.), and since Orally Transmitted Revelation degrades and is questionable; we are left with Scripture alone being the only assured and certain source of infallible and inerrant inspired Revelation of God. Therefore, Sola Scriptura holds for the people of God. [Being a continuationist myself and not a cessationist, I believe that non-universally binding revelations and confirmatory miracles of God still come to pass. So, I prefer the term Summa Scriptura.]

    By implication, it is communions like the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy that are teaching theological novums by insisting we accept as infallible documents and human authorities that admit that new Revelations and Revelators of God (with capital "R"s) have ceased. In times past infallibility and full inspiration went hand-in-hand. While they NOW expect us to accept infallibility apart from inspiration.