Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Some quick responses to some thoughtless questions

There is still some discussion going on at Dan Wallace’s blog. Eric Todd, who visited the comments here, has provided some staccato-form questions for Dr. Wallace, and I’m providing some staccato-form answers to match his questions. I’ve provided some links to support my short statements. But this, I thought, was instructive in showing the form that these types of discussions follow.

Eric Todd said: You said “Sola scriptura means that we measure all truth claims against the scriptures”. This is not how most Protestants define it, or how the Westminster Confession defines it.

This is a blog, and Dr Wallace has provided a good working definition. Only Scripture is “God-breathed”. No other “truth claims” bear this unchanging mark of truthfulness. Augustine says, “God alone swears securely, because He alone is infallible”. In this case, God is promising a covenant. Only God can promise a covenant, because only what He says will always come to pass. But indeed, only God can reveal Himself. He does this in the Old Testament and most perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3).

No appeal to “apostolic succession” assures that the revelation of God that we have in Christ occurs anywhere else but in Scripture. As I noted in my previous response:

In other words, the fixing of the canon [of the New Testament] necessarily excludes from the “apostolic witness” what “the unbroken chain of bishops” proposes to bring to it. “The establishment of the Christian written canon indicates that the Church itself at a definite time drew a clear line of demarcation between the time of the apostles and the time of the church, between the time of the foundation and the time of the superstructure, between the apostolic church and the church of the bishops, between the short apostolic [tradition] and the ecclesiastical tradition. This occurrence would be meaningless if its significance were not the formation of the canon (citing Cullmann on Tradition).

No one of us, or no group of us, can claim to represent the “true revelation” of God in Christ that will never fail. Only the Scriptures never fail. Further, if you suggest that there is some source that we may trust with the same trust with which we trust the Scriptures, then it is incumbent upon you to say where and how this is so. You, or a pope, or your Metropolitian, or “the whole church together”, not only do fail, but they can be relied upon to fail more often than not. Only the Word, the promise of God, can be relied on never to fail, never to be untrue.

And so if you or I or a council makes a promise or definition, it may be true insofar as it is consistent with God’s word. However, we are always to “measure those truth claims against the Scriptures”.

Eric Todd said: All Protestants who embrace the authority of Scripture also rely however unwittingly on the authority of the Church.

Rather, we rely on God’s promise to guide the church.

(Citing Wallace): “And when there is a consensus among the fathers, we must have very, very good reasons to argue against that consensus, with plenty of scriptural support.”

Eric Todd: I really value your perspective here. If all Protestants adopted this epistemology, doctrinal differences amongst Protestants would all but disappear.

If all are “united to the vine”, and vines are seen to have many branches, what is so important about a “doctrinal difference”? Look at Luther and Zwingli and the Lord’s Supper? If the Lord enables Lutherans and the Reformed to have differences in “doctrines” over these things, then the differences cannot be critical differences. That is, the Scriptures say, “do this”, but they don’t precisely say *how* to “do this”, then whatever *how* is adopted by the church, absolutely does not “rise to the level” of one of those “truth claims” that we started talking about.

I say “all”, because you still leave open the door for the scenario when I, armed only with my Bible and sitting here in the 21st century, argue to overturn a doctrine or praxis that the Church has embraced for up to 2000 years.

We also need to leave open the door for a scenario in which the early church adopted doctrines and practices from, say, Pagan cultures, which have been embedded in, say, “orthodox” doctrines and practices for nearly 2000 years. We should feel free to jettison such things.

If the Church is the “pillar of truth” and the Body of Christ, why assume she became heretical?

You need to understand in what sense the church is “the pillar of truth”. What’s in view in 1 Tim 3:15 is “how you ought to behave”. It is the behavior of the church which supports its own claims to be “supporting the truth”. No church which is behaving badly cannot be said to be speaking the truth. Or, conversely, a church which is behaving badly cannot be seen to be “the pillar of truth”.

That statement is based on exegesis. However, if you want an early church father, consider what Irenaeus said, which is very rarely repeated by Roman Catholics or Orthodox who want to talk about succession, For [the Apostles] wanted those whom they left as successors, and to whom they transmitted their own position of teaching, to be perfect and blameless (1 Tim 3:2) in every respect. If these men acted rightly it would be a great benefit, while if they failed it would be the greatest calamity (Robert Grant translation).

There is no promise of “infallible transmission of doctrine” there. Rather, Irenaeus supports the notion that the church is “the pillar of truth” by “being perfect and blameless”, by living according to the truth. If they do not do this, it is “the greatest calamity”. However, we can see, in every era of church history, how those claiming the highest leadership positions in the church have not done so.


  1. It is revealing how much RC apologists rely on this verse (1 Tim 3:15) in seeking to extrapolate support for their assuredly infallible perpetuated Petrine papacy, and which wresting is also collectively true of their attempts to find substantiate this by pasting other texts.

    The words in 1 Tim 3:15 do not support the church being supreme over Scripture, as Rome effectively presumes, while it is the church of the living God that it applies to, and not the institutionalized version, whatever the name.

  2. John,
    Thanks for this - excellent - thanks for connecting that part of Irenaeus with I Tim. 3:2 and verse 15 on behavior - I never noticed that before.