Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Finding the Bible

Since Scripturalist Sean Gerety took issue with my appeal to extrabiblical evidence, I'd like to point out that his rejection of extrabiblical evidence generates a dilemma–dare I say, "paradox"–for his position.

You see, Sean needs extrabiblical evidence to locate Scripture. A particular copy of Scripture. 

Suppose Sean reads the Bible in translation. Suppose it's the NKJV. But how does Sean know he's reading the NKJV rather than the NRSV? Well, both versions are labeled. But the titles and labels are editorial additions to Scripture. It's not as if the original Bible identifies itself as the "NKJV" rather than the "NRSV". Editorial additions are extrabiblical evidence. Sean relies on extrabiblical evidence to determine which version of Scripture he's reading. 

The Bible alone can't determine that, because he's comparing one version of Scripture with another version of Scripture. Which one is Scripture? Both? He needs something over and above the Bible alone to compare and contrast the relationship between one version of Scripture and another. 

And that's not all. Translations of the Bible depend on a preliminary decision regarding what text to translate. Take the NT. Will it be an eclectic text? Will it be the Byzantine text-type? Will it be supplemented by early papyri?

Or take the OT text. Will that be based on the MT alone, or will it be supplemented by the DDS, LXX, &c.? Sean relies on scholars to produce a critical edition of the Greek and Hebrew text that forms the basis of the subsequent translation. So that's another layer of extabiblical evidence. That requires extensive editorial activity.

Or suppose, for the sake of argument, that Sean wishes to bypass reconstructed texts and read an extant MS like the Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, or the Leningrad Codex. But how does he know where to locate these codices? How does he identify them? How does he distinguish the Codex Vaticanus from the Codex Sinaiticus? How does he know their dates? 

That requires extrabiblical evidence. Scholarly evidence about these MSS of Scripture. 

Now, that's not a problem for mainstream Calvinists. We subscribe to God's meticulous providence. God can orchestrate the variables. But you have to start from the outside to get inside. You can't start from the inside unless you know where the inside is, which requires extrabiblical evidence. 

"Sola Scriptura" was never meant to rule out extrabiblical evidence. It rules out an illicit appeal to church authority. It rules out a religious authority that's coequal to Scripture. But sola Scripture certainly allows for sense knowledge, without which Scripture can't be located in the first place. Sola Scriptura allows for critical editions of the Bible.  


  1. It is not an epistemic concern for Sean Gerety that he believes he cannot *know* whether he is reading NIV or KJV. What he does claim to know is that any given verse is God breathed. But how does he know such things? Gerety denies that the Spirit himself justifies our beliefs in Scripture, otherwise he would be left open to consider that the Spirit can justify non inscripturatedl beliefs like personal existence. For Gerety it is God's word alone that justifies his beliefs to the level of knowledge. He is left to hang the entirety of his justifications for his beliefs that he claims as knowledge on the externalitst-fallible belief that he has a Bible in his hand -regardless of whether he knows which particular translation of the Bible he is reading. He claims he knows it is God's word and that is a problem for him. His dogmatism is rooted in his own assertions.

    You are correct that Gerety operates as an externalitst fallibilist to get "inside" the infallible Word. Scripturalists are walking paradoxes at best but more likely just plain old contradictory.

  2. But in all fairness I suppose he might say: "The only thing one can know is God's word, whatever that is or contains. That is, we can't know anything other than God's word; though we really don't know what that Word is or where it might be found if it even does exist."

    His axiom is his assertion (or I should say his understand of Clark), and his defense is a claim that he cannot locate in the very Word that he is not able to maintain even exists, at least with any consistency. Skepticism at its finest.

  3. Jesus: "You *KNOW* how to interpret the appearance of the sky" (Matthew 16:3). Interesting how they knew that before Jesus spoke this and before it was written in Matthew for them to know it. But hey, who's counting?