Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The counsel of Trent

I plan to do a series of posts commenting on Trent Horn's The Case for Catholicism: Answers to Classic and Contemporary Protestant Objections (Ignatius 2017). I'll begin with this:

Finally, if it were true that all Christian doctrine is explicitly found in Scripture, then one would expect the doctrine of sola scriptura to be found there as well. This could be in the form of a Bible passage that teaches sola scriptura or even a logical argument derived from multiple passages that, when taken together, teach the same doctrine…Of course, if sola scriptura were as implicit in Scripture as the doctrine of the Trinity, then why didn't the early Christians affirm it? The answer is that sola scriptura is not found in the Scriptures and, consequently, the early Church did not teach that doctrine (18). 

1. This objection is a Catholic apologetic trope. I first encountered it in Francis Beckwith. However, there's nothing wrong with Catholic apologists raising the issue:

2. Let's begin with a brief definition: according to sola scriptura, the Protestant canon is the supreme source and standard of doctrine and ethics. 

I'll refine this definition momentarily, but that will do for now.

3. As it stands, Horn's dilemma is a verbal trick. Start by saying that according to sola scriptura, all doctrine is found in Scripture. Then classify sola scriptura as a doctrine. Ergo, sola scriptura should be found in Scripture. (I'm not accusing Horn of deliberate trickery.)

But that's too facile. Even if we classified sola scripture as a doctrine, it's not the same kind of doctrine. It's a regulative doctrine. A doctrinal criterion. It has a different function. So it wouldn't be treated just like other "doctrines" in general.

4. Apropos (3), it's like a ruler. You don't use a ruler to measure itself. Rather, you use a ruler to measure other things. You don't use a standard as a criterion for the standard itself (or a criterion as a standard for the criterion itself). A criterion is distinct from what it's used to evaluate. 

5. Apropos (4), asking where sola scripture is to be found in Scripture is like asking where is the ruler to be found in the ruler? But the ruler isn't contained in the rule. The ruler isn't a part of the ruler. Rather, the ruler is the standard. 

By the same token, if I show you a chess set, it would be nonsensical to ask, "Where is the set? Is it the bishop? The queen? The castle? The knight?"

But the set isn't in the set. A chess piece isn't a chess set. Rather, the entire set comprises the set.

Likewise, we wouldn't expect the principle of sola scriptura to be in Scripture if sola scriptura just is Scripture.  

6. Horn's objection is a variation on the composition/division fallacy. The whole isn't necessarily the same kind of thing as the parts, or vice versa. It's not reducible to prooftexts for sola scriptura. If a football team has the best quarterback in the league, that doesn't make it the best team in the league. The properties of the whole aren't necessarily transferable to the parts, or vice versa. So the principle of sola scriptura doesn't require a discrete prooftext somewhere in Scripture. 

7. But let's unpack the principle:

i) Sola scriptura is synonymous with revelation alone/only. To be more precise: public, propositional revelation. To formulate the claim with greater precision: public, propositional revelation is the supreme source and standard of doctrine and ethics.  

Put it this way: who's the best person to answer a question–any question? God is the best qualified person to answer any question. No one would be a better source of information than God. No one would be as good. 

So revelation is the supreme source and standard for whatever it speaks to. And I don't see that Catholics should take exception to that principle. 

ii) Assuming (i), the next question is where, at this stage in history, are we to find public, propositional revelation? There was a time when that included oral communication. There was a time when that was broader than the Bible. But in terms of what's survived, for the benefit of posterity, is there any extant source of public, propositional revelation over and above the Bible?

A Catholic may say revelation is found outside the Protestant canon–in the Catholic canon! But that's not an alternative to sola scriptura. Rather, that's a dispute over the boundaries of Scripture. The principle remains the same. What that corresponds to is disputed. 

iii) I'd add that there's a pattern whereby revelation operates in tandem with redemption. God causes redemptive events, then causes an inspired record of redemptive events. An interpretive historical account. In addition, God causes inspired theological interpretations. For instance, the life of Christ, the Gospels, and the Epistles. 

It's not coincidental that the NT was written within living memory of the historical Jesus. We shouldn't expect new public, propositional revelation during the interadventual age because we shouldn't expect new redemptive events during the interadventual age. 

24 comments:

  1. >>>asking where sola scripture is to be found in Scripture is like asking where is the ruler to be found in the ruler? But the ruler isn't contained in the rule. The ruler isn't a part of the ruler. Rather, the ruler is the standard.

    But one may ask where did you get the ruler (sola scriptura) to begin with? For example, the ruler is measured with another standard - i.e. the ruler is standardised to another standard (the speed of light). Thus, that standard was external to the ruler, not internal to it. The ruler is internal to the standard, because the ruler is defined that way.

    So the principle of Sola Scriptura, if not explicitly mentioned in scripture, does seem to be an application of an understanding of scripture, or its theology in general, or God's working in redemptive history, etc. Just as the ruler (meter, cm) is already contained in the beam of light the way it is currently defined, you still have to make certain assumptions to actually come to the said definition of what a meter/cm can be. Depending on your assumption, the meter/cm can be longer or shorter than we currently have, but it will always be contained in the light. For me the apostolic commission authorised by Christ is that beam of light. And scripture is both the most complete form, and the undisputed form of a rule, contained in that beam of light (cf Matt 5:14). That is why Sola Scriptura makes so much sense to me, whether it is mentioned explicitly in scripture or not.

    Was that what you were trying to get at?

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    1. And scripture is both the most complete form, and the undisputed form of a rule, contained in that beam of light

      I mean both Protestants and Catholics agree that the NT contains the true apostolic message, and therefore therefore a suitable standard. For there to be another suitable standard, Catholics must demonstrate that what it produces (teachings) is traceable to the apostles in some distinct way, and that it was believed to have been inspired by the Christians in the apostolic era or immediately after that.

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    2. i) There are different kinds of standards The metric system is a conventional standard. A stipulative standard. There's nothing behind that to generate an infinite regress. It's a standard because enough people, including some businesses and governments, agree to that arbitrary but useful convention.

      ii) By contrast, divine revelation is an intrinsic standard. But once again, there's nothing behind it that generates an infinite regress.

      And in practice, so long as there's a finite set of revelations that God has preserved, that doesn't generate an infinite regress.

      iii) My argument is working from the *idea* of revelation, and the epistemic value of that principle.

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    3. Ok, thanks for the clarification.

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  2. I argue Sola Scriptura from Mark 7.

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  3. "Finally, if it were true that all Christian doctrine is explicitly found in Scripture, then one would expect the doctrine of sola scriptura to be found there as well."

    If the principle of Sola Scriptura were based on what the Scripture says it would be circular - Scripture is the ultimate authority because scripture says. But the principle of Sola Scriptura is based on the nature of Scripture as Word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit. When I recognize that Scripture is the Word of God, follows logically that it is supreme authority by its very nature as Word of God.

    The work of the catholic apologist should be to demonstrate that there is another source of the Word of God beyond Scripture that can be considered as normative for the universal Church.

    HC

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  4. One can also put the question in these terms. Sola Scriptura has as a corollary that Scripture is the only reliable source of divine revelation. The work of the catholic apologist will be to demonstrate that this is false. That there are other reliable unwritten traditions dating back to the time of the apostles that may be considered divine revelation.

    HC

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    1. Yes, that's how a Catholic apologist might attempt to respond.

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    2. In my experience, when I ask for someone to do ground these traditions in the apostles, they cannot.

      I also need to mention that Rome can't agree on whether material sufficiency of Scripture is true or if the partim-partim view is correct. If Rome can't hammer out where dogmas are actually derived from, how can they critique Sola Scriptura?

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    3. >>>One can also put the question in these terms. Sola Scriptura has as a corollary that Scripture is the only reliable source of divine revelation.

      This is where the serpent (Rome's heresies) become slippery. If I were a Catholic I would have replied by saying it is the Church which identified what is scripture to begin with. I would give examples of how the NT was identified by the church even though there was not universal approval on all of his books - in other words, now the argument would have transformed to Church's authority per Matt 16:18-19.

      The fundamental problem with Rome is the issue of authority.

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    4. >>>If Rome can't hammer out where dogmas are actually derived from, how can they critique Sola Scriptura?

      Rome's main argument (and main issue) with Sola Scriptura is Sola Ecclesia. The former directly challenges the latter, and the latter is claimed by them to be a divine authority.

      This is one of the reasons why I changed by approach to historical critique rather than theological. Rome can do some serious theological somersaults to defend its unBiblical teachings

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  5. In my experience with this issue, the Roman Catholic usually focuses on the canon issues and historical questions of evidence combined with the ever skeptical method of always asking, "how do you know for sure?"

    For example:
    1. How do you know for sure that Mark wrote the Gospel according to Mark, and that his gospel is from Peter's sermons and memories / testimony? Scripture does not say, and our information from that comes to us though historical evidence and traditions (Papias, Irenaeus, Eusebius); and once one affirms that - the RC says, "see, you have to rely on outside information from Scripture in order to get to the facts of what that particular Scripture is.

    2. Also, how do you know for sure that Paul was released from prison after Acts 28 and traveled, later wrote 1 Tim. & Titus, then was arrested later, imprisoned, wrote 2 Tim. from prison and then was executed by Nero around 67 AD ? You have to rely on some information outside of Scripture to put all that together; therefore, (according to RC apologists), you are violating Sola Scriptura.

    3. How do you know for sure that 2 Peter was written by Peter? It is the most questioned book of the NT as far as having early citation as Scripture from Peter, according to some, it is not mentioned at all until Origen mentions it. (But there seems to be clear allusions and half quotes in Clement and other earlier books.

    4. How do you know for sure that Paul and Peter were executed by Nero around 67 AD? You have to rely on church history and church tradition for that; therefore, the argument goes, you have to rely on outside information in order to establish when their books were written (2 Peter, and the Pastoral Epistles)

    5. The fact that some areas questioned some books (the 5 or 7 books that some were unsure about - that Eusebius called "the anti-legomena" (spoken against) (Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, Jude, 2-3 John, Revelation).

    6. The fact also that some included other books that are not canonical - Shepherd of Hermas, Pseudo Barnabas, (in Codex Sinaiticus), maybe I Clement. (?)

    These are the kinds of questions that came up over the years as I have debated RC apologists and laymen. (mostly on line at their websites and comboxes; along with my friend Rod Bennett, who I debated with personally for about 8 years - from 1996-2004 - until he cut me off and said he will not debate anymore.

    Called to Communion (Bryan Cross, Tom Brown, others) used these kinds of arguments also.

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    1. My basic approach to canonics: https://www.monergism.com/gods-canon-ebook

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    2. Sola Scriptura does not mean that Scriptura is the sole authority for us, but that Scripture is the ultimate and supreme authority. These questions are answered through evidence, reasons.

      These questions have to do with the recognition of the canon of Scripture, but have nothing to do with the validity of the principle of Sola Scriptura. It's a strawman fallacy.

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    3. Yes, in other words, SS = "the only infallible authority/rule", not the only rule / authority.

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  6. If interested on my articles with my experience with my friend Rod Bennett, who converted to Rome in 1996; and went on to write a book on the early church fathers, called "Four Witnesses", see the articles under his name at both "Beggar's All" blog (James Swan) and my own "Apologetics and Agape".

    Steve Hays linked to an excellent article by Matthew Schultz entitled "Why Stay Protestant?", which I just noticed recently, and which touches on a lot of the issues that intersect with my interaction with Rod Bennett.
    https://apologeticsandagape.wordpress.com/2018/06/16/why-stay-protestant/

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  7. 2. Let's begin with a brief definition: according to sola scriptura, the Protestant canon is the supreme source and standard of doctrine and ethics.

    I thought it was: "Scripture is the only infallible rule for the church for doctrine and practice". There are other secondary sources (early church history, creeds, doctrinal statements, good commentaries, insights), but Scripture is the only infallible one.

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  8. I first encountered it in Francis Beckwith.

    Scott Hahn, Gerry Matatics, Dave Armstrong, Patrick Madrid, Robert Sungenis, Mitch Pacwa, etc. made similar arguments long time before Beckwith.

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  9. Interesting to me that point # 4 - that Sola Scriptura - it is like a ruler, is the original meaning of "canon" κανων (standard, criterion, rule, measuring rod) -it had that meaning before coming to mean "list" (of authoritative apostolic books).

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  10. Every point of the "rule of faith" or "tradition of the apostles" lists in Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and Athanasius are all lists of things that all Protestants agree with as Biblical, and they are doctrinal points that are all found in the Bible and the early creeds.

    These doctrinal points were taught to people in preparation for baptism even before they had all the Scriptures in their areas.

    All NT books in the first century were individual scrolls, sent to specific areas, (so in the first 3-4 centuries, churches only had some or several of the NT scrolls in their possession; and that took a while to be all collected under one "book cover" in codex form.

    The codex did not even come into being used until mid second to late second and in third century it gained popularity. Dr. White pointed out in several DL shows, that many scholars believe it was the early Christians in 2nd and 3rd century who made the codex popular and more used; which eventually became basis for the modern "book" with a binding.

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  11. i) Sola scriptura is synonymous with revelation alone/only. To be more precise: public, propositional revelation. To formulate the claim with greater precision: public, propositional revelation is the supreme source and standard of doctrine and ethics.

    Oral teaching / tradition to the churches before it was written down was public - 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6; Jude 3; 1 Cor. 11:2; 15:1-3, etc. points to that being revelation before it was written down. The RC may counter with that.

    seems to me that all of those truths were written down.

    The RCs try to imply or some even outright say that centuries later developed traditions about Transubstantiation, prayers, co-mediatrix, hyper-dulia, IC, BAM, etc. to & about Mary, Papal doctrines, purgatory, treasury of merit, indulgences, merit of works that add to justification, etc. were orally taught in those "traditions" mentioned in those verses. Problem is, church history knows nothing of the seeds of those traditions until 5th and 6th centuries onward.

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  12. I think James White's insight regarding the canon in the Old Testament times has been devastating to those Roman Catholic canon arguments. I've employed the question many times myself with no adequate answer in reply. How did a Jew in 50 BC know 2 Chronicles was Scripture?

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    1. James White was a great help to me when I was a new Christian, following 30 years of Catholicism. His examination of 2 Timothy 3:14-17 was particularly helpful, and I consider these verses to be the strongest Biblical teaching confirming Sola Scriptura, particularly as compelling evidence for the nature and sufficiency of Scripture.

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