Monday, February 18, 2019

The question of sola Scriptura

I like to keep up with the competition. Brand Pitre is one of the best younger generation Catholic apologists. I recent read his book The Case for Jesus, which was pretty good.

So I decided to look at the outlines posted at his website. One thing I notice is that his view of Scripture is very retrograde by contemporary Catholic standards. It's nice that he has such a conservative view of Scripture, but that's highly unrepresentative of the modern-day hierarchy. In addition, many of the arguments in his outlines are simply atrocious. In this post I'll comment on his critique of sola Scriptura. Let's see if the younger generation does any better:

i) Let's begin with the video clip. Does he honestly think the only reason Protestants offer for how they know the Bible is the word of God is because they know it in their heart? Is he really that uninformed? Or is he referring to evangelical folk theology? If you ask the average layman, you might get an answer like that. But that's not how Protestant apologists generally argue for the inspiration or canonicity of Scripture. 

ii) That said, many readers find the Bible convincing. Just reading the Bible engenders faith. Some people are unbelievers when they begin reading, but are believers on the other side. They become believers in the process of reading the Bible. So even though the "know it in your heart" criterion is too coarse-grained to determine the canon, it has a grain of truth.

iii) How many Mormon missionaries actually experience what they claim? Or do they just say that because they've been trained to say it?

iv) Since God won't witness to a false prophet, they can't have the same experience as Christians.  

v) Assuming that somebody must be the sole authority, why shouldn't I be the authority for me rather than punting to someone else (the pope) to make ultimate decisions about my fate? That's part of growing up. To be an adult is to make decisions about yourself for yourself. You may mess up, but then, delegating the tough calls to someone else is no guarantee that they won't mess up your life on your behalf. 

vi) By what authority did Brant conclude that the pope was his ultimate authority source? How can the pope be his sole authority if it's up to Brant to determine whether the pope has that authority? 

vii) Does sola Scriptura generate 33,000 Christian denominations? Even his fellow apologist Trent Horn rejects that claim:

First, this citation from the World Christian Encyclopedia is misleading (even though many Catholics are fond of citing it). For example it counts the same religious group existing in different countries as belonging to different denominations and even cites liturgical rites within the Catholic Church as being completely different denominations, which is false. 

viii) Anyway, from a Protestant perspective, the church of Rome is just one more denomination. It takes its place among the "33,000" denominations. 

Moving on to his outlines:

Common Misconceptions
1. The Bible did not fall from heaven, but was written by many different men.
2. The Bible is not simply a single book, but a sacred library of many books.
3. The Bible was not written all at once, but over many centuries (1500 B.C.-100 A.D.)
4. The Bible was not written originally in English, but in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek
5. Translations of the Bible: from Original Languages; not one language to another!
6. The Bible is the end result of a long process: 1500 yrs (to write); another 300 years (to close Canon)

Those are common misconceptions? Common for whom? Evangelical pastors? Evangelical laymen? Or lay Catholics? Since Roman Catholics are Pitre's constituency, that's presumably the first group he has in mind. If he's referring to lay Catholics, then they are abysmally uninformed about the Bible. 

c. The Bible did not fall from heaven

What intelligent Protestant thinks the Bible fell from heaven? Is that just rhetorical? Who does Pitre imagine he's opposing? 

no inspired “table of contents”

Been there, done that:

d. How do you know which books belong in the Bible? (DSS? ‘Lost’ Gospels?)

Regarding the ‘Lost’ Gospels, the fact that the putative authors were long dead before the apocryphal Gospels were written knocks them out of the running. That automatically makes them forgeries. 

e. E.g., How do you know Revelation is the word of God? (Bible doesn’t tell you) 

He can't be serious. The Apocalypse repeatedly indicates its status as prophetic scripture. 

4. The Question of Inspiration: how we know which books are the Word of God
a. Where did the Bible itself come from?

That's canvassed in standard evangelical treatments of the canon.

b. Who decided which books were inspired, and which were not?

Christians inherited the Bible from Jesus and the apostles. 

c. By what authority did they make this decision?

By what authority did Pitre decide that the pope is the decision-maker? 

d. What about the “Dead Sea Scrolls” and “lost Gospels”? Are they inspired too?

4. Contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls
a. Copies of Hebrew Scriptures (VanderKam, Dead Sea Scrolls Today, 30)
b. Writings of the Jewish sect of the Essenes
c. Copies of Jewish Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (cf. Charlesworth, OTP)
8. Implications:
a. Essenes had a Broader Canon than later Pharisees (Jacob Neusner) 

How does it follow that they had a broader canon just because they had a range of writings in their library? I have lots of books besides the Bible. That doesn't mean I have a broader canon. His argument proves too much since the DDS include writings excluded from the Catholic canon. 

Five Key Problems with Sola Scriptura
1. Sola Scriptura is unhistorical.
a. Church precedes the Bible: 

The word of God precedes the church. Indeed, according to Gen 1, the word of God precedes creation. 

But there's a reason God committed his Word to writing. We're not living in the 1C anymore. There are no living witnesses to Jesus.  

Earliest Christians did not practice Sola Scriptura.
b. Problem: if so, they would have had to exclude the New Testament!

Does he even understand the position he presumes to critique? Protestants don't claim that sola Scriptura was operative during times of living revelation. 

c. No-one Church Father ever taught it before the Protestant Reformation.

I'm not accountable to the church fathers. I'm accountable to God.  

2. Sola Scriptura is illogical.
a. Luther and Reformers upheld infallibility of the Bible but denied infallibility of the Church.
b. Problem: If the Bible is infallible, then the Church who canonized it must also be infallible.
c. Otherwise, you are left with a fallible collection of infallible books.
d. This is logically impossible.

i) How is a fallible collection of infallible books logically impossible? To take a comparison, is it logically impossible to have fallible copies of infallible books? Is it logically impossible to have fallible Greek MSS of the NT?

ii) Suppose we have a collection that's fallible but correct? So long as the Protestant canon is correct, why does it have to be infallible? Even if the Protestant canon might have been off, yet if, as a matter of fact, they didn't get it wrong, why isn't that good enough? Suppose the Protestant canon is coincidentally right. So long as they got it right, who cares whether the result is fallible or not? 

3. Sola Scriptura is unnecessary.
a. Unnecessary Dichotomy: It pits the Church against the Bible.
b. But it is the Church that gave us the Bible.

Actually, it's Jewish and Christian scribes who gave us the Bible. 

c. Not either the Church or the Bible, but both the Church and the Bible.
d. Bible cannot be used against the Church who gave it to us.

Suppose, for argument's sake, that "the Church" gave us the Bible. Over time, institutions can change for the worse. The fact that an institution may have been trustworthy at one time carries no presumption that it remains trustworthy for all time. Consider universities like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. They started out well but lost their vision. The torch passes to someone else. 

4. Sola Scriptura leads to division within the Church.

The papacy leads to division within the church. Ecumenical councils lead to division within the church. 

a. Historical Fact: now over 30,000 Christian denominations!
b. All of them claim to use the “Bible alone” as source of doctrine.

And there were multiple sects in 1C Judaism, even though some of them supplemented Scripture with tradition. Tradition doesn't create unity, for every sect or denomination may create its own traditions. 

c. Christ prayed that his Church might be “one flock, with one shepherd” (John 10, 17)

We have one shepherd (Jesus), and we are his sheep. All (true) Christians belong to the same flock in virtue of being his sheep. 

5. Sola Scriptura is self-contradictory because it is unbiblical.

Something can be unbiblical without being self-contradictory. (Not that sola Scriptura is unbiblical, but his statement is a non sequitur.)  

a. Says we should only believe what the Bible teaches.

That's a caricature of sola Scriptura. 

b. But the Bible itself never teaches Sola Scriptura! (Not one single passage.)

Depends on how you formulate the claim. For instance:

i) Believe and obey divine revelation

ii) Don't elevate non-revelation to the status of divine revelation

iii) Disregard whatever is contrary to divine revelation

Scriptures teaches these propositions. That's sola Scriptura in a nutshell.

c. In fact, the Bible frequently refers to the authority of the Church and Tradition

i) Where does the Bible frequently refer to the authority of the church?

ii) "Tradition" is a loaded word. 

1 comment:

  1. It seems to me that whenever scripture grants authority to the church, Rome defines that authority rather than allowing scripture to define what that authority entails.

    She grants herself carte blanche.

    Its the old story of Prince John in Robin Hood!