Monday, February 19, 2024

A Response To Trent Horn's Comments In His Recent Sola Scriptura Debate With James White

In his debate with James White on sola scriptura last week, Trent Horn repeated some sentiments he's expressed before about the alleged lateness of the recognition of the New Testament documents as scripture, their lack of prominence before the time when Irenaeus wrote, etc. I've responded to him on the subject before, in the post here. What I documented there is also relevant to something else Trent said during the debate, when he referred to how Jesus didn't tell anybody to write anything before he ascended to heaven. As my post linked above argues, Jesus' comments on the work of the Holy Spirit in John 14-16 likely anticipate the New Testament. What he said isn't limited to what the apostles would write, but it does include their writings. That's probably why John's comments about his gospel toward the end of the document parallel what Jesus said in those earlier chapters. John seems to have considered his gospel a fulfillment of what Jesus anticipated. Again, see my post linked above for further details. That post also addresses other problems with Trent's view of the New Testament.

I think Trent brought up what Jesus said before the ascension in response to Protestant appeals to what the apostles said and didn't say near the time of their death. Not only did Jesus say a lot about scripture, including in his anticipation of the New Testament in John 14-16, but it's also problematic to cite Jesus as Trent did because doing so fails to address what the apostles said in the relevant contexts, what I've called the departure passages. On the passages involving Paul and Peter, see here. On John, see here. And in Revelation, John is repeatedly told explicitly to write, including by Jesus himself (1:11, etc.). As I explain in my posts linked above, it's unlikely to just be a coincidence that there's so much emphasis on scripture in these contexts, whereas nothing is said about looking to the bishop of Rome for guidance, future infallible ecumenical councils, etc.

Regarding the appeal to an ongoing infallible magisterium, often associated with Acts 15, see here. There's no reason to think later councils in which the apostles didn't participate would be infallible. The apostolic council in Acts 15 can't be equated with non-apostolic councils.

Trent kept bringing up the fact that extrabiblical individuals and documents are sometimes referred to as inspired in the early church. We, including Protestants, do the same today. But we distinguish between types of inspiration. We don't think that an individual who was inspired to make a wise decision or a song we consider inspired, for example, is part of public special revelation. The early Christians sometimes referred to inspiration outside of scripture, but they also referred to scripture as if it's more authoritative than later writings, acknowledged that public special revelation ceased with the death of the apostles, etc. The involvement of some type of inspiration is only one of the factors, not the only one, that we take into account when evaluating documents and other sources. We have far more than inspiration to go by in judging what is and isn't scripture and what characteristics scripture has (what scripture says about itself, what Jesus said about scripture, etc.).

Since canonical issues came up in the debate, see my series on the canon of scripture here. As I explain in that series, Evangelicals have good historical reason, including evidence in scripture, to think that public special revelation ceased with the death of the apostles and that the 66-book canon typically accepted among Evangelicals is an implication of apostolic teaching. Trent suggested that the 27-book New Testament canon commonly accepted today didn't arise until the fourth century, citing the councils of Hippo and Carthage in the process. See my argument here that the New Testament canon first appears more than a century earlier and is found in multiple sources before the regional councils cited by Trent.

He asked when sola scriptura should have gone into effect if it wasn't supposed to be followed during the time of the apostles. The same question can be asked of alternatives to sola scriptura, including Trent's. How long would people's memories of Jesus' oral teaching be reliable? At what point would individuals' memories of oral apostolic teaching cease to be reliable, so that we'd have to only go by what scripture and the church teach (under a system like Trent's)? When Trent is trying to determine what to believe about a historical source, such as Josephus or Augustine, how does he know where to draw the line concerning when oral tradition about those individuals ceased to be reliable, which sources commenting on those individuals to trust and which not to trust, etc.? It's not as though questions like these are relevant only to Protestants. And I don't have to know much about when sola scriptura should have first been followed in order to know that it's unlikely that there are any reliable oral traditions circulating today, nearly two thousand years after the apostles, that it's unlikely that such traditions were reliable at certain points before my lifetime, etc. The appropriateness of following sola scriptura would vary from one individual or group to another, depending on the circumstances involved (e.g., somebody like Polycarp had memories of the oral teaching of the apostles, whereas other people didn't). Trent asked for an example of somebody adhering to sola scriptura in the ante-Nicene era. I discuss the example of Dionysius of Alexandria here.

It needs to be kept in mind that there's far more at stake for people like Roman Catholics than there is for Protestants in the controversy over sola scriptura. If we were to reject sola scriptura, we'd still be a long way from Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. See the problems with both of those groups discussed here that would remain problems with or without sola scriptura. A Protestant view of Christianity could be much closer to the truth than alternatives like Catholicism and Orthodoxy even if sola scriptura were incorrect.


  1. Many scholars point out that the Gospel of Matthew portrays Jesus as the New Moses. F.F. Bruce wrote in chapter 4 of his classic book, "The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable?" regarding the Gospel of Matthew:

    QUOTE: The sayings of Jesus are arranged so as to form five great discourses, dealing respectively with (a) the law of the kingdom of God (chapters v to vii), (b) the preaching of the kingdom (x. 5-42), (c) the growth of the kingdom (xiii. 3-52), (d) the fellowship of the kingdom (chapter xviii), and (e) the consummation of the kingdom (chapter xxivxxv). The narrative of the ministry of Jesus is so arranged that each section leads on naturally to the discourse which follows it. The whole is prefaced by a prologue describing the nativity of the King (chapters iii) and concluded by an epilogue relating the passion and triumph of the King (chapters xxvi-xxviii).

    The fivefold structure of this Gospel is probably modelled on the fivefold structure of the Old Testament law; it is presented as the Christian Torah (which means 'direction or 'instruction' rather than 'law' in the more restricted sense). The Evangelist is also at pains to show how the story of Jesus represents the fulfilment of the Old Testament Scriptures, and in places he even implies that the experiences of Jesus recapitulate the experiences of the people of Israel in Old Testament times. [bold by me-AP]

    This might imply that the author of Matthew believed his gospel to be Scripture, or one day would possibly be considered as Scripture.

    In the Great Commission of Matthew 28, Jesus' statement about "teaching them to obey all things I [Jesus] commanded you" and that He would be with the church always (v. 20) parallels what Yahweh said to Joshua about meditating on and obeying the BOOK OF THE LAW and how He would be with and never leave Joshua (Josh. 1:8-9). Just as Yahweh told this to Joshua and all Israel as they were about to enter INWARD and conquer the Promised Land; so Jesus [Yahweh incarnate] commissioned the church in a similar way as they were about to start with Jerusalem and ever increasingly expand OUTWARD "in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8) to conquer [i.e. convert] the whole world [suggesting postmillennialism].

    As I said in my comments HERE:

    //It's interesting that the last chapter of the last book of the Torah [i.e. Deuteronomy 34] ends with Moses on mount Nebo surveying the Promised Land and then dying. With Joshua ready to succeed and conquer the Promised Land. Matthew ends with Jesus (the anti-type of both Moses the Lawgiver [cf. the Sermon on the Mount] and Joshua who shares the same name) who died (like Moses) but rose again standing on a mountain in Galilee to give His last instructions.//

    If these parallels are real, then it stands to reason that just as the Old Covenant had its Scriptures, so the New Covenant would also have a collections of writings that would be its Scriptures. As Israel would have the book of the Law to conquer inward, so the Church [Remnant Israel] would also additionally have the Book of the Gospel to conquer outward.

    If Jesus is the one prophesied to be a prophet like unto Moses [cf. Deut. 18:15], then one would expect this New Moses to be a Law Giver and Scripture Giver too [through His apostles and their close colleagues].

  2. Catholic apologists make the establishment of a canon an issue is due to the RC premise that their One True Church (RC or EO, or other cults) is the sure supreme sufficient standard for Truth, with the express Word of God only consisting of and authoritatively meaning what she says.

    Under which premise she asserts just that,

    "The “believer cannot believe in the Bible nor find in it the object of his faith until he has previously made an act of faith in the intermediary authorities..." (Catholic Encyclopedia>Tradition and Living Magisterium) "People cannot discover the contents of revelation…They have to be told by people who have received in from on high."(Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, "Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith, p. 72)

    Thus, to avoid circularity, in RC theology, she states, "when we appeal to the Scriptures for proof of the Church's infallible authority we appeal to them merely as reliable historical sources... - Catholic Encyclopedia>Infallibility"

    Meaning that it is presumed that one cannot discern what Scripture consists of, but such can discern that the church of Rome (or the EO) is of God, and thereby know what God's word consists of. Which as in the case of the Assumption, can mean whatever developed much later.

    Thus, the real issue behind the establishment of the canon is just what is the sure, supreme sufficient standard of Truth in faith and morals.

    And which is clearly Scripture, for long before there was a church, as a body of authoritative wholly inspired writings had been manifestly established by the time of Christ, as being "Scripture, (Christ Himself referred to, "all the Scriptures")

    And which body provided the epistemological prophetic and doctrinal foundation for the NT, which established its Truth claims upon Scriptural substantiation in word and in power, (Mt. 22:23-45; Lk. 24:27, 44; Jn. 5:36, 39; Acts 2:14-35; 4:33; 5:12; 15:6-21;17:2,11; 18:28; 28:23; Rm. 15:19; 2Cor. 12:12, etc.) even the tripartite canon of the Law, the Prophets and The Writings, by which the Lord Jesus established His messiahship and ministry and opened the minds of the disciples to. (Luke 24:27.44,45)

    For God manifestly made writing His most-reliable means of authoritative preservation. (Exodus 17:14; 34:1,27; Deuteronomy 10:4; 17:18; 27:3,8; 31:24; Joshua 1:8; 2 Chronicles 34:15, 18-19, 30-31; Psalm 19:7-11; 119; Isaiah 30:8; Jeremiah 30:2; Matthew 4:5-7; 22:29; Luke 24:44, 45; John 5:46, 47; John 20:31; Acts 17:2, 11; 18:28; Revelation 1:1; 20:12, 15;

    And thus as abundantly evidenced , as written, Scripture became the transcendent supreme standard for obedience and testing and establishing truth claims as the wholly Divinely inspired and assured, Word of God. Thus the veracity of even apostolic oral preaching could be subject to testing by Scripture, (Acts 17:11) and not vice versa.

    Moreover, contrary to Catholic pretensions of oral apostolic oral tradition, while men such as the apostles who could speak as well as write as wholly inspired-of-God, Catholic theology does not consider that popes and Catholic ecumenical councils do so in declaring oral tradition to be the Deposit of faith/the word of God.

    And distinctive Catholic teachings are not manifest in the only wholly God-inspired, substantive, authoritative record of what the NT church believed ( (which is Scripture, in particular Acts through Revelation, which best shows how the NT church understood the gospels)

  3. Pt. 2: As expressed, the basic issue here is one of authority.

    The premise in Catholicism is that it is the sure, supreme, sufficient authority on Divine Truth, with Manning stating the RC presumption quite brashly in asserting:

    " I may say in strict truth that the Church has no antiquity. It rests upon its own supernatural and perpetual consciousness. Its past is present with it, for both are one to a mind which is immutable. Primitive and modern are predicates, not of truth, but of ourselves.... " "The only Divine evidence to us of what was primitive is the witness and voice of the Church at this hour." — Dr. Henry Edward Cardinal Manning, “The Temporal Mission of the Holy Ghost: Or Reason and Revelation, pp. 227-228)

    However, the question should be asked, "how were men and writings established as being of God before there arose a church which presumed that she was essential for souls to assuredly know what is of God, and exclude those which she decrees are not.

    For as said before, the latter is indeed the Catholic premise, and thus her apologists illogically argue that since we hold to the Bible (due to her being historical discerners and stewards of the sacred writings) then we must concur with sall the other judgments of Rome.

    However, as stated before, an authoritative body of wholly God-inspired writings had been manifestly established by the time of Christ as being "Scripture," which, as with prophets such as John the baptizer, were established as being of God essentially due to their enduring heavenly qualities and attestation.

    Thus, when the Lord's own authority was challenged by those who sat in the seat of Moses, (Mt. 23:2) then then they were faced with the problem of the people overall recognizing John as being "a prophet indeed." (Mark 11:27-32)

  4. Pt. 3:

    And contrary to the Catholic model, the church actually began in dissent from those who sat in the seat of Moses over Israel, to whom conditional obedience was enjoined, (Mt. 23:2; cf. Dt. 17:8-13) which judgments included which men and writings were of God and which were not, (Mk. 11:27-33) as the historical magisterial head over Israel which was the historical instrument and steward of Scripture, "because that unto them were committed the oracles of God," (Rm. 3:2) to whom pertaineth" the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises" (Rm. 9:4) of Divine guidance, presence and perpetuation as they believed, (Gn. 12:2, 3; 17:4,7,8;Ex. 19:5;Lv. 10:11;Dt. 4:31; 17:8-13;Ps, 11:4,9;Is. 41:10,Ps. 89:33, 34;Jer. 7:23)

    And instead they followed an itinerant Preacher whom the magisterium rejected, and whom the Messiah reproved them Scripture as being supreme, (Mk. 7:2-16) and established His Truth claims upon scriptural substantiation in word and in power, as did the early church as it began upon this basis.

    Yet which does not negate church authority, which is affirmed sola scriptura , as Westminster states, "It belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience;determine the same..." - The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)

    But not as possessing the novel and unscriptural premise of ensured perpetual magisterial veracity (EPMV) of office, under which she asserts she is and will be infallible whenever she speaks in accordance with her infallibly defined (scope and subject-based) formula, which renders her declaration that she is infallible, to be infallible, as well as all else she accordingly declares. And also presumes protection from at least salvific error in non-infallible magisterial teaching on faith and morals.

    Instead, the veracity of a Bible Christian rests upon the degree of Scriptural substantiation in word and in power, which is how the NT church began, though it be but a remnant.