Friday, June 08, 2007

Debate: Sola Scriptura - Part 2

My new responses are in blue. Russell's words are in black and he quotes me in red.

I want to thank you for responding to my comments. Although I will disagree with you on some things, I look forward to friendly dialogue with you. Again, I appreciate the chance to clarify some misunderstandings that Catholics have with Sola Scriptura, Bible interpretation, etc.

You had said:

"But, it doesn't make sense to have an infallible book without an infallible authority to interpret it."

OK, let's follow through on that logic. So what happens when you receive an infallible interpretation by the Catholic Church? You, being fallible, still have to interpret that infallible data. You see, at SOME point, the fallible has to be able to interpret that which is infallible. Otherwise, it is an infinite regress: "A" is infallible, and therefore needs to be interpreted by infallible "B". But since "B" is also infallible, we (again) need to use an infallible source to interpret "B", so we must press into service infallible "C", etc., etc.

Not necessarily. The main point I was making here is that, if we allow each individual to interpret Scripture on our own, what we have is a mess of people interpreting everything very differently. We all go around interpreting Scripture on our own authority, claiming our interpretation is better than the next guy's. Did God truly leave us with no authority to interpret Scripture? Are we all just supposed to figure it out ourselves? Is truth relative, based on our interpretation and our experience?

Take for example our own Constitution and law. What would happen if each individual were free to interpret the Constitution as he saw fit? What would happen if there were no hierarchy in place, with checks and balances, to ensure that the Constitution was properly interpreted so that we all maintained our proper rights and freedoms? We both know that without the established government, our society would be a chaotic mess.

Scripture tells us that we need an authority to help us understand what is meant in Scripture. Take, for example, the Ethiopian eunuch.

Acts 8:26-31 (NIV)
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it." Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

Notice here that the eunuch was an educated man. He was an important official in charge of the treasury of a queen. Despite his education, he could not understand what he was reading without someone to explain it to him.

Then, look at 2 Peter 3:15-16:

Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Scripture tells us that Paul's letters contain things hard to understand. I don't think it's prudent to think that we, as individuals, are not ignorant of Scripture in at least some way. And I also think that ignorance of Scripture is quite apparent due to the many, many different interpretations which everyone claims to be the "correct" one. How do we know what interpretation is correct and which is a distortion?

You said:

"If the Bible is infallible, but there's no infallible authority, how do we know which interpretation is accurate?"

Amber, one does not have to be infallible to be accurate.

Catholics often present this false dichotomy: Either, 1) an interpretation is infallible, or 2) it must be wrong. The middle ground seems to be ignored.

I've never heard a Catholic present this... but there is some truth to this. I don't think you're seeing this the right way. When we read Scripture there is only one truth. You can't apply different or opposing truths to one passage. So, either something is interpreted correctly or it is wrong. But, in some way you're right... not everything has to be interpreted "infallibly" to be correct... and the Catholic Church makes no such claim. But, if fallible interpretations were correct, we wouldn't have churches all teaching something different. Truth is not relative.

It is certainly possible for a person to read a particular Bible passage and get it right without the help of the Catholic Church (or any denomination). I'm not saying that all Scripture is equally clear to everyone, but the main things are clear enough for us to understand, and to use as a foundation upon which the "harder" things can be understood. And we have examples in the Bible where the COMMON people were able (and expected) to understand Scripture (Acts 17:11-12; Luke 16:27-29; Mark 13:14). Remember Jesus' words, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." (Mark 4:9)

I don't entirely disagree with this... Catholics are encouraged to read the Bible and to apply new understandings to Scripture based on our walk with God. But, what about passages that are difficult to understand, such as what the Ethiopian eunuch encountered and what Paul writes (as quoted above)? What about aspects of Scripture that deal with doctrine? Where doctrine is concerned, there is only one truth. Christians are not to be divided over doctrine and are to be in unity with one another. We do not find this in Christianity today. Doctrines differ from one church to the next, so how are we to KNOW which church has it right and which does not?

We can know if an interpretation is correct by first looking at the immediate context, then the overall context (i.e., how it fits in with all of Scripture), and by using good old common sense. These, along with a prayerful and humble attitude, and an honest and good heart (Luke 8:15) will go a long way in correct interpretation of Scripture.

If it were really this simple, why do Protestants even go to seminary to study Scripture? I agree this might be a good rule for trying to understand Scripture. But if you do this while ignoring other factors surrounding what is written, like history, culture, and early understandings of these passages, it is not always clear what is to be believed and practiced. While some Scripture may be simple to understand, some simply is not in and of itself. As an example, I've encountered MANY Protestants who accept Romans 3:28 and ignore (or grossly twist) James 2:24. They don't try to understand them TOGETHER in their overall context because it doesn't fit in with their doctrine of sola fide. Catholic theology allows for both passages to be taken into account for an overall understanding, while Protestant theology does not. If this is how the Bible is supposed to be understood, then why don't more Protestants put this into practice?

You said:

"Also, there is nothing that does NOT suggest infallibility but we do know that we were promised that the Holy Spirit would guide us into ALL truth."

Yes, we were promised that the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth. But that does not imply infallibility. This simply means that God will give us all the truth we need to live for Him. That says nothing of church leaders possessing some special immunity from error in official (ex-cathedra) statements. No person (or group) has ALL the truth in an absolute sense.

Is the Holy Spirit not infallible? If it is true that no person or group has ALL the truth, then what is the point of being a Christian at all? Are you saying that God gave us a faith in which we cannot know ALL the truth? Pardon me, but this is simply nonsense. (More about the authority of church/leadership below)

Matthew 16:18-19 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

Would Jesus establish a Church with the keys to the kingdom of heaven and the authority to bind and loose without some measure of infallibility? If the gates of hell are not going to prevail against it, it seems to me that some sort of protection or immunity from teaching error would be in place to ensure that false doctrines did not sneak into the Church. This is a pretty strong case for something infallible outside of Scripture...

I had said in my last e-mail that the church is to hold up, support, preach and proclaim the truth, and that truth is Scripture. And you responded:

"Can you tell me where in the Bible this passage says that this truth is Scripture? How do you know that this "truth" is Scripture?"

Amber, what is it that we are supposed to preach? Jesus said to the Father, "Thy Word is truth." (John 17:17) What else is there which is available to us today that is inspired / God-breathed, but Scripture (II Timothy 3:16-17)?

Interesting... so the passage SHOULD have said, " should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of Scripture." I see no indication at all that this passage should be interpreted this way and I believe it's a stretch to do so. By what authority are you able to say that this is the correct interpretation of this Scripture... that truth = Scripture? I'm much more apt to accept that truth=God's Word... but I don't believe God's word is limited to the Bible alone.

By your definition, the word "Scripture" should replace the word truth.

John 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (He is the way and the Scriptures and the life?)

John 8:31-32 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (The Scriptures will set us free?)

John 18:37 "You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." (He came to testify to the Scriptures?)

These passages do not make sense interpreted this way. Wouldn't you agree?

But, let's just say for a moment that Scripture IS the meaning applied to 1 Timothy 3:15. It does not negate the fact that the church is the upholder and defense of "scripture". The church! And it again brings me to say, which church? If they all teach something different and they all claim to have the correct interpretation, how do I know what is true and what is not? If I want to know whether or not we should baptize babies, an issue that Scripture does not address explicitly, how do I find out when no one can agree? Where can I look in order to find an answer?

You also said:

"And let's not forget that the entire canon was not decided at the time this was written. So, by your definition, we can only assume that the OT is that truth."

The fact that the canon was not yet fully developed does not negate the fact the the New Testament is certainly also part of God's inspired revelation for the church.

Indeed... but it has to be understood in light of the passage we're talking about that it was only the OT they would be referring to, since the NT did not exist as it does today. They may not have even anticipated any Scripture in the future at that time. The point being, applying the word Scripture in place of "truth" does not make for a logical interpretation.

You said:

I also think it's important to remember that there was no Bible until the late 4th century and that, without Tradition, you wouldn't have a Bible. How would you know that Mark wrote Mark, if not for Tradition? How would you know which books should be considered inspired and which should not, if not for Tradition?

For Catholics, Tradition is essential for understanding Scripture and vice versa. We believe that the entire Word of God is the sole rule of faith. This includes, but is not limited to Scripture alone.

John 21:25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

What the Catholic Church calls "Tradition" covers a very wide range of teachings, practices, historical events, interpretations, and doctrinal developments throughout history. Because of this, it is hard to pinpoint exactly what this Tradition is. It is a very loose and vague term that can mean almost anything. To apply infallibility to such an entity is dangerous (I'm assuming that you believe that "Tradition" is an INFALLIBLE part of the Catholic rule of faith - correct me if I am wrong).

This is not and accurate understanding of Tradition. Tradition is the teachings of the apostles which were passed on through their preaching. These teachings overlap and do not contradict Scripture. It is the part of the Word of God, which was not written but which early Christians used to practice their faith (before the Bible came to be). Most of this, however, is found in written form today. There is nothing vague about it when its meaning and purpose are properly understood. It's important to remember that the Bible is a book of the Church and not that we are a church of the Bible. The Gospel was not only handed down in writing, but orally as well. We see evidence of this even in Scripture:

Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (The devoted themselves to the Scriptures?)

1 Corinthians 11:2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. (Hold firmly to the Scriptures?)

2 Thess 2:15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. (Hmmm.... by word of mouth or by letter... both appear to be of importance)

2 Thess 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. (According to the Scriptures?)

2 Tim 2:2 The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (The things written in Scripture?)

1 Cor 15:1-2 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. (Hold fast to the Scriptures?)

These traditions passed on by the apostles are what are know as Tradition and these apostolic teachings are considered infallible, since they were also inspired by the Holy Spirit and protected in order to lead Christians into all truth. It seems quite logical to me to examine Scripture in light of what the earliest Christians believed, practiced and taught since they were receiving these things from the apostles and those who learned from the apostles... I believe that even Scripture makes it clear that we are to stand firm and hold to something outside of Scripture itself.

John 14:16 "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever;

We were promised that the Holy Spirit would be with us forever, to guide the Church into all truth. Am I to believe that the Catholic Church got it wrong for 1500 years only to be corrected by Martin Luther? Then the Holy Spirit didn't do his job and Christ didn't protect his church as promised in Matthew 16:18!

Concerning the canon and how we know which books are inspired, yes, there were some in the early church who correctly recognized (not determined) the inspiration of certain books. And we are thankful for that. But that does not mean that they were infallible.

This causes me to wonder... by what authority were they able to recognize this? How do we know they didn't leave something out? How were they able to come to a decision that allowed them to discern this, especially being fallible? Were they guided by the Holy Spirit or was it by their own authority? Is the Holy Spirit infallible? I very much believe that they were guided by the infallible Holy Spirit, who enabled them to make an infallible recognition of what was inspired and what was not. They were not infallible, in and of themselves... apart from the Holy Spirit... the Holy Spirit led them to an infallible decision. This is what Catholics believe... not that the individual or group, of themselves, is infallible... but that the Holy Spirit guides them to teach infallibly to the Church on matters of faith and morals. There is a huge amount of checks and balances and everything is tested against Scripture and Tradition (what early Christians taught, practiced and believed). It's not as if they can just throw out anything into the wind and claim it to be infallible.

Concerning the verse in John, above, and the fact that we don't have every single thing that Jesus did, written down; that does not disprove Sola Scriptura. This is another common mis-representation that Catholics very often use. Sola Scriptura does not mean that Scripture is an encyclopedia of every religious detail, or of every thing that Jesus or the Father ever spoke. Once again, Sola Scriptura simply means that Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith for the church today.

Doesn't it? Matthew 4:4 says, "But He answered and said, "It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'" If all of God's word is not written down in Scripture, but we are to live on EVERY WORD, then how do we know what EVERY WORD is?

Where does the Bible itself make the claim to be the sole infallible rule of faith for the church today? (Please give Book, Chapter and Verse.) If it is, and God wants us to follow this "rule", then don't you think he would have ensured that the Bible told us this? And why, then, are we told that the early church devoted themselves to the apostles teachings rather than to the Scriptures?

You said:

Can you imagine learning to be a doctor from a book alone without someone showing you what is meant by the book? Without someone in a place of authority, who can define the words and show you what all the tools are or how to use those tools?

I agree that there is teaching authority in the church. But the church derives its authority from those very Scriptures. That's what every church leader should be studying in order for him to grow, and to equip others, as well, so they too, can all go out and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I must disagree here. The Bible came from the church. If you took the Bible and tried to put together a church based solely on what was written, you wouldn't be able to do it. Much of the NT is a collection of letters of correction for the newly forming church. Can you build a church in the full likeness that God would have desired based on letters of correction? Apply this concept elsewhere. Could we build a smooth, fully functioning company if we compiled all the memos of corrective action and a few memos of praise? No way! The Bible did not form the church. The church formed the Bible.

The church derives it's authority from God, not from Scripture... but Scripture makes the Church's authority clear to us.

Matt 28:18-20 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Jesus takes his authority and sends the apostles to make disciples, baptize and teach, saying he would be with them always, to the end of the age... Does this say, "I am with you until all the apostles die?" No, so the apostle's authority (from Christ) clearly had to have been passed on to the end of the age...

John 20:21 So Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you."

And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.

"If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."

Again, we see that Jesus sends them, just as He was sent and even gave them the authority to forgive and retain sins!

Luke 10:16 The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me."

Matthew 18:17-18 "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

"Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

Here, Christ tells us to listen to the church and gives the church the authority to bind and loose... None of these passages tell us that authority comes from Scripture. The authority comes from God himself and is given to the apostles to be passed on, just as it was given to Christ.

In summary, the idea that all Christians should look only to the Bible as the infallible rule of faith, allows for the acceptance of contradictory doctrines and breaks up the unity of the body of Christ. Each church or individual claims to know the truth based on their own, non-authoritative, fallible interpretation of Scripture. Does God want this? Did he really leave us all to figure it out on our own and to disagree on doctrines? Should we ignore what the early Christians believed, practiced and taught and believe that they all got it wrong only be to corrected 1500 years later by looking at the Bible ALONE? The bible is inerrant... the inspired Word of God... but left without anything outside of itself to aid in interpretation leads to division and chaos...

OK, Amber, I'll step aside now and let you respond. Thanks again for the interaction on these vital topics.

I'm sorry I couldn't get back to you sooner but a tragedy in the family has not allowed me a lot of free time. May I recommend a book? It's called By What Authority? by Mark Shea. It's a wonderful examination of this topic. We all want to believe only the truth that God wants us to believe. No Christian I've ever met wants a faith based on partial truth. I don't believe God left us to figure it all out on our own. I believe there is ONE truth and that God wants us to know that truth in all its fullness. Doctrinal truth is no more relative than the truth that Jesus is the Son of God. Doctrine DOES matter. So we must ask ourselves. What is true? Where can I find it? The Bible says it's found in the church... this church must be the one started by the apostles. It must be thinking in one mind and thought about all doctrines and from 2000 years ago to present:

1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.

Phil 1:27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel

May we seek God in ALL truth, even if it means He takes us where we least expect. Always say YES to Jesus... Hold to ALL of Christ's teachings and we shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free!

I appreciate this discussion with you and thank you for your thoughts...

Peace be with you!

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