Drinking Deeply

Thursday, May 03, 2007 at 8:47 PM

Responding to avalanche 1

Email I just sent off to some Roman Catholics in response to their original email (which is here)

I finally have started replying.

Ok, I'm going to be linking various sources as well as writing a lot. Let me promise you that I'm not just copy-pasting, but I've actually read each word that the articles I'm linking to includes, as well as tried to confirm the point by other sources. (Though I guess if they're all dependent upon one another, it's just one mass self-deception... haha).

Once again, thank you for this original email. I'm going to try to respond to it now, finally. More to come.

1 Timothy 3 detailed in this post, where I try to answer all your objections and give a positive presentation for the sufficiency of Scripture. What follows is a first attempt at getting caught up and responding to what you've written.


So, we ask, "Are there any indications from Paul's writings that there are these unspoken assumptions as to what Timothy already has when Paul states that scriptures are able to make him complete?" As far as I can see, the answer is a resounding YES! The Pauline epistles are chock full of references to paradosis--usually translated as "tradition"--and other teaching that Paul handed down orally to the individual churches he visited (2 Thes 2:15, 2 Thes 3:6, 1 Cor 11:2, etc.). When he wrote letters, he wasn't repeating everything that he had taught them; he was mostly elaborating on specific points, clarifying disputes, and providing exhortation. If sola scriptura was really the foundation of the Christian faith, then his letters should have been bristling with references to this pivotal doctrine that all essential teachings are one day going to be written down in inspired form, and that his followers should be sure to get their hands on a collection of these writings just as soon as they were compiled. On the contrary, time and again, Paul emphasizes the importance of the unwritten doctrines he had communicated to the churches before writing any of his letters, without giving any indication that all the essentials will one day be written down by an inspired author. When Paul tells Timothy that scripture is able to make him complete, surely it is reasonable to suppose that he is assuming that Timothy already has the apostolic teaching handed on to him by Paul.
Regarding Tradition as you speak of, quoting verses isn't sufficient to demonstrate your point. We both agree that these traditions existed, but what were they? How would you deal with the fact that Paul entrusts these traditions to entire churches, and encourages people to circulate the letters, implying that these traditions were all over the region. What happened to the rest of the churches and their traditions? How did everything get collected at Rome? And I do see Paul telling them to hold fast to the Gospel repeatedly, which is what I would say the NT emphasizes.

The Canon
As Charlie and I reiterated on numerous occasions, a belief in sola scriptura presupposes that the corpus of scripture is known for sure. By the definition of sola scriptura, that corpus could only be known for sure if it is attested to in scripture. But scripture nowhere says what documents comprise scripture. Therefore, you need some outside source to tell you which books are in the Bible. Since an essential element of faith and morals is coming from an outside source, sola scriptura isn't true.
Now, given this was a few weeks back, and if you'd like to clarify this a little bit in light of what we discussed the previous weeks, you're welcome to, but let me see if I can respond here.

I don't view the canon of Scripture as separate from Scripture itself. Namely, the canon exists because God inspired Scripture. What is Scripture is what God inspired. And I believe Scripture itself is sufficient to give me a sufficient knowledge of that canon, but not necessarily an infallible one. My knowledge can grow and mature over time, just like my knowledge of the doctrine of God grows and matures over time.

For example, I now believe that the longer ending to Mark is what Mark originally wrote and God-inspired, though previously I was dubious about it. Similarly for other textual variants, as better research and older sources are unearthed, my knowledge of what is God-inspired increases. It doesn't mean that the canon changes, but simply my incomplete knowledge of it becomes more complete. And it's certainly possible for my knowledge to be wrong here, but I can have a sufficient knowledge of the canon, just like those who lived in the days of Jesus had a sufficient (but not infallible) knowledge of what was God inspired. Jesus holds them accountable to this repeatedly, "is it not written?" I think God now today holds you and me accountable in the same way. We have a sufficient knowledge of Scripture, sufficient enough to condemn us should we disobey. We don't have an infallible one, just like the Jews did not.
Your response was always, "But scripture is self-attesting!" To me, this could mean two things: either every line generates such warm, fuzzy feelings in anyone who reads it with an open mind and an honest heart that there is no doubt (which we both agreed, with all due respect to sacred scripture, is not the case), or scripture says what it is. But we also both agree that the Table of Contents is not a scriptural document. Therefore scripture does NOT say what it is. When we brought up these points, you declared that your position was nonetheless tenable because scripture says that "the Word of God will not fail" or something like that (I'm not sure where it says this, but I'll take your word for it). Even if we take your assumption that "Word of God" refers only to the written Word, I still don't see how this guarantees that the particular Table of Contents in your Bible is the right one. Sure, based on "the Word of God will not fail," it is internally consistent with sola scriptura to say that no scriptural document will ever be irretrievably lost (as countless ancient manuscripts have been), and arguably even internally consistent (if you are a really zealous interpreter) to say that the true canon will continue to exist among a least some group of Christians somewhere in the world at all points in history. However, this is a far cry from saying that scripture self-attests to the canon of your Bible and self-attests against that of mine.
Hmmm, let me try to clarify. I was ambiguous simply because I didn't know the answer sufficiently. Yeah, horray for being challenged. Self-authenticating means that the Bible is the Bible because of it's nature of being God-breathed. I cannot place my ultimate trust on what is canon and what is not upon a council, because that would be taking man's word over God's Word. (ahaha). That said, I do see God's promises to preserve His Word through His people. His sheep hear His voice and accept it as the voice of God and not of man. Well, as I see the remnant preserved through the Reformers, I thus accept their testimony against yours =p. Thus we have to settle this on a theological ground, through I do have some more points to make for now.
Your basic assumption here seems to be that, until Rome muddied the waters by adding the deuterocanonical Apocrypha to its canon in the 1500s, all Christians from the time of the apostles had used one and the same canon. Only if this is true could you, with a strained overextension of "the Word of God will not fail," argue that the scripture "self-attests" to its contents by implicitly guaranteeing the universal integrity of its canon throughout history.
(snip brief history of the canon)

Regarding the apocrypha, it's an issue I'm willing to discuss, but I think our discussions would be better served moving on. I will make a few points, which you're welcome to respond to, but I'll move on.

The apocrypha are never quoted, and you point out that other books are never quoted either, but that isn't the same. The other books are already clearly accepted (except by the Sadducees, but Jesus clearly quotes the rest of Scripture so their position isn't in contention). The apocrypha is what was in contention. And though there are books that are more or less apocryphal in some senses (some books are now accepted by the Greek Church but not the Roman one, correct?), they seem to stand or fall as in groups.

Regarding internal testimony, Jesus speaks of the death of the righteous (Luke 11:51), from Cain to Zechariah, while Zechariah isn't the latest man of God to be killed timewise, but is the last person to be killed if we look at it from the perspective of the Jewish canon, which has 2 Chronicles last.

I don't see what is wrong with accepting God's providential ordination of the Jews who accepted the Protestant canon for their OT. If they had accepted some of the apocrypha I think the Protestant canon would be different.

And two contradictions have been pointed out repeatedly, I'd like to hear what you think of them: From this site.

What is more, these books have historical errors. It is claimed that Tobit was alive when the Assyrians conquered Israel in 722 B.C. and also when Jeroboam revolted against Judah in 931 B.C., which would make him at least 209 years old; yet according to the account, he died when he was only 158 years. The Book of Judith speaks of Nebuchadnezzar reigning in Nineveh instead of Babylon. [Judith 1:5, I can't find a reference to the Tobit case]

Finally, Protestants reject apocrypha for the contradictions in theology (as we see it) to the NT, prayers to the dead most specifically in 2 Macabees 12:43, and justification by works in Tobias 4:11, 12:9 . You're probably more familiar with these things than I am. That's a theological issue though, so will have to come later.

You say -
The Jewish custom had some effect on eastern Christians writers, many of whom either accepted this official Pharisaic canon or else some combination of the Pharisaic canon and what is now the Catholic canon. Most of the western Christian writers continued using the same Septuagint canon as always. The first recorded time that a group of bishops met to discuss the question of the canon was in Hippo in 393 AD, followed a short time later by the Council of Carthage in 397 AD. Both times, the North African bishops declared canonical the current Catholic list. In 405, Pope Innocent I privately affirmed this decision in a letter to another bishop.
From what I understand, the Council of Hippo and Carthage have different lists than the council of Trent

William Webster writes:
Those councils actually contradict the Council of Trent on an important point. Firstly, Hippo and Carthage state that 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras are canonical. They are referring here to the Septuagint version of 1 and 2 Esdras. In this version 1 Esdras is the Apocryphal additions to Ezra while 2 Esdras is the Jewish verion of Ezra-Nehemiah from the Jewish canon. The Council of Trent however states that 1 Esdras is actually Ezra from the Jewish canon and 2 Esdras is Nehemiah from the Jewish canon. Trent omits the Septuagint version of 1 Esdras. Secondly, Hippo and Carthage state that Solomon wrote 5 books of the Old Testament when in actuality he wrote only 3.
Certainly you would say they don't contradict, but whatever the case, it seems clear that they don't agree with Trent at least.

Finally, quotations from early church fathers that demonstrate they believed in Sola Scriptura. Emphasis and brief explanation added.

Cyril of Jerusalem -
This seal have thou ever on thy mind; which now by way of summary has been touched on in its heads, and if the Lord grant, shall hereafter be set forth according to our power, with Scripture-proofs. For concerning the divine and sacred Mysteries of the Faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures: nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe me because I tell thee these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures.
(A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1845), The Catechetical Lectures of S. Cyril 4.17).

Cyril emphasizes that his own words carry no authority unless proven by the Holy Scriptures. If an extra scriptural tradition existed as you claim, he would be dead wrong, as there were doctrines that could be proven from Tradition but not necessarily Scripture.

But take thou and hold that faith only as a learner and in profession, which is by the Church delivered to thee, and is established from all Scripture. For since all cannot read the Scripture, but some as being unlearned, others by business, are hindered from the knowledge of them; in order that the soul may not perish for lack of instruction, in the Articles which are few we comprehend the whole doctrine of Faith...And for the present, commit to memory the Faith, merely listening to the words; and expect at the fitting season the proof of each of its parts from the Divine Scriptures. For the Articles of the Faith were not composed at the good pleasure of men: but the most important points chosen from all Scriptures, make up the one teaching of the Faith. And, as the mustard seed in a little grain contains many branches, thus also this Faith, in a few words, hath enfolded in its bosom the whole knowledge of godliness contained both in the Old and New Testaments. Behold, therefore, brethren and hold the traditions which ye now receive, and write them on the table of your hearts (Ibid., Lecture 5.12).
Notice here, he points out that "the whole knowledge of godliness" are proven from the Scriptures, and he also speaks of holding to "traditions," which clearly demonstrate that these traditions is exactly the whole of the Bible, taught by word of mouth to these people. He makes clear that this faith is taught as tradition and is proven from Scripture.

I would say that this meaning of tradition is what many references to tradition are referring to.

Gregory of Nyssa:
The generality of men still fluctuate in their opinions about this, which are as erroneous as they are numerous. As for ourselves, if the Gentile philosophy, which deals methodically with all these points, were really adequate for a demonstration, it would certainly be superfluous to add a discussion on the soul to those speculations, but while the latter proceeded, on the subject of the soul, as far in the direction of supposed consequences as the thinker pleased, we are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet (dogma); we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings. (Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Peabody: Hendrikson, 1995), Second Series: Volume V, Philosophical Works, On the Soul And the Resurrection, p. 439).
What is the rule for every dogma? The Holy Scriptures. And they alone.

Basil the Great, the bishop of Caesarea from 370 to 379 A.D.
Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right (Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Peabody: Hendrikson, 1995), Second Series: Volume VIII, Basil: Letters and Select Works, Letter CCLXXXIII, p. 312)
Scripture is said to be sufficient, no need of Basil's assistance even.

From Sola Scriptura! ch. 2 by James White "Sola Scriptura and the Early Church"

Basil of Caesarea -
Their complaint is that their custom does not accept this, and that Scripture does not agree. What is my reply? I do not consider it fair that the custom which obtains among them should be regarded as a law and rule of orthodoxy. If custom is to be taken in proof of what is right, then it is certainly competent for me to put forward on my side the custom which obtains here. If they reject this, we are clearly not bound to follow them. Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. (Schaff and Wace, A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Sereies II (Grand Rapids.: Eerdmans, 1980) VII:23)
Tradition or church is not what decides, but Scripture.

Augustine -
What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostle? For holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare to be wiser than we ought... Therefore, I should not teach you anything else except to expound to you the words of the Teacher. (Augustine, De bono viduitatis)
Scripture fixes doctrine.
Whatever they may adduce, and wherever they may quote from, let us rather, if we are His sheep, hear the voice of our Shepherd. Therefore let us search for the church in the sacred canonical Scriptures. (Augustine, De unitate ecclesiae, 3)
The voice of Jesus is said to be contained in the Scriptures.
If anyone preaches either concerning Christ or concerning His church or concerning any other matter which pertains to our faith and life; I will not say, if we, but what Paul adds, if an angel from heaven should preach to you anything besides what you have received in the Scriptures of the Law and the Gospels, let him be anathema (Augustine, Contra litteras Petiliani, Bk 3, ch. 6. Migne (PL 43:351)
Anything outside of Scripture, anathema.

For indeed the holy and God-breathed Scriptures are self-sufficient for the preaching of the truth (Athanasius: Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione) [Mickey: I can translate the Greek supplied!]
No comment necessary.
But since holy Scripture is of all things most sufficient for us, therefore recommending to those who desire to know more of these matters, to read the Divine word, I now hasten to set before you that which most claims attention, and for the sake of which principally I have written these things (Athanasius, Ad Episcopos AEgyptiae)
Let this, then, Christ-loving man, be our offering to you, just for a rudimentary sketch and outline, in a short compass, of the faith of Christ and of His Divine appearing usward. But you, taking occasion by this, if you light upon the text of the Scriptures, by genuinely applying your mind to them, will learn from them more completely and clearly the exact detail of what we have said. For they were spoken and written by God, through men who spoke for God. (Athanasius, De Incarnatione Verbi Dei)
These three all demonstrate clearly that he believed in the sufficiency of Scripture for teaching and all things.

In response to the Arians -
Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith's sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrines so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in the divine Scripture. (Athanasius, De Synodis, 6)
No comment necessary.

Yike, this is long. Sorry. But you guys started it! =D haha. Another avalanche to come.


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Blogger ts said...

Some comments about canon and tradition: By the time Eusebius writes his "History of the Church" around 320ad, the canon is more or less closed, with only a few books in question, including Revelation, Jude, and 2 Peter. (He also gives the criteria that the Christians have used for canonicity for hundreds of years previous.) This canon was not decided upon by some conference of bishops or the church in Rome, but by the apostolic churches over the first few centuries. The canon was necessary so that Christians would know which scriptures to give their lives for in case of persecution (when authorities ordered Christian scriptures burned), in response to heretics like Marcion forming their own canons, because the first generation of witnesses was dying off, and because false gospels were being introduced. Catholics like to make it seem like the church councils decided the canons, but in fact the canon was decided long before those official proclamations. Athanasius is the first to give the canon list that we have today, I believe.

For a good history of the Catholic church, I suggest "The Catholic Church: A Short History" by Hans Kung, who is a Catholic theologian and is priest, even though the Vatican rescinded his teaching authority because of his contrarian views on church authority and such.  


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