Posts Tagged ‘Catholicism’

A Nutshell of “Scripture Alone”

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

I’m still going to come back to Romans 9-11, but in the meantime, I have a quick comment on sola Scriptura.

“Scripture Alone”, or sola Scriptura, is the idea that Scripture is the only infallible, absolutely authoritative source of truth that we possess today.  (Or, depending on who’s saying it, you might say, “source of guidance & revelation for the Church”, or some variation.)  Catholics and Eastern Orthodox reject it.  Protestants stand on it.

I’m reading a debate that just started between Rhology, a Reformed Protestant, and David, an Orthodox.  So far the opening statements are up, and I want to comment on David’s.

He says, as Catholics and Orthodox often do,

Sola Scriptura is ultimately self-refuting. If only Scripture is a binding authority on matters of faith, and Scripture nowhere contains the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, then it cannot be true.

David’s missing two things.  The second is very important, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Catholic or Orthodox who seemed to be addressing it.  (Not on the Internet, anyway.)  I completely understand how people miss it, and someone had to point it out to me–but once it’s pointed out, it’s pretty simple.  (And if you’re not Protestant, I would welcome your reply.)

Let’s grant that Scripture nowhere directly teaches, “Scripture is the only infallible authority.”

1.) That doesn’t mean sola Scriptura isn’t true. Sola Scriptura doesn’t mean, “All truth is in Scripture.”  There are many true things that Scripture doesn’t talk about.  Sola Scriptura wouldn’t have to be in the Bible for it to be true.

But David could rightly respond:  “You’re nitpicking.  The point is that sola Scriptura can’t be a binding doctrine for a Protestant, because the Bible doesn’t ever say ‘Scripture alone’.”  So, move on to #2.

2.) I only believe in one infallible authority today.  Not because Scripture says, “The Bible is the only infallible authority.”  But because the Bible only points us to one infallible authority.

Jesus & the apostles didn’t direct us to view “the Church” in general or the Pope or the Roman Catholic Magisterium as infallible authorities; that’s why I don’t accept Catholic & Orthodox claims about themselves.

It’s not that “Scripture is the only infallible authority” has been revealed.  It’s that nothing but Scripture has been revealed as an infallible authority.

—–

That’s it.

Actually, I would also argue that the Bible does say things about the Bible’s sufficiency, which would add support to sola Scriptura.  And David might argue that the Bible does teach us to look to “tradition” as infallible, too–which would prove sola Scriptura wrong.  We have to look at what the Bible says to settle it.  But I think it should be clear that “The Bible doesn’t say ‘Scripture alone,’ so it’s self-refuting!” is missing the point.

No Infallibility for Anyone

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

So, something I’ve been doing during the long gap between my posts has been an occasional comment on other blogs, under the name Jugulum.  One of my exchanges ended up being highlighted by Carrie (a contributor to the blog), who posted excerpts in a separate entry, saying,  “Not that the general discussion points haven’t been covered here and elsewhere many times over, but I thought Jugulum provided a nice clarity to the issue in his comments”.  Thanks, Carrie. :)

The exchange has to do with infallibility in Roman Catholicism.  One of the appeals of Catholicism is the idea of certainty.  If you have to read & interpret the Bible for yourself, how do you know if you’ve got it right? You’re just a fallible private interpreter.  But if you listen to the Church, you have an infallible interpreter to tell you what you should believe.

The major problem is this: Who interprets the interpreter?

When you read the Scriptures, you have to try to figure out what they mean.  You might get it wrong.  And when you listen to the Pope or read the Catechism or read the rulings of councils, then you also have to try to figure out what they mean, and you might get it wrong.  Either you’re reading the infallible Scriptures, or you’re reading (allegedly) infallible proclamations of the Church–and you have to interpret both.  Because you’re fallible, your theology will always be fallible–even if you were sitting at the feet of Christ during his ministry on earth, you could still misunderstand.

  • Note: This argument doesn’t tell us whether or not God actually did give us the Catholic teaching Magisterium to be our guide.  It just means that your theology will always be fallible, regardless of who’s right about sola Scriptura.  This common Catholic argument ends up being an (unintentional) shell game.
  • However, the Catholic system does offer something that would be nice, if it were really from God.  Even though we can’t become infallible, it would be nice to have an infallible interpreter.  Wouldn’t it be great to be able to ask Paul what he meant sometimes?  To interact with him in person? If the Catholic Church (or the Orthodox Church) could actually give us authoritative interpretations from God, it would be nice.  (And we would be obliged to submit.)  But, we can be assured that if God didn’t give us such a thing, then we don’t need it.  If we Protestants are right that the only infallible authority is Scripture, then we can be confident that we have all the guidance we require–everything God wanted us to have.  (Other authorities–like tradition, philosophy, etc.–might be helpful, but they’re under Scripture, and they’re not infallible.)  If so, then Catholics are (sadly) seeing deficiency in what God has graciously lavished on us.  We need to get this right.

So, now that I’ve summarized it, on to the exchange.  It started when I replied to this comment from Alexander Greco:

Within Catholicism, granting that its teachings are true, a person has the possibility to know that he or she is holding beliefs at variance with sound doctrine, and can avoid this.

My reply starts here, and the exchange continues through the combox.  Or, if you don’t want to read everything, you can check out the excerpts pulled out by Carrie.