God’s Living Word

I’m following up on this comment, and Joseph’s response to it.

* * *

Hi Joseph – no, I didn’t read your entire post – I’m very busy these days, preparing to do some business travel, and I have to skim more than read carefully. I saw that my name was mentioned and I wanted to respond to your first point.

As a relatively new convert to Roman Catholicism, you really do seem to have your own impressions of what Rome is and what it says and what it does – impressions that are quite distinct from what it actually says on its own. You do miss a great deal by not having grown up in Roman Catholicism. For example, you say:

How can “only Rome’s interpretation [be] truly valid” when the Magisterium of the Church has only spoken authoritatively on bits and pieces of it? Are the Catholic faithful then “helpless” to hear from God? No, in fact, it’s because they are not helpless that the Magisterium hasn’t spoken on more of Scripture.

The fact that it has only “spoken authoritatively on bits and pieces” means simply that it has only “ruled authoritatively” upon a limited number of Scripture verses. However, that does not preclude that it has established the whole “ecosystem”, if you will, the whole doctrinal structure within which you may and may not accept what a particular passage is saying.

As a Roman Catholic, you are required to “receive with docility” “the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms”. Now, if you think that is very vague, it is, and it is intentionally so, so as to leave room for “interpretation”. It didn’t used to be like that.

Prior to Vatican II, this doctrinal structure existed in very explicit terms. Since Vatican II, the effort has been to “distinguish between the inheritance of faith itself, or the truths which are contained in our holy doctrine, and the way in which these truths are formulated, of course with the same sense and significance”. That is from the speech of Pope John XXIII at the opening of Vatican II.

I don’t have it handy, but this notion directly contradicts the Trent-thru-Vatican-I era assessments of “the inheritance of the faith”, “the way the truths contained” are formulated, and they are very explicit that “these truths” must be expressed in the very words that were used, in Latin. If you are familiar at all with the way that translation works, you understand that words not only have ranges of meanings, and if you change the words, if you change the way that “truths are formulated”, then you necessarily change the “range of meaning” as well.

That’s precisely what happened, and I have elaborated on this phenomenon elsewhere. David Wells describes the Vatican II method of writing documents in ways “which would be ambiguous enough to accommodate both schools of thought”, and Ratzinger explicitly talks about embracing two schools of thought – in this case specifically regarding the issue of “primacy” vs “collegiality”, but it validates the method that Wells outlined, such that: “for every statement advanced in one direction the text offers one supporting the other side, and this restores the balance, leaving interpretations open in both directions.”

That is no way to treat the truth.

* * *

In any event, this “ecosystem”, as double-minded as it is, still does rule what you might and might not believe about a particular Scripture passage. (And by “a particular Scripture passage”, I don’t mean “a particular verse taken out of context”. I mean, “what the writer was saying specifically to the audience to whom he was writing”.)

So you are constrained, for example, when you see Ephesians 2, for example, you are not able to really believe what the passage is saying:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Earlier context here stresses that Christians are “chosen before the creation of the world”, “holy and blameless in his sight”, “predestined for adoption to sonship” and “predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”, “marked with a seal … a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” … noting that we Christians ourselves are “the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people”. We ourselves are “his inheritance”, “guaranteed” with his own Holy Spirit.

However, you are required to believe that all of this could be lost with a mortal sin, and re-gained again at the word of a priest in a confessional.

Going from this wondrously guaranteed life, to death, to life, to death again.

Truly, the Roman doctrine of the sacrament of penance and absolution is completely out of line, when you consider this seminal passage about what “being a Christian” is all about, and how it is accomplished. This is just one example. Consider that all of this is written by the same Paul who wrote Romans 8, and what we call the “golden chain of salvation”, found in Romans 8: “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified”. This is all completed and accomplished “before the creation of the world”, and yet Roman dogma holds that this act of God is undone, and then re-done, by the word of the Roman priest.

There we have a solid Biblical picture, which is completely dismantled by a Roman dogma.

* * *

JB: It’s pretty horrifying stuff to me – the God of the Universe, who created things by speaking them into being, can’t, in his “Word”, effectively communicate anything without the aid of the almighty Roman Magisterium.

Joseph: This is not what Dei Verbum, or Hahn, or Ratzinger, or anybody, even said, and your very reading is contradicted by the reality of Scripture in the life of the Church. God communicates, through His Word, every single day, to hundreds of millions of people, while the Magisterium only gets together to talk about it every fifty to five-hundred years or so.

Rome pays lip service to the Scriptures, and I’ve shown above how they completely dash the intention of the Scripture writer (in this case the Apostle Paul) and subordinate it to their own understanding, in their own “ecosystem” of dogmas.

And by the way, I cited Hahn citing Ratzinger at length, and it is horrifying that these men, so influential, calling the Scriptures (“without reference to the meaning these texts possess in the Church’s life and liturgy”), “a kind of dead letter, an artifact from a long-extinct exotic culture.” Apart from “the Church’s life and liturgy” – what the Roman Magisterium says it is – “Biblical exegesis becomes an exercise in ‘antiquarianism’ or ‘archaeology’ or perhaps ‘necrophilia’.” … “Without the Church we have only a jumble of unconnected texts …”

He is talking about this in the context of historical criticism, but he fails to take into account that these Scriptures are God’s word, “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword” … penetrating “even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight”. God’s word itself does this, without the aid of any human being – much less a “Church” which attempts, through its dogmas and “liturgy” to rob it of its meaning (as I’ve demonstrated in the first part of this comment).

God speaks, and in doing so, his very word creates.

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Rome pays lip service to the Scriptures, and by its very dogmas, takes away the meaning of the Scriptures.

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23 Responses to God’s Living Word

  1. I saw that my name was mentioned and I wanted to respond to your first point.

    Hello, John. So all of this is a response to just my first point, and my very brief reply? I’m honored and flattered that you would think my thoughts worthy of so many words. I did write the whole original post in response to you, and I would appreciate it, when you have time, if you would give it a fuller reading and response. In any case, thanks for the response and the recognition.

    As a relatively new convert to Roman Catholicism, you really do seem to have your own impressions of what Rome is and what it says and what it does – impressions that are quite distinct from what it actually says on its own. You do miss a great deal by not having grown up in Roman Catholicism.

    Yes, I am fairly “new”; but I hope you will not underestimate what I know and understand.

    As a Roman Catholic, you are required to “receive with docility” “the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms”.

    Yes — and why not? Scripture presents — as this item in the Catechism cites — that the Lord instructed His Apostles to speak in His name, that when they taught, their voices would carry His own Word and authority (Luke 10:16); that He appointed teachers (1 Cor 12:28, Eph 4:11); that the office of teaching was carried on by bishops and presbyters (1 Tim 3:2, 5:17, etc.); and that we should “obey and submit to our leaders, for they are keeping watch over our souls” (Hebrew 13:17). If our Lord does indeed appoint such teachers and leaders, then why should we not “receive with docility” their teaching?

    I don’t have it handy, but this notion directly [of “distinguishing between … the truths which are contained in our holy doctrine … and the way these truths are formulated”] contradicts …

    I would like to see that. Without seeing what you are talking about or having any concrete example — what you’re describing doesn’t sound like a problem at all. Formerly, you’re saying, the Church hung on the formal definitions of her doctrine, on the very words in which it was defined? I don’t see that that’s changed. I recall a few years ago a clamor and a clarification over the meaning of the phrase “subsisit in” in Lumen Gentium (“Christ’s Church subsists in the Catholic Church”) — and such things go on all the time. On the other hand — as Jesus Himself taught us — the truths of God are not bound or defined by human words or laws.

    That is no way to treat the truth.

    Allowing more than one interpretation of Catholic doctrine is no way to treat the truth? Why, it sounds to me that you are speaking out of both sides of your mouth. From one side, you’re complaining about the rigidity of the Magisterium’s teaching which stifles and limits the Word of God, makes it “helpless” to communicate to believers, etc.; and out of the other, you’re complaining when she allows people to entertain more than one interpretation? Are you certain it is not you who are “double-minded”?

    Being unclear about what you are speaking of — and especially with your aside that Ratzinger was speaking of the issue of “primacy” versus “collegiality” — it seems to me that the doctrines in question relate to the externals of the Church and not the truths of the faith. Jesus Christ is the Truth. And that Truth is clear, absolute, and unchanging. But the Magisterium has not spoken authoritatively on very much of Scripture, or really very much at all. Your larger complaint seems to be about overburdening dogma and interpretations, allowing no room for the reason and conscience of the believer — so I’m at a loss to understand what you are complaining about here.

    As for “how to treat the truth”: Is it “any way to treat the truth” to allow, even encourage, the individual believer to subject the truths of Scripture and God to his own reason and interpretation, to defend his coming to diverse interpretations and understandings, even if these are contrary to the faith always believed and to his teachers and forebears? To subject the Word of God to quibbling, uncertainty, and doubt? Is this individualism and elevation of the individual will not at the root of most of the myriad divisions that arise between Protestants, that have been arising since the time of the Reformers themselves? If a dozen Protestants proclaim a dozen different “truths,” each insisting on the “authority” of Scripture — is this any indication to the world that it is God Who has spoken? The Protestant “ecosystem” is a directionless, relativistic free-for-all. Is this really what Jesus intended for His Church? If we really believe that God has spoken, should we not expect an “ecosystem” of established, incontrovertible truths, proclaimed by His teachers in His name until He comes again?

    * * *

    Regarding Ephesians 1–2: This is not the place for quibbling over Scripture, so it will suffice to say that obviously, I would have to accept the Reformed system of soteriology to begin with (I didn’t even as a Protestant) before I could conclude that the doctrine of the Catholic Church “constrained” me to or from anything with regard to this passage. What is it that is “constraining” you to this particular reading and conclusion? You seem to have access to some absolute certainty as to your interpretation and understanding. This is something I struggled to find, but never could, as a Protestant.

    But let me ask you a basic, possibly dumb, question. You say:

    However, you are required to believe that all of this could be lost with a mortal sin, and re-gained again at the word of a priest in a confessional. Going from this wondrously guaranteed life, to death, to life, to death again.

    But, if I am predestined to be saved from the beginning of the world, if my inheritance is guaranteed in heaven, and all the rest — how can you say that anything is “lost” if I fall into sin? Does my inheritance in heaven somehow disappear in a puff of smoke? Does God take it away and give it to someone else? If God predestined and foreknows that I will be saved — then why would He “take it away” if I fell from grace, if He knew fully that I would nonetheless be saved and receive it in the end?

    So I see no contradiction here, with or without your interpretation.

    * * *

    I’ve shown above how they completely dash the intention of the Scripture writer (in this case the Apostle Paul) and subordinate it to their own understanding, in their own “ecosystem” of dogmas.

    No, I can’t tell that you’ve shown that at all — even if I accepted your interpretation of the passage. And who is the “they” here you are referring to, who “subordinates [Scripture] to their own understanding” — and is this not the pot calling the kettle black?

    a “Church” which attempts, through its dogmas and “liturgy” to rob it of its meaning (as I’ve demonstrated in the first part of this comment). Rome pays lip service to the Scriptures, and by its very dogmas, takes away the meaning of the Scriptures.

    Are you not yourself failing to take into account that this is God’s Word you are speaking of, living and active, and that it does do all of the wondrous things you enumerate, in the life of the Catholic Church and her faithful? How can you say that Scripture is a “dead letter” to anyone? Referring to your quote from Hahn — this is not what he is saying at all, for Scripture is a living part of the Church’s life and liturgy, and is not a “dead letter.”

    The peace of the Lord be with you!

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    • John Bugay says:

      I’m honored and flattered that you would think my thoughts worthy of so many words.

      You shouldn’t be.

      the Lord instructed His Apostles to speak in His name, that when they taught, their voices would carry His own Word and authority (Luke 10:16)

      Right from the start, you are conflating things. The Apostles held a unique position, and while in Luke 10:16 Jesus confers honor to his personal disciples, there is no evidence here that Jesus is setting up a “perpetual succession”, “for all time”, as the Roman Catholic Church claims (and that concept in itself is one that came five centuries down the road, under questionable circumstances). Rome twists that concept to its own benefit.

      In fact, from the earliest times, no person or office is respected, both when their teaching differs from the Gospel (Gal 1:6-9), and when the character of their lives does not meet certain standards (Titus 1 and 1 Tim 3), both facts of which are ignored by Roman Catholicism (other instances where its “ecosystem” has over-ruled Scripture – see Matt 15:9). When Peter subverts the message, he is chastised. Judas is removed from office.

      When some apostle does hand on authority to “successors”, what’s the message? In Acts 20, Paul reminds the Ephesian elders, “you yourselves know how I lived” – “imitate me” (as I mentioned above), and “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable”, “proclaiming the kingdom” and “declaring to you the whole counsel of God”. That Paul can make this claim precludes the notion that there would be future “development”. The Ephesians who heard Paul were not lacking in anything.

      And he doesn’t confer upon them some “charism” that will magically keep their offices. No, the warning is explicit: “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!”. It’s the message being distorted, that is the standard for their ability to be “elders”.

      And this is what the Reformers saw: Roman “teaching” as a whole had “distorted the truth” – had compromised the Gospel message. It is at this point that “Protestant premises” need to come into play. These “premises” are thoroughly Biblical: Reject those who distort the truth.

      From the beginning, the charge to elders is “beware lest you fall” – not “you are a priest forever”. The only one to whom that promise applies is Christ alone, who by his lineage, his perfect life, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension, and from the promise of the Father, does he hold that office.

      The notion that somehow presbyters (“elders”) of the early church somehow were “priests” is a long and convoluted effort that does not bear scrutiny. The very notion of “a line of succession” is a gnostic conception applied to a list of names after-the-fact.

      The churches of the east had no concept that such a thing existed until hundreds of years after Christ.

      that He appointed teachers (1 Cor 12:28, Eph 4:11); that the office of teaching was carried on by bishops and presbyters (1 Tim 3:2, 5:17, etc.);

      You are both convoluting and taking out of context.

      For example, 1 Cor 12:28: “First apostles, second prophets, third teachers”. There is neither a succession here, nor a connection between the Apostle’s authority nor that of the “prophets” and “teachers”. These are distinct New Testament offices that had functionalities that were understood – that’s why Paul could list them as he did.

      Ephesians 4:11: Again we are talking about “Apostles”, “prophets”, “evangelists”, “shepherds”, and “teachers” – in no place is there a distinct office of “pope” or “bishop” or “priest”. And yet you feel free to lump them all together as if one were the other, in spite of the historical difficulties of how these various things came into being.

      Where there are “overseers” and “deacons” and “elders”, you again fudge definition (as Paul is using the terminology), and these words you cite from Paul bear no resemblance to the offices of “bishops and priests” as they are set up later. Roman Catholics pay lip service to Aristotle, and yet one of the first things that Aristotle talked about was the definition of terms and “equivocation”. And yet, what do you think of the equivocations that you yourself have produced here, conflating “bishops” and “priests” with “Apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers”?

      Your mere conflation of these things proves nothing, and yet, you (and Roman Catholic teaching generally) makes these conflations, citing them as fact, when in reality, the vast majority of the historical work on this shows the tenuous and even non-existent connections that you are making.

      See also this series from Jason Engwer on Apostolic Succession in the writings of the early church.

      I’ve basically spent all the time I have to spend on this today, on the fallacies that are present in the first “substantive” paragraph in your comment. You shouldn’t be honored that I’m writing to you. You should be ashamed of the poor thinking that you’re putting out in defense of “Mother Rome”. In fact, you should be ashamed of “Mother Rome’s” teachings in these areas.

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      • I’m rather amused, and yes, flattered, John, that you are getting so hung up on the first parts of what I have to say that you’re not even getting to the important matter. :)

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        • John Bugay says:

          http://calvinistinternational.com/2014/07/24/importance-getting-beginning-right/

          The mistake lies in the beginning—as the proverb says—‘Well begun is half done;’ so an error at the beginning, though quite small, has the proportion of a half to the whole matter.

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          • Perhaps so, but I was much more interested in your response to the latter half. God bless you!

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            • John Bugay says:

              I will try to look at that, but I can’t make you any guarantees. As I saw the article, I saw your erroneous starting assumptions and I did not want to let those go unchallenged. If “Apostolic Succession” fails, and I’m convinced it does, then it doesn’t matter to address anything else you say.

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            • Thank you, and I would appreciate that. But please don’t forget that this thread began with my critique of Protestantism and your defense. I realize that this blog is mostly geared at a polemic against Catholicism (as most Protestant apologetics seems to be), but I am genuinely interested in what you have to say in support of your position. I often get the impression that Protestant apologists feel the virulence of their attacks somehow makes up for the fact that their own position is substantially unproven — and this seems to have been the tactic since the Reformers themselves. Thank you for your time, and God bless you!

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  2. John Bugay says:

    please don’t forget that this thread began with my critique of Protestantism and your defense.

    You have things precisely backwards. Your “critique of Protestantism” is meaningless if Rome, first, is not everything that it was claiming itself to be in the year 1500. Then, no “Protestantism” existed, and hence, the only thing that could be done was to critique the Roman church. It had nothing to do with “polemic” and it had everything to do with the historical situation at hand.

    In fact, if the Roman position is “substantially unproven” at that point, then we get to my Sherlock Holmes quote: “what you have left, however unlikely it seems, is the solution”.

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    • John, forgive me, but I’m having a hard time following that logic at all. The Protestant Reformers arose in 1517 making specific, largely negative claims against the status quo. And it’s not really relevant to my question whether those claims were true or not: The Reformers also made positive doctrinal claims, and those claims must be supported also — unless you concede that even those positive claims (such as “sola scriptura” and “sola fide”) were in fact negative claims that could not have existed except as a rejection of Catholic doctrine.

      You keep insisting that if you take away the “Roman position,” the Protestant position is what is left. But this claim requires support, and that is what I’m asking you to support. Protestants argue (in fact, this is the definition of “sola scriptura”) that all their doctrine can be derived from “Scripture alone.” So let’s forget about 1500 for a moment and think about A.D. 50. Even apart from any “Roman” claim at all — supposing there was never a “Roman” church to begin with — why should I presume, from Scripture, such a supposedly positive claim as “sola scriptura”? You indicated in another thread that “sola scriptura” was derived from a rejection of “Roman” claims. Is that the only way? If “sola scriptura” is a truth of the faith, does it not, by its own definition, have to be revealed by “Scripture alone”?

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      • Joseph says: So let’s forget about 1500 for a moment and think about A.D. 50. Even apart from any “Roman” claim at all — supposing there was never a “Roman” church to begin with — why should I presume, from Scripture, such a supposedly positive claim as “sola scriptura”?

        Joseph,

        Yes, we should not “presume” the Protestant claim, but then we should not presume the Catholic claim either, right? You would not expect us to assume that the RCC understanding of the infallibility of Scripture + Tradition is correct, would you? Instead of presuming such things we would need to look at the ECF’s (to start with) and see how they utilize Scripture and tradition. And that of course is a big job (partly because there was no debate over Scripture and Tradition). Two Protestant scholars who have done just this in recent times are Keith Mathison and Heiko Oberman. They have spent many hundreds of pages analyzing the writings of the ECF’s to demonstrate that the way the Early Church used Scripture was essentially the same as what the Reformers did centuries later. And part of this demonstration is that the ECF’s did not utilize tradition the way the RCC did centuries later. So there is both positive and negative sorts of claims, and both are important.

        My favorite quote from a non-Protestant on Scripture comes from the EO scholar Georges Florovsky who said that in the Early Church biblical exegesis was, “the main, and probably the only, theological method, and the authority of the Scriptures was sovereign and supreme.” Florovsky gets is absolutely right – Firstly the Scriptures were an infallible standard for the Early Church, secondly there was no infallible Tradition for the Early Church.

        – Andrew McCallum

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        • Firstly the Scriptures were an infallible standard for the Early Church, secondly there was no infallible Tradition for the Early Church.

          But I think you’re overlooking the very crux of the matter. “Sola scriptura” is more than just a claim that Scripture is an infallible standard: it’s a claim that it is the only infallible standard. And if we stand back at A.D. 50 — there is then no New Testament to hold as any sort of infallible standard. What is this “Scripture” and what is this “Tradition” we are referring to? “Scripture,” to the earliest Christians, was the Old Testament. And the message of Christ was entirely oral. And Christians accepted this message as infallible — because it was the Word of God — the word of the Word Made Flesh Himself.

          So from the very beginning, Christians accepted a message and teaching in addition to Scripture. And this is “Tradition” — what was handed down by Christ to His Apostles and by the Apostles to their disciples — and it was infallible, and it preceded the New Testament. Why were the writings of the Apostles and their disciples enshrined as “Scripture” in the first place? Because they preserved in writing the word and teachings of Christ and His Apostles, the literal Word of God, that had been preserved and passed down orally for several decades. Why were the letters of Paul considered infallible and held as Scripture? Because the teachings of Paul himself, orally and in person, were first considered infallible.

          The very authority of the New Testament depends on the prior authority of the word of Jesus and the Apostles, and on this authority continuing as that was word was communicated to the next generations of Christians orally — otherwise why should the Gospels of Mark and of Luke, who are believed to have been disciples of the Apostles who did not witness the earthly life and ministry of Christ firsthand, who recorded their accounts from the teachings of their teachers, be held as authoritative?

          So the claim that “there was no infallible ‘Tradition’ for the Early Church” fails on its face: there was, and tmust be. Yes, we believe the New Testament was “God-breathed” by the authority of the Holy Spirit, much as God spoke through the Old Testament prophets. But if we believe that Jesus Christ was God Incarnate, that He, the Word of God, walked among us and gave His Word to men, and that the authors of the New Testament were firsthand and secondhand witnesses to this Word — then we must believe that that Word itself, spoken by God Himself, was authoritative and infallible, and that it did not cease to be authoritative and infallible when it was the Apostles and their disciples repeating it and setting it to writing. The alternative is absurd: Did the Word of Jesus carry no authority until decades later, when it was “God-breathed” by the Holy Spirit to men who did not even know Him? Did Paul, and Peter, and John, and James, not teach by the authority of the Holy Spirit in their oral teachings, but only have His authority when they set those teachings to writing?

          So the Protestant claim of “sola scriptura” is not merely a claim that “Scripture is an infallible standard”: it must somehow explain how Scripture became the only infallible standard; how the Word of God spoken by Jesus and passed down by the Apostles ceased to be the Word of God except in the parts of it that were put to writing. We have in the New Testament Church an advantage that the Old Testament people of God never had: where the Old Testament prophets spoke and wrote only by the revelation of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles and writers of the New Testament spoke and wrote from their personal encounters of the Word of God Made Flesh. To limit the Word of God to only what is written is to call into question the essentially public witness of the Church: to say that only those writers, in their writings, could speak with the authority of God, who experienced a private revelation of words “God-breathed” by the Holy Spirit.

          So no, once again, the onus is on Protestants to demonstrate why anyone in the Early Church would have reverted to “Scripture alone” as an infallible standard, after the Word of God Made Flesh had lived among them and taught them, and after His Apostles and their disciples continued to pass on those teachings. We see no note of “Tradition” in the earliest of the Church Fathers because they took such teachings for granted: what we see instead is the personal testimony that “Peter and Paul gave their witness among us and “I sat at the feet of the blessed Polycarp as he recalled hearing John share stories of Our Lord”. This, though it was not called by that name until late in the second century, is “Tradition”; and it is up to Protestants to demonstrate why the Early Church should no longer have held it as authoritative (for it is plain that they did).

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          • Ack, that formatting got all messed up. That’s what I get for writing in a text editor. I think you can read it — but John, if you care about how that looks, you might edit the comment and insert some extra line breaks between paragraphs.

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          • ….we must believe that that Word itself, spoken by God Himself, was authoritative and infallible, and that it did not cease to be authoritative and infallible when it was the Apostles and their disciples repeating it and setting it to writing.

            Catholics and Protestants believe that the Word which was spoken by God Himself must be infallible, because God cannot lie. And when the Apostles set this Word in writing it was theopneustos, that is God breathed, and thus infallible, because the Spirit is God and again God cannot lie. But the RCC goes further than this and says that the Church beyond the point at which the deposit of the faith was laid down, in certain situations and under certain conditions, is also infallible. And we as Protestants find no basis for such a claim either in Scripture or in the writings of the Fathers of the Early Church. The ECF’s assume that the Scriptures are inspired and thus infallible. So here is the question that divides Protestants and Catholics on the matter – do some dogmatic statements, as the Church dwells upon God’s revelation to man, also rise to this same level of infallibility?

            What I’m asking you to consider is what the Early Church has to say about the matter. We both agree that the ECF’s adduced Scripture as an infallible standard. But did the ECF’s also understand there to be an infallible standard outside of Scripture? And if you believe this to be the case (which I assume you do) can you make your case from the corpus of the ECF’s? (My reference to Mathison and Oberman was to cite Protestant scholars who take us through a long journey through the history of the Christian Church as she has considered just this question. If you would like to read through some Protestant scholars who have taken on this question in exhaustive detail I would recommend them to you).

            If there is no evidence from the writings of the ECF’s that the ECF’s believed that there was any tradition which, apart from Scripture, could be considered to be infallible, then we are left with the conclusion that the theologians of the Early Church believed that the Scriptures alone were infallible. So as I see it, it is up to the Roman Catholic apologist to demonstrate that there was a firm belief in the infallibility of tradition outside of the Scriptures in the writings of the Early Church if he is to begin to convince his Protestant friends that they must not rely on Scripture alone as a standard on which to base our doctrine and practice.

            Cheers…..
            Andrew

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            • Let me rephrase that last sentence above:

              So as I see it, it is up to the Roman Catholic apologist to demonstrate that there was a firm belief in the infallibility of tradition outside of the Scriptures in the writings of the Early Church if he is to begin to convince his Protestant friends that they must not rely on Scripture alone as the only infallible standard upon which to base our doctrine and practice.

              – Andrew

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            • Andrew,

              I appreciate the well-thought response, and yes, I would appreciate recommendations of such Protestant historians as you mention. But it seems to me as if your reply basically ignored mine, and instead responded to some presupposed argument I did not make. I did not mention Catholics, or the Catholic Church, in my comment, or make any claim at all about the Church being infallible. I am attempting to get at a much more basic, fundamental point. Jesus and the Apostles taught orally. Why, at any point — and when, and why then — would the Early Church have abandoned the oral teachings of their teachers? Why would she suppose these teachings to be any less valid than they were when first taught? It is an underlying assumption of “sola scriptura” that she did — but on what is this premise based?

              We see almost immediately, by the first half of the second century, the development of rule by a single bishop, an understanding that supersedes the dictates of Scripture. Clement of Rome testifies that the Apostles themselves ordained that the office of bishop be successive, to ensure a continuity of leadership. Is this not in itself evidence that from the very beginning, the Church held the oral teachings of the Apostles to have the same authority as Scripture?

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  3. swruf says:

    Hi John,
    In your response to Joseph you mentioned the development of the priesthood. That has intrigued me for some time, and I was wondering if you knew of any good resources dealing specifically with that topic; preferably both RC and Prot. Thanks

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    • John Bugay says:

      Hi swruf, these aren’t complete, but they’ll get you started:

      http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2010/02/papacy-and-priesthood.html

      http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2013/12/divergent-cases-of-development-of.html

      I know Bavinck’s “Reformed Dogmatics” has a good section on it in his “church government”. One of Luther’s early writings (“Babylonian Captivity of the Church”) addresses it as well. I would think that many Reformed Systematic Theologies would have some discussion of it in the “church government” sections. This is just a quick look at it.

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    • swruf, I’m by no means an expert, and this list is not extensive, but here are a few Catholic resources:

      Kenan B. Osborne. Priesthood: A History of the Ordained Ministry in the Roman Catholic Church. Wipf & Stock, 2003.
      Aidan Nichols. Holy Order: The Apostolic Ministry from the New Testament to the Second Vatican Council. Ignatius, 1991.
      Matthew Levering. Christ and the the Catholic Priesthood: Ecclesial Hierarchy and the Pattern of the Trinity. Hillenbrand, 2010.
      Matthew Levering. On the Priesthood: Classic and Contemporary Texts. Sheed & Ward, 2013.

      God bless you and His peace be with you!

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  4. Pingback: The Prior Authority of Tradition | The Lonely Pilgrim

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  6. I’m new to your blog so maybe you’ve already posted about this, but I’d like to hear a Protestant response to where we got the Bible in the first place. If sola scriptura is true, where in the Bible do we see…

    …what books should actually be in the Bible (since the Bible itself doesn’t give us a table of contents).
    …where the Bible says there is no human spiritual authority that speaks for all of Christianity (since Acts 15 seems to suggest otherwise).
    …where the Bible says that the Bible is the sole doctrinal authority in an individual’s life.
    …the hermeneutic rules the Bible gives us to properly interpret the Bible (since hermeneutic rules are either “man-made” or “traditionally” accepted.)
    …where the Bible says my personal relationship with Jesus and my personal interpretation of the Bible is the foundation of Christian doctrine (since 2 Peter 1:20-21 is the only place personal interpretation is mentioned and speaks of it negatively).

    These are the sorts of problems I’m running into as a frustrated Protestant. Thanks!

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