Freitag, 8. Mai 2009

Sola Scriptura?

A friend of mine and I launched a "mini-debate" on the issue of the protestant doctrine Sola Scriptura (= Scripture - as in 66 books - alone), during which I raised the issue of the canon.

I suggested that - going by the aforementioned doctrine - a protestant may not rant against the Catholic or Eastern & Oriental Orthodox canons since the Bible itself does not contain a list of canonical books. In short: the canon of the Bible is reliant upon an authority apart from the Bible itself. In essence, I would apply the logic as used by St. Augustine when he said: "I would not believe in the Gospel if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so".

My protestant counterpart, a former Catholic, did a bit of research and came up with this response:

Now, my counterpart has divided his argumentation in - as I would say - three main parts: (1) Old Testament Canon, (2) New Testament Canon, (3) etc. (more ill-researched assumptions).

To the Old Testament, the main agrument my opponent uses is this quote from Jesus:

"Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”(Luke 24:44)

Going by the logic he employs to back the protestant Old Testament, we would have to say that the Old Testament should only consist of the Torah/Pentateuch, the Nevi'im (Prophets) and the Psalms (1 of the 11 texts in the Ketuvim = "writings").

However, we know that the Jewish Tanakh itself consists of more books than only the aforementioned - the protestant Old Testament also. That alone disqualifies this line of agrument in terms of providing a solely Scriptural basis for the Old Testament Canon. Additionally, we have the problem of authenticication: the protestant freely uses the (objectively) canonical books of the New Testament to have a basis for the Old Testament. But who testifies to the validity of the books that were put into the New Testament?

Another argument employed here is one based on an assumption regarding history: that Jesus - being a "Palestinian Jew" - would have relied on the Palestinian Canon. At this point we ought to check if indeed the "Hebrew Canon" was already fixed at this time. There is an assumed Jewish Council of "Javneh"/"Jamnia" in the 1st century:

Jack P. Lewis wrote in The Anchor Bible Dictionary Vol. III, pp. 634-7 (New York 1992):
The concept of the Council of Jamnia is an hypothesis to explain the canonization of the Writings (the third division of the Hebrew Bible) resulting in the closing of the Hebrew canon. ... These ongoing debates suggest the paucity of evidence on which the hypothesis of the Council of Jamnia rests and raise the question whether it has not served its usefulness and should be relegated to the limbo of unestablished hypotheses. It should not be allowed to be considered a consensus established by mere repetition of assertion.

Albert C. Sundberg, Jr. wrote in "The Old Testament of the Early Church" Revisited 1997:
Are there alternatives to Jamnia (or later Usha)? As we have seen, it was at Jamnia that the tradition says the Hillelites gained the ascendancy over the house of Shammai. It was the school at Jamnia that became a substitute for the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem. It was at Jamnia that the third section of the Hebrew canon was first named. It was the Jamnia decisions that, while not "official," came to be generally accepted in post-destruction Judaism. It may be that we have followed too quickly after Lewis in his attack upon Jamnia in order to foster his belief in a Hebrew canon from pre-Christian times. But that case, as we have seen, is confounded by numerous difficulties. With the time of canonization of the Hebrew tripartite canon now probably fixed between 70 and 135 C.E., and as a triumph of the Hillelite Pharisee in post-destruction Judaism, what alternatives are there to Jamnia as the venue?

Other hypotheses put the Council at a timeline before 70 A.D.. What is the point though? The point is that during the time of Jesus, there was yet no conclusively fixed set of canon for the Old Testament.

Now the idea is that Jesus was a Jew who quoted or alluded to texts to be found in the Old Testament and that the protestant Old Testament therefore is correct: which is identical to the Jewish Tanakh. (It is also interesting to point out that Protestants rather follow the Tanakh of a Jewish reactionary Council, than the canon that was widely used by early Christians throughout the centuries).

If we then use allusions or quotations from the New Testament to fortify the canonicity of the Old Testament, then the protestant would have a problem. The New Testament so happens to refer to Deuterocanonical books to be found in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canons. A couple of examples:

Matt. 6:19-20 - Jesus' statement about laying up for yourselves treasure in heaven follows Sirach 29:11 - lay up your treasure.

Matt. 7:16,20 - Jesus' statement "you will know them by their fruits" follows Sirach 27:6 - the fruit discloses the cultivation.

Matt. 9:36 - the people were "like sheep without a shepherd" is same as Judith 11:19 - sheep without a shepherd.

Matt. 11:25 - Jesus' description "Lord of heaven and earth" is the same as Tobit 7:18 - Lord of heaven and earth.

Matt. 16:18 - Jesus' reference to the "power of death" and "gates of Hades" references Wisdom 16:13.

Matt. 22:25; Mark 12:20; Luke 20:29 - Gospel writers refer to the canonicity of Tobit 3:8 and 7:11 regarding the seven brothers.

Matt. 24:15 - the "desolating sacrilege" Jesus refers to is also taken from 1 Macc. 1:54 and 2 Macc. 8:17.

Luke 1:42 - Elizabeth's declaration of Mary's blessedness above all women follows Uzziah's declaration in Judith 13:18.

Luke 1:52 - Mary's magnificat addressing the mighty falling from their thrones and replaced by lowly follows Sirach 10:14.

Luke 2:29 - Simeon's declaration that he is ready to die after seeing the Child Jesus follows Tobit 11:9.

Luke 13:29 - the Lord's description of men coming from east and west to rejoice in God follows Baruch 4:37.

Luke 21:24 - Jesus' usage of "fall by the edge of the sword" follows Sirach 28:18.

John 1:3 - all things were made through Him, the Word, follows Wisdom 9:1.

John 5:18 - Jesus claiming that God is His Father follows Wisdom 2:16.

John 10:22 - the identification of the feast of the dedication is taken from 1 Macc. 4:59.

John 15:6 - branches that don't bear fruit and are cut down follows Wis. 4:5 where branches are broken off.

Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Gal. 2:6 - Peter's and Paul's statement that God shows no partiality references Sirach 35:12.

Acts 17:29 - description of false gods as like gold and silver made by men follows Wisdom 13:10.

Rom 1:18-25 - Paul's teaching on the knowledge of the Creator and the ignorance and sin of idolatry follows Wis. 13:1-10.

1 Cor. 2:16 - Paul's question, "who has known the mind of the Lord?" references Wisdom 9:13.

Eph. 1:17 - Paul's prayer for a "spirit of wisdom" follows the prayer for the spirit of wisdom in Wisdom 7:7.


There are many more such examples. What then is the basis for the later rejection of the Deuterocanonical books?

Now there were other objections such as the LXX being in Greek - as if this was an argument considering the fact that certain books of the Deuterocanon were written in Hebrew or Aramaic.

The following link will refute common protestant objections to the Deuterocanon as being part of the canon (some of which my opponents also employed):

Considering all the common protestant arguments used for the Old Testament have failed scrutiny while heavily depending on the New Testament, I shall no proceed to the New Testament.

My protestant opponent uses this quote to back Sola Scriptura-style the canonical status of the Pauline epistles:

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.(2 Peter 3:16)

Now let us remind ourselves of two things:
1) This passage is a classic example used by Catholic to argue Scripturally against private interpretation.
2) We know that the 66-book-canon was authored by Martin Luther who took out 7 canonical books from the Old Testament (the Deuterocanon) and also attempted to take out Scripture from the New Testament such as the epistle of James and the epistle to the Hebrews.

There is a problem that follows from #2: If the Bible says - according to my opponent's understanding - that the Pauline epistles are Scripture, then why would a Christian rely on a person's opinion who rejects the canonicity of the epistle to the Hebrews which is traditionally attributed to St. Paul?

The Catholic on the other hand has no problems whatsoever.

By using 1 Timothy 5:17-18 which refers to Luke 10:7, my counterpart wishes to prove the canonicity of the Gospel of Luke.

There are again certain problems for a protestant:

1) He uses text A to back text B to back text C, etc.: but who says that text A is indeed canonical? It comes off to me as circular reasoning which in itself is illogical.

2) The New Testament has references to a) oral tradition and b) to non-canonical texts also: if the protestant is to be logically consequent, he would have to a) accept oral tradition as equally authoritative and b) give up the 66-book-canon for a larger one, or c) provide for an authority that determines what canon is and what not.

My opponent also states:
"So here, we can see that both Paul’s epistles and the gospel of Luke were already deemed scripture almost from the very beginning of the history of Christianity."

Now, this cannot be proven by Scripture alone. And here, the protestant actually concedes to a Catholic point: that the validity of Scripture has to be checked also from the outside. How else than through history and extra-Biblical testimonies can we know what Christians actually did believe in in terms of Scriptures? Luther did not rely on "Scripture alone" when he decided to make up his own version of the Bible unknown to Christianity until his time, but rather looked to the Jewish Tanakh during his time of defiance.

Let us now move on to the third main body of his argumentation:

Indirectly conceding failure to actually establish a full canon of 66 books by Scripture alone, my opponent states:
" However, is an inerrant canon absolutely necessary? I would contend that it is not so, and for this cause, I shall appeal to the facts of church history as my witness."

Now, for the historical development of Scripture and other related issues, I shall provide this information:

And to address the question of my counterpart, I will say that it is - for those who wish to study Scriptures - necessary to have the right Bible, because:
1) we know that Scripture is easily twisted and having different versions may lead to different doctrines. E.g. the Sadducees may have only focused on the Pentateuch claiming there was no evidence in the Scriptures for bodily resurrection. Likewise, protestants to this day deny the Biblical doctrine of purgatory. The fullness of the faith, of the truth, cannot be obtained through incomplete Scriptures.
2) How can one claim the Bible to be the "sole authority" on doctrinal issues of faith and morals when even its own canon cannot be considered *definitively fixed* and free of error?
Shall we go by Luther's logic, i.e. claim the Bible is self-contradicting and then proclaim it to be the final word on all things related to the Christian faith?

to the historicity of the Catholic canon (against the claim "Catholics added 7 books"):

"The true fact is the council of Trent was the ecumenical council after the Reformation to officially declare the canon of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. But the same canon of the Bible was declared at Church Council in Hippo in 393, at Councils of Carthage in 397and 419 and at the ecumenical council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence-Rome in 1442. The fact that the councilsat Hippo and Carthage were not ecumenical and there were different (earlier or later) lists of the Old Testament only indicates that the canon of the Bible remained open-ended. Even among Catholics, Cardinal Cajetan, Luther's opponent at Augsburg in 1518 rejected the deuterocanonical books in his "Commentary on All the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament". The ecumenical council of Trent in 1546 endorsed the decision of Hippo and Carthage councils, thus deuterocanonical books were not added in this council. "

I hope it is clear that one cannot put his trust on "Scripture alone" when there is no infallible authority declaring the "version of Scripture" a certain person has as the "error-free" version:

incomplete version -> incomplete theology
wrong version -> wrong theology
complete version -> fullness of truth = Catholic faith

My opponent also seems to have a problem with the late infallible settlement of the Biblical canon at the Ecumenical Council of Trent in the year 1546.
There are two things we must consider:

1) Councils often were prompted as a reaction to certain heretical tendencies. The 7 Deuterocanonical books were accepted by Rome and thus by the Church. (if one finds this notion to be "arrogant", then I suggest a study of Church history). Since there was no serious objection to the list as given by Pope Damasus I, there was no serious problem that needed to be settled by an Ecumenical Council. This however changed during the protestant revolution.

2) The Catholic canon finally fixed in 1546 is the earliest such final and authoritative declaration for the entire Christian Church. The Anglicans came next, then the Eastern Orthodox. So what is the objection here? If time is an argument against any position, it would be one against the protestants who trust in Luther, but reject the authority of the Anglican community: they would be left without an authoritative canon of Scriptures: thus, they are free to pick-and-choose, just like their theology!

Now my opponent states: "Yet these early church fathers had neither pope nor council to provide them with any infallible canons. Why is this so? The answer is very simple: They did not need an infallible canon."

They did not need an infallible canon? How would "sola scriptura" even work without an infallible canon, I ask???

Can I freely choose which books to accept and to reject upon personal bias and thereupon base my own "Christian" doctrines???

As anyone with common sense may see: this line of argument goes totally against protestantism.

Another point: the Church Fathers did listen to the Popes on doctrinal matters. Obedience to the Roman Pontiff and union with the chair of Peter was always part of Christian tradition: this is evident in both Western and Eastern Christian tradition. There was an infallible authority on doctrinal issues already: Rome.

In an attempt to discredit the Catholic Church, the protestant claims:
"Unfortunately for Rome, one cannot make a case that there is some sort of infallible extra-biblical tradition that can authoritatively define what the canon is, as is evident from the gradual development of the canon as we have it today."

With that statement, he actually says that there is no way we can know that the canon we have is error-free. The consequences are obvious:
1) No protestant may raise his voice against other canons since he himself is uncertain of his own.
2) Doctrinal anarchy: without an infallible canon, "Sola Scriptura" does not work. Without an infallible authority outside the Bible (which alone has the power to correctly define Scriptural doctrines), one is left with nothing but his personal opinion (an idea also condemned in the Bible).

And using development as an argument is simply absurd: likewise, I could say that the doctrine of the Trinity also was gradually "refined". Is God therefore not a Trinity? Is this doctrine therefore not infallible?

My opponent chose to suggest that it was "common" for early Christians to somehow prefer the "shorter canon" (btw: "canon" only goes with infallibility) and uses e.g. St. Athanasius as an example.

The response to this common protestant argument:

"The fact that those books entered the canon of the Bible after dispute indicates that some Church Fathers did object to their inclusion. However, they were not in the position to determine the canon. While Jerome labeled the deuterocanonical (and 1 & 2 Esdras) books as apocrypha, he nevertheless translated them into Latin and included them in Vulgate. Only Rufinus and Jerome's lists are equal to 24 books of the Jewish scripture (or 39 books of Protestant's Old Testament), the rest (majority) have Letter of Jeremiah with/without Baruch and/or excludes Esther. Even if it differs only by one book, it is different; after all, Protestants would not compromise by dropping or adding just one book in their Old Testament. What we refer as Origen's list is actually the list of the Jewish scripture, as he indicated, and we have evidence that he cited as scripture a number of deuterocanonical books. The same applies to Athanasius, Hilary, Gregory of Naziansus and Cyril of Jerusalem. While their lists have 22 books (not equal to 24 Jewish scripture), they too still cites as scripture a number of deuterocanonical books. We have evidence that even Rufinus and Jerome later changed their mind and accepted them. Furthermore, most of these fathers had an incomplete canon of the New Testament as well!"

Now what has this debate lead to? What is the conclusion?

My conclusion is simple:

My protestant counterpart - as expected - failed to give a "sola scriptura" argument/basis for the protestant 66-book-version of the Bible which was the very issue I criticized with the false doctrine of sola scriptura. Not only is it evidently self-contradictory, it is - as the protestant has demonstrated - Biblically baseless.

I will give the final word to a Church Father and a Doctor of the Church:

"Learn also diligently, and from the Church, what are the books of the Old Testaments, and what those of the New."
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 4:33 (A.D. 350).


  1. Excellent. I see you've addressed my points. Hopefully this means we shall be able to get into some more in-depth discussion of apologetics and church history in the future. :D

    God bless.

  2. By the way, I made a minor update on the same blog post I made. Because I don't have the resources at the moment to furnish a complete counter-response, I posted a few articles and blog posts by others instead.

  3. "I don't have the resources at the moment to furnish a complete counter-response"

    I highly doubt you can justfy something that is intrinsically wrong.