Another Failed Defense of Sola Scriptura

A Refutation of The Christian Anarchist

This will be a response to old acquaintance of mine on YouTube, The Christian Anarchist (hence forth CA). He responded to an argument of mine here. His video you can find here.

Before I get started, I would like to thank CA for the kind comments that he directs at me in the beginning. Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, why don’t I begin with addressing his criticisms.

At 1:35 he claims that I defined the doctrine of Sola Scriptura incorrectly. In the post I defined Sola Scriptura as,

the notion that the Bible is the sole authority and justification for establishing any doctrine

CA takes this to be a straw man of what Protestants believe, but I don’t think it’s contrary to Protestant tradition. If you were to read the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, it claims,

We believe, teach, and confess that the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas together with [all] teachers should be estimated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament alone [1].

Given how central this confession was to the Lutheran faith, the tradition that kicked off the rest of the reformation, I would submit that even if it’s not the best formulation (as CA would contend), it is still not something out of step with historical Protestantism.

CA contents (at 2:00) that my definition and the one from the Epitome are really solo scriptura. CA claims that solo scriptura treats the Bible as the only authority, where sola scriptura treats it the final authority. This is despite the fact that sola is literally Latin for alone. A more accurate translation would be ultima scriptura. Would CA contend that sola gratia means grace is the final means of our salvation, rather than the only means of our sanctification? I think not.

In any case, let’s grant that ‘ultima scriptura’ means ‘sola scriptura’. What follows is that they are still functionally the same. The formulation of sola scriptura which CA wishes to use is from the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, reads (see 2:34),

The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith finally resolved.

The problem is that in function they are still one in the same. Let us say some council (and certain Church Fathers) say X regarding Y. Let’s take the issue regarding the ordination of women. The Protestant adhering to the ‘Sola’ Scriptura could respond by saying that “given scripture is my final authority, and it is written that “there is no difference between man or woman in Galatians 3:28, so I think it’s wrong to bring in this prohibition against women priests because it creates a divisive distinction in the body”. Now, such a person’s exegesis is indeed eisegetical, but what can one do to show him otherwise? Bring up 1 Timothy 2:12? In my own personal experience, while in Grad school, I have met a Lutheran seminarian who denied Timothy was even scripture because higher criticism said Paul didn’t author it (a point which is true, but fortunately for those of us who don’t buy into the presupposition of entrusting secularist scholars as arbiters of the faith, their criticisms hold no water).

However, who is to tell him that his separate standard of what is even scriptural is wrong? Scripture? That has yet to be established. Treating scripture as one’s final authority means diddly squat when you can easily come up with your own standards for what counts. Now, I know CA does have a response, he’ll use his own standard, and while I agree all standards are fallible, what both he and this young seminarian lack is an authority which can offer real world correction and consequence when we stray from the essentials. Even when the Church falls into error, like when it was ravaged by Arianism, we should want to correct those holding its offices because of how important those offices can be for the nurturing of believers. Protestants should want to reform the church Jesus established, not just start a new one. This is where they fall into error.

I won’t belabor the point any further. CA claims (around 2:55) that he has no problem going to councils and Church Fathers for insight on the canon. Well given that the Council of Hippo, and Carthage had binding authority on Catholics (not to mention the ecumenical nature of Florence agreed with their opinion 100 years before the Reformation) [2], I would ask why he rejects their authority, substituting it instead with the authority of recent scholars (see; 3:30)?

CA cites the work of DA Carson and Donald Guthrie. Their standards are,

  1. Was it written by an Apostle?
  2. Was it written in the first century?
  3. Is the work consistent with itself?

The problem is that it is still controversial in scholarship regarding if Paul wrote certain letters. 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus are among the works most critical scholars reject as having Pauline authorship, and attribute them to some other writer [2]. While it is easy to make defenses against objections to Paul’s authorship (or authorial involvement), it is another thing entirely to make a positive case that Paul was the author of these works, especially considering the differences in grammatical style. As a Catholic, I can make the case from tradition, no such luck for the Protestant.

At 4:10 CA says that they are examined at the same way the New Testament was decided upon by the councils. The problem with this standard is that those same councils chose the Old Testament as well, and would have included the Deuterocanon of the the Catholic Church [2]. At 4:20, CA cites Roger Beckwith to establish the Old Testament canon. The test he uses if the Books were laid in the temple. However, there is no way to know which books were laid in the temple. According to John J. Collins (the Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism & Interpretation at Yale Divinity School),

Beckwith argued at length that the canon was constituted by books that were laid up in the Temple. Temples usually had libraries, and the one in Jerusalem can not have been an exception. Josephus reports that a copy of the Torah from the Temple was taken to Rome and carried in the triumphal march…while it is not implausible that a standard collection of authoritative writings were kept in the temple, however, it is by no means assured that it included all of the 22 books to which Josephus referred…the Sadducees, who included much of the priestly class, allegedly recognized only the Torah [the five books of Moses].[4]

It was more likely the Sadducees who had their canon in the Temple. According to 1 Maccabees 1:56, it reads

When they found the Law scrolls, they tore them to pieces and burned them. If anyone was caught in possession of a copy of the covenant scroll or if anyone kept to the Law, that person was condemned to death by royal decree.

If the Prophets were there, it stands to reason the Greeks would have burned it too.*

Now with the canonicity portion of the video out of the way, let’s get to 1 Timothy 3:15. Just as a reminder, the verse reads,

if I am delayed, you will know how each one must conduct himself in God’s household,the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. — 1 Timothy 3:15–16

At 5:46 he claims that the term the church is in reference to the local congregations. The problem is that it is it’s not in the text. The church is referred to in the singular form, not to mention that it is used in contrast to singular comparisons. It is called God’s household, not his households. CA then goes on to make the same argument that James White does, that we are the foundation of the truth because we are duty bound to spread the Gospel. But, as I already said,

White [or in this case CA] shifts the goal post. The argument is not that sola scriptura is “a denial of the Church’s authority to teach God’s truth”. Rather Sola Scriptura is a denial of the Church’s Foundational authority as the pillar of truth.

The question is one of foundation. Did Paul tell Timothy’s congregation to look to the scriptures? No, he told them to go to the Church for proper correction as it is the foundation of understanding truth (including sacred scripture).

At 6:35 CA gives me an objection to deal with. He claims that there is a contradiction between what is said in session 4 of the council of Trent, and the New Catholic Catechism. Trent says that ‘these truths’ are contained in written books and unwritten traditions, whereas the Catechism claims that the scriptures teaches truths. However, CA (see 8:30) mistakes the Catechism to exclude truths taught by other means. Sufficiency does not mean exclusively or even necessity. To give an illustration, take the following proposition

If it rained last night, then my lawn would be wet this morning.

The proposition is true. Raining last night is a sufficient condition for my lawn being wet. However, it is not the only condition which could entail one’s lawn being wet. For example,

If a neighbor hosed down my lawn this morning, then my lawn would be wet this morning.

Individually, or together, both scenarios could also be sufficient, and there would be no contradiction in the consequent of my lawn being wet. So, I think this objection is faulty given the logic CA is employing.

CA then goes on to for a few minutes to quote a handful of respected Catholic thinkers (many I admire) regarding the Church’s role on interpreting scripture. CA concludes that because we have not declared the meaning of all scriptures, we run the same risks that Protestants do. The problem is that this is not at all the thrust of the Catholic objection, the thrust is in how do Protestants not run into error regarding the essentials of the faith? While a Catholic could say that the essentials have been defined through councils, and can be administered through the living Church, the Protestant is void of that luxury. A Catholic has visible signs of excommunication, backed up by the written words of the Fathers, councils, in addition to scripture, while the Protestant only has a list of books he cannot confirm as scripture, given that he lacks an authority to which his faith is subject to.

CA gives me a challenge at 11:45, he makes the following argument

P1 — If Paul is saying that the Roman Catholic Church is the final authority and upholds truth, then there would be absolute certainty and unity in the Roman Catholic Church.
P2 — There is no absolute certainty and unity in the church
C — It is not the case Paul is saying that the Roman Catholic Church is the final authority and upholds truth

The flaw is in the second premise. None of the scholars cited deny that there is unity and certainty on essentials, only that there are a lot of topics which brothers and sisters in the Church are free to agree or disagree on. No one would say that the council of Nicaea and the doctrine of the Trinity are not essential to uphold. But the bounds of essential doctrines and non-essential are ones that the Church is needed to uphold and resolve, otherwise Arianism would have remained a possible option for the Christian given that Arius himself was in communion with the Church for some time in his life.

I entrust this article to the good graces of CA, and any of his viewers.

References

[1] Jakob Andreae and Martin Chemnitz, Epitome of the Formula of Concord, Link

[2] See my article on the matter here

[3] David E. Aune, The Blackwell Companion to The New Testament, 9

[4] John J. Collins, The Penumbra of the Canon, 11–12 [Link]

*I’d like to thank Matthew for his added point on 1 Maccabees 1:56–57