Saturday, October 6, 2007

Opening Argument by Turretinfan

Sola Scriptura is more feasible than the alternative. The principle reason why the resolution should be affirmed by you, the reader, is that “tradition” is a very vague concept, whereas “the Bible” (even despite bickering over the apocrypha and deutero-canonical works) is a relatively concrete concept. A second reason why the resolution should be affirmed by you, the reader, is that “tradition” is more susceptible to intentional and unintentional corruption than the Bible. A third reason why the resolution should be affirmed by you, the reader, is that the purpose of oral “tradition” was rendered moot by the completion of the Bible. A fourth reason why the resolution should be affirmed by you, the reader, is that history has demonstrated that at least some “tradition” and the Bible are opposed, but the Bible. A final reason is that if the original author of the “tradition” mantra meant that we should not check alleged tradition with Scripture, the original author was inconsistent.

Ease of Identification – Scripture Beats Tradition by a Wide Margin

“Tradition” is a very vague concept compared to the Bible. Sure, there are textual variants in the Bible, there are even a few books that some people have thought are part, and others have excluded. On the whole, however, the Bible is a relatively stable concept: it can be cited chapter and verse. “Tradition” is not so readily susceptible to identification. The questions, “What is tradition?” and/or “What does tradition say?” is not easily answered. I don’t mean to ask, “What does it mean?” That question may be asked of both the Bible and “tradition.” The question of identification of legitimate “tradition” is wide open – and has to come before we decide what the content of tradition means.

Difficulty of Corruption – Again Scripture Beats Tradition

Simply put, it is easier for unwritten tradition to become corrupted than it is for written tradition to become corrupted. Now, certainly, some “tradition” has been put down in writing according to many of those who would accept the “tradition” mantra. Nevertheless, the longer that it took for the tradition to “go written,” the more corruption it would be expected to incur in the process. Thus, for example, if we are to accept the concept of “tradition” at all, we would imagine that Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Ignatius would have received a less corrupted “tradition” than the fathers of the Nicean councils.

Most Christians acknowledge that there have been some minor corruptions to the copies of Scripture. We do not have the autographs – the original manuscripts written in the hand of Paul, Peter, Moses, etc. We have copies, and the copies are imperfect. Nevertheless, we have excellent reason to believe not only that God would providentially preserve Scripture, but we have confirmation that God did preserve Scripture: even those most radical copies that have survived the last millennium and a half are substantially the same as the other copies. In other words, while there may be a few words, phrases, or even short passages that a scholar might cast doubt on, we are confident that we have essentially the original text.

On the other hand we also do not have the autographs of the church fathers, such as John Chrysostom, the alleged author of the first mantra in the resolution. Additionally, we have a problem that later writers’ writings were frequently attributed to fathers, even when the fathers did not write them. In the preface to his translation of four discourses of Chrysostom, F. Allen remarks: “The name of scarcely any other writer of antiquity has, after his death, been attached to so many spurious compositions as this great name.”

In the case of some church fathers we no longer even have copies in the original language of the father, but only copies of Latin translations. Chrysostom was apparently very prolific (although the caveat above regarding misattribution should be noted), and some copies of his works have been dated as early as the 6th century (or only about a century after his departure). Furthermore, there is not an enormous depth of copies even in secondary languages from which to make textual critical judgments as to which (if either) is original. Thus, for example, Ignatius’s letters are typically presented in at least two versions (long and short), and the short version is not necessarily a shortened reading of the long version. In short, it is frequently difficult to say with any assurance when or who wrote writings attributed to the fathers.

Thus, it should be clear that there are a greater number and severer degree of sources of error in the transmission of “tradition” than of Scripture.

Oral Tradition Was Necessary During the Period of Scripture Writing, but not After

While Jesus was on Earth he preached – people could go to Him to hear Him and they did. Furthermore, God blessed the apostles and many in the apostolic age with extraordinary gifts of prophecy, healing, and so forth. There was use and need of “tradition” in the form of oral testimony as to the teachings of Christ and His apostles. However, once Scripture was completed and circulated, the need for continued prophecy, the need for continued oral tradition melted. One didn’t need to have “oral tradition” to know that Jesus was God: Scripture said so. We see the earliest writers of the Christian churches appealing to the authority of Scripture – even if only to the gospels and the Old Testament. That’s also why we don’t have the Christian equivalent of the Hadith floating around, with miscellaneous sayings of Jesus: because the account in the gospels are what the Holy Spirit decided was important, though much more could have been written.

At least some “Tradition” is Opposed to the Bible

John writes: “little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21) An idol is a representational likeness for religious worship. The so-called seventh ecumenical council (which is on most folks’ lists who hold to “tradition”), however, actively encouraged the use of representational likeness for religious worship and collected and destroyed the historical records of opposition to the practice under threat of deposition (in the case of most clergy) or excommunication (in the case of laity and monks). See, for example, Canon 9.

If “Chrysostom” meant we should not give the Highest Place to Scripture he was Inconsistent

For Chrysostom wrote (in his commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians:

[Chapter 1, verses 8-9] “But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any Gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema.”

See the Apostle’s wisdom; to obviate the objection that he was prompted by vainglory to applaud his own doctrine, he includes himself also in his anathema; and as they betook themselves to authority, that of James and John, he mentions angels also saying, “Tell me not of James and John; if one of the most exalted angels of heaven corrupt the Gospel, let him be anathema.” The phrase “of heaven” is purposely added, because priests are also called angels. “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger [angel] of the Lord of hosts.” (Mal. ii. 7.) Lest therefore it should be thought that priests are here meant, by the term “angels,” he points out the celestial intelligences by the addition, “from heaven.” And he says not, if they preach a contrary Gospel, or subvert the whole of the true one, let them be anathema; but, if they even slightly vary, or incidentally disturb, my doctrine. “As we have said before, so say I now again.” That his words might not seem to be spoken in anger, or with exaggeration, or with recklessness he now repeats them.23 Sentiments may perhaps change, when an expression has been called forth by anger, but to repeat it a second time proves that it is spoken advisedly, and was previously approved by the judgment. When Abraham was requested to send Lazarus, he replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them: if they hear them not, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead.” (Luke xvi. 31.) And Christ introduces Abraham thus speaking, to show that He would have the Scriptures accounted more worthy of credence, even than one raised from the dead: Paul too, (and when I say Paul, I mean Christ, who directed his mind,) prefers them before an angel come down from heaven. And justly, for the angels, though mighty, are but servants and ministers, but the Scriptures were all written and sent, not by servants, 9 but by God the Lord of all. He says, if “any man” preach another Gospel to you than that which we have preached,—not “if this or that man:” and herein appears his prudence, and care of giving offence, for what needed there still any mention of names, when he had used such extensive terms as to embrace all, both in heaven and earth? In that he anathemized evangelists and angels, he included every dignity, and his mention of himself included every intimacy and affinity. “Tell me not,” he exclaims, “that my fellow-apostles and colleagues have so spoken; I spare not myself if I preach such doctrine.” And he says this not as condemning the Apostles for swerving from the message they were commissioned to deliver; far from it, (for he says, whether we or they thus preach;) but to show, that in the discussion of truth the dignity of persons is not to be considered.

We can see from the passage above that Chrysostom accorded Scripture Supra-Apostolic authority. Chrysostom recognized that Christ taught that Scripture should be more credible even than a person who had been raised from the dead, even than an angel from heaven. In short, Chrysostom recognized that Scripture has higher dignity than man.

And again, in Homily I in the 1 Timothy, Chrysostom writes: “Now these things we say superficially, as to men not knowing the Scriptures. But our discourses would be unnecessary if you would believe and take heed to the divine word, for that would teach you all things.”

And likewise in Homily IX in 2 Timothy, Chrysostom writes: ““For doctrine.” For thence we shall know, whether we ought to learn or to be ignorant of anything. And thence we may disprove what is false, thence we may be corrected and brought to a right mind, may be comforted and consoled, and if anything is deficient, we may have it added to us. “That the man of God may be perfect.” For this is the exhortation of the Scripture given, that the man of God may be rendered perfect by it; without this therefore he cannot be perfect. Thou hast the Scriptures, he says, in place of me. If thou wouldest learn anything, thou mayest learn it from them. And if he thus wrote to Timothy, who was filled with the Spirit, how much more to us!”

And anyone well acquainted with Chrysostom knows that I could go on and on, for Scriptures were Chrysostom’s lifeblood. But the “tradition of the church”? When does Chrysostom appeal thereto?


Chrysostom’s mantra, practically speaking, was “The Bible says it ….” Did he ever rely on the “tradition” of the church in matters of theology? Did Chrysostom’s investigation end at hearing that something was tradition? Surely not. That mantra is impractical: for an angel from heaven or even an apostle must be judged according to Scripture. Chrysostom was clearly not content to rest on tradition, but devoured the word and, like a mother hen, fed it to the chicks in his flock and to us down through the centuries. If someone can genuinely attribute to Chrysostom some reliance on “tradition” – I can show hundreds of instances where Chrysostom appeals to Scripture, for it is the latter, not the former mantra that is of more practical use in matters of theology.

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