Thursday, June 26, 2008

Genunine Christian Apostasy - Negative Constructive Essay

Negative Constructive - Perseverance of the Saints is Consistent with Scriptures
By TurretinFan

This debate is ultimately about whether the Reformed Doctrine of “Perseverance of the Saints” can be reasonably reconciled with three passages of Scripture. I’ll address each in turn and provide at least one reasonable alternative, thereby demonstrating that the passages can be understood consistently with that body of soteriology commonly called Calvinism. Afterwards, I’ll address miscellaneous points identified by JCT.

Matthew 5:27-30

JCT seems to suggest that the only reasonable meaning of Matthew 5:27-30 is that it is teaching that regenerate people can sin badly enough that they will be cast into hell-fire. An alternative explanation is that Jesus is explaining that lusting after a woman is a sin of sufficient gravity to merit eternal damnation, and that consequently merely abstaining from physical acts of adultery is insufficient to fulfill the law of God. After all, if we repent and trust in Christ not only lusting after a woman but also the physical act of adultery will be forgiven.

Hebrews 4:9-11

JCT seems to suggest that the only reasonable meaning of Hebrews 4:9-11 is that we do not have eternal rest yet, and consequently must keep on believing/working in order to obtain that. We agree that we do not yet have eternal rest, for that is a reference to heaven. Furthermore, the point of the passage is that since we have not reached the fulfillment of the Sabbath, we must continue to work. Nevertheless, as verse 9 indicates, the people of God have a future rest coming. JCT's objection seems to confuse a condition of Christian life (to live on Earth is to work) with a condition for Heavenly Life (as though we receive heavenly rest not by grace but works). Verse 16 of the same chapter dispels this misconception.

Revelation 22:18-19

JCT seems to suggest that the only reasonable meaning of Revelation 22:18-19 is that people can only have a part in the holy city if they were regenerate. An alternative explanation is that those are being addressed who think they have a part. The elect will heed the warning, and the rest will be warned of what awaits them. After all, the command is – in essence – a command to believe the Scriptures. Those who willfully subtract from Scriptures refuse to believe what it says. Such an action is inconsistent with Faith in the Word and the Spirit.

Miscellaneous Issues

JCT acknowledges that some folks have interpreted warning passages in Scripture as entirely hypothetical. JCT responds that the "Key to understanding where the error lies in such a position is how they employ the terms 'hypothetical' and 'possible.' This is not the same as being unsure whether the consequences are actual possibilities or not: in the Calvinist view, such a result must be strictly speculative. Some will say it's 'possible,' but not possible in a sense that it could ever come to pass, thus not a genuine possibility (since in their view, it will definitely never occur)."

JCT seems in this objection to confuse "will" with "could." For example, it will not happen that genuine believers will eventually go to hell, but we could imagine how it may be that they could do so, if a different set of circumstances were present. For example, if genuine believers were not loved by God, God could let them separate themselves from Him. Objecting that such a description is "strictly speculative" or not a "genuine possibility" may or may not be accurate, but it is not a rebuttal.

JCT parodies the hypothetical interpretation this way, "'Don't do something God won't allow, or He'll do something He would never do,' putting scripture through mind-boggling contortions to accommodate 16th century doctrinal silliness." But the response is to turn to Genesis 15:8-18, where God in essence swears that he will do what he promises, or that he will be divided. One could parody this is as, "God promises not do something that he says he won't do, or He'll do something that he would never do." Is that for the accommodation of "doctrinal silliness"? Surely not.

Indeed, JCT acknowledges that "It's true that impossible and completely speculative statements are occasionally made in scripture, Jeremiah 31:35-37 comes immediately to mind, where one is used to express that God being unfaithful is as feasible as a man being able to measure heaven and earth." JCT goes on to contrast these to the warnings discussed above, and properly so. These are not examples of hyperbole. Nevertheless, warnings for believers - even if they are warnings of dire consequences can have more than one purpose.

One purpose would be prophetic: you will do this, and you will fall. Another purpose, however, is pastoral: if you do this, you will fall. A pastoral warning can have use in the form of preventing the warned person from ever doing the "this." The usual analogy is one's child playing by the fire. We may properly warn the child that if they fall into the fire, they will be burnt to a crisp, without having the least intention of letting that happen. Why does JCT seem to want God from treating us like children?

JCT makes a final appeal to ineffectuality: "Calvinism, despite any doubletalk about God filling us with fear and trembling, effectively states that there's no reason to fear such warnings because God will never allow such consequences to occur, making the word of God of no effect." It is interesting that JCT would make this sort of claim. Yes, the fear of Calvinism is not the sort of servile fear in which man fears that he will do something that will separate himself from the love of God. No, it is a recognition of the power and majesty of the Most Holy God.

Sola Deo Gloria,


Genuine Christian Apostasy - Affirmative Constructive Essay

Debate With Turretin Fan, Opening Statement
By J.C. Thibodaux

I wrote a challenge to Calvinist doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints some time back to show that the concept of eternal security was incompatible with several key warning passages in scripture. An important principle of scriptural interpretation is that passages that are clearer should guide our understanding of those which are not as clear. Though many places in the Bible warn against falling away, I chose these particular three for two main reasons:

1.) Clarity of address, and 2.) clarity of consequence.

Matthew 5:27-30 - Escaping the snares of wickedness is not advice that would benefit one who was unregenerate, much less allow him to enter into life (see the parallel passages in Matthew 18:9 and Mark 9:47). Christ's words were plainly directed at those who follow Him. The consequence of being overcome by sin is hell fire, it doesn't get much clearer.

Hebrews 4:9-11 - The context of the whole discourse pertains to those who believe, notably where the author states that "we who have believed do enter into that rest," and when he concludes his call to perseverance by stating of himself and those he addresses, "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess." The rest being spoken of can only be eternal rest given the context. Note that it is not something achieved when one believes, for we who have believed are entering it (verse 3), further indicated by verse 10, "for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his."

Revelation 22:18-19 - The consequence of having one's part in the holy city taken being only applicable to those who possess a share of the heavenly inheritance, who is being addressed specifically isn't hard to determine. Having one's part in the holy city taken can realistically amount to nothing else than eternal separation from Christ.

Unlike many of the warnings in scripture which Calvinists write off as applying only to the unsaved or speaking of loss of tertiary rewards, these warnings with eternal and damning consequences are addressed to the regenerate specifically, eliminating any possibility of chalking them up to the "almost saved" or "false professors. Such clarity also renders the eternal securist arguments of violators getting their 'potential' eternal reward taken from them rather weak, such arguments made even more ridiculous by the Calvinist position, which effectively has God threatening to revoke an inheritance that He never planned on giving them.

The clarity with which these warnings are delivered has driven many Calvinists to view the passages as entirely hypothetical. Key to understanding where the error lies in such a position is how they employ the terms 'hypothetical' and 'possible.' This is not the same as being unsure whether the consequences are actual possibilities or not: in the Calvinist view, such a result must be strictly speculative. Some will say it's 'possible,' but not possible in a sense that it could ever come to pass, thus not a genuine possibility (since in their view, it will definitely never occur).

With that in mind, it would be much easier for Reformed theologians to reconcile their views with just a command to persevere, but the consequences given with these divine warnings (especially Revelation 22:19, which pertains directly to the possession of the believer) pose a major problem in that the Reformed view of Perseverance turns them into absurd impossibilities contingent upon more absurd impossibilities. If a genuine believer falling into damnation would imply a change in the very nature of God (as was stated at Dordt), and hence God Himself ensures that such warnings can never be violated by believers, then Calvinism essentially makes these divine warnings say, "Don't do something God won't allow, or He'll do something He would never do," putting scripture through mind-boggling contortions to accommodate 16th century doctrinal silliness.

It's true that impossible and completely speculative statements are occasionally made in scripture, Jeremiah 31:35-37 comes immediately to mind, where one is used to express that God being unfaithful is as feasible as a man being able to measure heaven and earth. In contrast, these warnings are not at all framed as anything speculative or hypothetical, nor does anything in the text suggest as much. Hence reinterpreting, "If you take away from this book, God will take away your part in His kingdom" as merely, "If God were to allow such a thing (which He won't), then you would lose your part in His kingdom" is naught but wholly unjustified filtering of scripture through a dogmatic lens. The absolute negative of those consequences being, in the Calvinist view, due to and absolutely necessitated by the very faithfulness of God, one can only wonder as to why God would cast doubt upon His own faithfulness by proclaiming such consequences upon the redeemed who violate His command, without even a hint of the "but that could never happen" qualification that Calvinists are so quick to add.

The eternal securist defenses against the clear implications in these passages then fall far short of being either sound or convincing. Many instead like to point to assurances of salvation given in scripture as evidence against its conditionality, but a promise does not negate its own conditions -- assurance with accompanying conditions is still conditional assurance. Bottom line, the Calvinist view of perseverance cannot be soundly reconciled with the scriptural warnings against believers falling into damnation:

Scripture says, "Be diligent lest you come up short!"

Calvinism adds, "But you can't possibly come up short!"

Scripture says, "Take heed lest you fall!"

Calvinism counters, "You never can and never will fully fall away."

Scripture says, "Do not be high-minded, but fear."

Calvinism, despite any doubletalk about God filling us with fear and trembling, effectively states that there's no reason to fear such warnings because God will never allow such consequences to occur, making the word of God of no effect.

Moderator Note - Overlapping Debates Warning

J.C. Thibodaux has graciously offered to debate the following resolution:

Resolution: Resolved that doctrine which teaches that genuine Christians cannot end up in hell due to unfaithfulness to God cannot be soundly reconciled with Matthew 5:27-30, Hebrews 4:9-11, and Revelation 22:18-19.

1. Affirmative opening essay.
2. Negative opening essay.
3. Affirmative Cross-Examination of Negative (5 questions).
(Negative answers)
4. Negative Cross-Examination of Affirmative (5 questions).
(Affirmative answers)
5. Negative rebuttal essay.
6. Affirmative rebuttal essay.
7. Negative conclusion essay.
8. Affirmative conclusion essay.

JCT will be taking the affirmative role, and I will be taking the negative role. For labeling purposes I have identified this debate as the "Genuine Christian Apostasy" debate.

I apologize to those readers whose reading of the overlapping Sola Scriptura debate will be interrupted by this debate, which I hope will be a much shorter project - both in terms of length of the essays, as well as the overall duration of the debate.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Sacred Scripture and its place in the Church (1NC)

Sacred Scripture and its place in the Church
Refuting Sola Scriptura Opening Essay
By. Matthew James Bellisario 2008


I will address in these series of essays the incorrect use of the Sacred Scriptures of those who reside outside of the Catholic Church. More in particular the fallacy that the Sacred Scriptures are the only source of Divine Revelation given to us by Our Lord. The simplistic refutations that are often used today in Catholic apologetics, while they have their place, are often void of the introspection needed to fully understand the proper place of the Sacred Scriptures within the Church, both the Old and New Testaments. Although I will point out where the Sola Scriptura position misses the mark in its assertion that Sacred Scripture is the only authority we need , or have as Christians, I will also focus in on the proper function of the Sacred Scriptures as they have been used consistently by the Church throughout the ages. We must understand how Sacred Tradition, or the Gospel lives and breathes within the Church. In this study we will find that not only were the Scriptures not used as an isolated vehicle to give us the Word, we will find that the Word is not a written Word, but a living one that cannot be contained in a written source. It is the living Gospel in practice among the faithful.

To say that the Sacred Scriptures were not used to help teach the faith, would of course be incorrect. We can see many Church Fathers using the Sacred Scriptures to admonish heretics and unbelievers. The Scriptures were held in high esteem by them just as they should be, and as they are now in the Catholic Church. To assume that this was the only source, or authority that they used would be an impossible conclusion to prove, and is quite unrealistic. We will find that in order for the Scriptures to exist in their rightful place, we must have their correct interpretation that coincides with what was taught by the apostles as well as their intimate union within Church worship. The coming of Christ drastically changed, or corrected the interpretation of the Old Testament, as well as also giving us the complete Divine Revelation not offered by Our Lord before His coming. So we must also focus in on Christ Himself in light of Divine Revelation. Jesus Christ is the Word that is being spoken and proclaimed by the Church as guided by the Holy Spirit, which is called the Gospel. We will find that this Gospel is not written alone, but is proclaimed through the Church, of which we have some of it in written testimony called the Sacred Scriptures (New Testament).

Before I get into the heart of this essay I wanted clarify a few terms. The use of the term Sacred Scripture today often includes both Testaments. When I use the term Sacred Scripture I will be referring to the New Testament unless otherwise noted OT for Old Testament. I will also use the abbreviation of NT for the New Testament. The distinction of noting them both separately will be important in understanding my essays.

Sacred Scripture in the eyes of the Jewish Rabbis

In order to gain a better understanding of the place of the OT/NT in the Church, we must look into the past to see how the ancient Jews looked at the OT and how they viewed the handing on of their faith. Although they did not have the guidance of the Holy Spirit that Jesus guaranteed we would have, they did use the same principals that would be handed down to the early Church. In reading many sources on Judaism one point is crystal clear. They did not hold to a Scripture alone position regarding God's Divine Revelation to them. In regards to the Torah, they believed that there was the written Torah and the Oral Torah (
Torah she-be-al peh) that coincided with it. They believed that this oral tradition held the same weight and antiquity that the written text did. (1995 Ariel) This also mirrors the Catholic position on the OT/NT. To the Jews, the Torah was a living revelation and not a static written code. It is understood by the Jewish people that every written law must be accompanied by an oral one to preserve proper interpretation of the written. (2006 Steinsaltz) We can see this mentality mirrored in the writings of the Christian Fathers.

St. Basil the Great (A.D. 329-379) writes:

"Of the dogmas and kergymas preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the tradition of the Apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in manners ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject the unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce kergyma to a mere term" (Holy Spirit 27:66).”

In short we can see that Christianity developed largely out of the Jewish mindset as far as religious practices go, including an oral handing on of doctrine and law as well as written. We can see in the OT God giving authority to certain individuals to decide disputes among the community. We can see an example in
Deut 17:8-9. In the book of Ezra we also see another clear example of an oral teaching side by side with the reading of the Torah to explain it correctly to the people. When Ezra read the Scriptures aloud we see a group of Levites standing by him expounding the full meaning of the text. (2006 Steinsaltz) Scripture alone was not a practice of ancient Judaism,, nor of ancient Christianity.

The New Testament reference to Scripture, and Tradition

In reading many passages from the NT we often see references to Sacred Scripture. In reading the NT we must understand the the NT does not understand itself to be Scripture in its own text. In other words, when the term Scripture is used in the NT it is always referring to the OT, while the teaching about Christ is “Spirit” which teaches us how to understand the OT. As Pope Benedict XVI points out, “Before the idea of a “canon” of NT Scripture had been formulated, the Church had already developed a different concept of what was canonical; she had as her Scripture the OT, but this Scripture needed a canon of NT interpretation, which the Church saw as existing in the traditio guaranteed by the succio.” (2008 Ratzinger) It is important to understand this principal when reading the NT. In the early Church we have not only the complete Divine Revelation revealed to us, but also a new and complete understanding of the OT, in light of the coming of Christ. Throughout the NT we see authority being given to preach the Gospel. We can see this succession being established in the pages of the NT. Examples are witnessed in Acts 6:6-7, Acts 1:20-26, Act 14:23, 2 Tim 1:6 and 2 Tim 3:14. We can see from the NT that it is not only what doctrine is passed down, but by whom it is being passed down from. This in turn is forming a consistent apostolic line that would be passed down in the Church until the end of time, which the Holy Spirit is given to guide. Jn 14:25.

I am amazed to see the texts used to justify Sola Scriptura. Usually you will see I Tim 3:15-17 or Acts 17:11 sited as a proof-texts. The Church has always held that Sacred Scripture is authoritative as it is the written form of the Gospel. But the church has never held that the Scriptures were to stand alone as some kind of standard or rule, separated from the complete Gospel, which includes Tradition and the Church. In fact no place in the Sacred Scriptures, OT or NT, will make this claim, nor is it ever implied. In II Timothy 3:15-17 we can see this calling for people to use Scripture as a source for Doctrine and correction. We must also understand that the OT is the Scripture that is being referenced here in this passage. This being observed as such, we can also deduce that this concept would also carry over to the NT when it was finally given to us as “Scripture”. So we see how Scripture is indeed a source for doctrine and correction, but an authority must accompany it in order for it to be understood correctly as St. Paul says in 2 Thess 3:6 and 1 Cor 11:2. Saint Paul and the NT writers are following right in the footsteps of Judaism in regards to the use of Sacred Scripture. They understood the importance of an authority to correctly spread the Gospel, as well as an accompanying oral tradition.

What is Sacred Tradition as understood by the Church?

Many seem to understand Tradition as being an addition to the Sacred Scriptures. This however is an incorrect, or incomplete way to view it. In fact Sacred Tradition properly understood includes the Sacred Scriptures, both OT and NT. To view it as something in addition to, or going along side with Scripture gives us a reduced understanding of how and what the Word of God is, and how it is given to us. We can see the how the Church in its battle with Gnosticism clarified its view as to what Tradition is. In fact the Church viewed it as the relation of the living faith in reference to the apostolic succession of the bishops, while the Gnostics viewed it as a secret oral tradition handed down from the apostles. There is a big difference in the two views. Pope Benedict XI points out, “The Church invoked Tradition, not in order to set unwritten apostolic doctrine alongside Scripture, but precisely in order to dispute the existence of any such secret heritage.” He also points out that apostolic succession and apostolic tradition define each other. He says, “ the succession is the form of the tradition, and the tradition is the content of the succession”. (2008 Ratzinger)

We can contend that Sacred Tradition is the preaching and passing on of the Word of God, or the Gospel. As we see in Rom 10:14-15, the Word is heard, preached, and not read. There must be a sending, or mission as commissioned by Christ through his apostles, as continued in the same manner to those following in the apostles footsteps. This is witnessed in Heb 13:7, Gal 1:8. This is upheld by the early Christian Fathers in their writings, sermons and homilies. Saint Chrysostom in his homily on the Second Letter to the Thessalonians speaks on the 2
nd Chapter and 15th verse, “So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by Epistle of ours. ”Hence it is manifest, that they did not deliver all things by Epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition, seek no farther. Here he shows that there were many who were shaken.” As to the existence of Tradition in the Church as a source of Divine revelation there can be no doubt .

There are some that claim that the oral passing on of Revelation ended with the apostles. We can see that this was not the case. Saint Chrysostom wrote of this Tradition in the 4
th century. There are also other early Christian witnesses that attest to the authority of Tradition, such Saint Epiphanius of Salamis who wrote in his Panacea against all heresies, “It is needful also to make use of Tradition; for not everything can be gotten from Sacred Scripture. The holy Apostles handed down some things in the Scriptures, other things in Tradition.” Some also claim that once the NT canon was defined that the use of Tradition was discontinued. That is also not a reality. The reality of the Gospel being a living Word passed on by oral Tradition, with some of it written in Scripture is a matter of fact as attested to by the Sacred Scriptures themselves as well as the witness of Christians throughout the history of the Church. We can also deduce that there must be an established authority in order to guarantee the living Word throughout the world. Tradition and Scripture are one in the same. They are the same Word of God in two forms, one in substance. Just as water can be liquid and solid, the Word of God is oral and written, one and the same substance.

I would like to point out an example of how Tradition has given us dogma which is not found explicitly in Sacred Scripture, only implicitly. Genesis 38:9-10 deals with the improper use of the sexual act. Without Tradition we have no clear understanding of this passage. I often witness Protestants accusing the Catholic Church of changing its doctrines, yet we see a clear fundamental teaching of the Christian faith changed by nearly every Protestant church over the last 70 years or so. In 1930 at the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican church decided it was OK to use contraception, and almost every Protestant church soon followed in their footsteps. Once again we see what happens when you dismiss the authority of Christ and His Church, and privately interpret Scripture. We now have millions of people calling themselves “Christians” yet committing an unspeakable abomination against Almighty God. Not only is contraception intrinsically evil, but millions of those using the “pill” are also unwittingly adding to the list of abortions by the millions. What I find interesting is that even Protestant heros such as Calvin and Luther opposed the use of contraception. (Provan 1989)

I would like to add one final thought to sum up the definition of Tradition as it relates to the Scriptures. Although interpretation is an important function of Tradition, it is much more than that. It is more than exegetical interpretation, but it is also a partaking in the spiritual authority that God has given us in the very being of the Church's existence as well as her faith and Liturgy. So the deposit of faith is comprised of the OT Scriptures in light of the coming of Christ, Christ the Word Himself which includes oral and written, living in the heart of the faithful as guided by the Holy Spirit within the apostolic authority (Church) given to us by Christ Himself. As Pope Benedict XVI says,
“We can further note that the New Testament Scriptures do not appear as one principle alongside apostolic tradition; still less (as in the case with us), do the New Testament Scriptures together with the Old Testament, stand as one single entity “Scripture”, which could be contrasted with “tradition” as a second entity. Rather, the complex of New Testament event and reality appears together as a developing dual yet single principle, that of Gospel; as such, it is contrasted on the one hand, with the Old Testament and on the other, with the specific events in the subsequent age of the Church. Its inner unity is quite visibly stronger and more important than its division into written and unwritten, so that despite these two forms of realization it can be contrasted as a single principle with the Old Testament.” He continues to say, “the implanting of the gospel in men's hearts, articulated in the second principle (the second principal being the preaching of the Christ) , which goes beyond what can be captured in the Scriptures.” (2008 Ratzinger)

Tradition is not just quoting Church Fathers. Yes, they can provide evidence of what the Church believed throughout history, but we cannot rely on these writings, and Scripture alone either. Adrian Fortescue wrote, “We must not forget that the early Fathers did not write their letters or preach their sermons with a view to supplying evidences of the faith of their time for future controversialists.” If we had no early church Father writings today, the Church would still be teaching and preaching the same living Gospel. I hope that this will end the misunderstanding that many “Reformers” have about Tradition. It is my hope that they will no longer refer to it as an addition to the Scriptures, since it has been demonstrated that it is not. They are one in the same. As Vladimir Lossky rightly says,
“One can neither confound them or separate them without depriving them of the character of fullness that they possess together.” (Lossky 2005)

Sacred Scripture and Church Worship

It would not be an understatement to say that the NT canon was formulated, articulated, preached and interpreted in the Divine Liturgy worship services of the worldwide Church. (Hahn 2005) In fact the Sacred Scriptures were predominantly used within her Liturgy throughout the first 1400 years of the Church, until the invention of the printing press. I have witnessed many people saying that the Catholic Church tried to keep the Scriptures away form the common laity. This fallacy however shows a clear misunderstanding or ignorance of the state of society during the ancient periods of the Church. These Biblical manuscripts were handwritten, and took many years to complete. Therefore it would be no surprise to anyone that the Scriptures would be confined to the churches. The Divine Liturgy was the primary vehicle the Church would use to teach the masses the Word of God. The Sacred Scriptures would be read and expounded upon just as the Jews did in the synagogues. The living witness of the Holy Spirit within the Church gave the proper and complete interpretation of the living Word of God. We have today many homilies preached by the Fathers of the Church during the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy, Sacred Scripture and Theology have an intimate union that cannot be separated. (Fagerberg 2006)

How do we know that the Body and Blood of Christ become present during the consecration at the Divine Liturgy? We know precisely because this is what was taught, and is taught by the Church in living Word. How do we know that the Catholic and Orthodox Church interprets the Gospel of John correctly referring to this doctrine? We can see that this was the consistent interpretation throughout Christendom, as revealed in her worship. Saint John Chrysostom in his homily given during a Liturgy in the 4
th century confirms that he interpreted it the same way. I don't have the space to print his whole homily here. There is no ambiguity in his interpretation of the Gospel of John 6, or 1st Corinthians 11:24-27 where he speaks of eating the flesh and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ in detail. He in turn passed on this teaching, and interpretation of the Scriptures to others, who in turn passed it down and so forth. The very fact that we have the canon of the NT today is because they were used in the Divine Liturgy of the Church as giving witness to the faith that was being lived out in the Church. More clearly, the Sacred Scriptures are a written witness to the living faith of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Divine Liturgy has always been the vehicle of faith for the Church and her faithful. It was not until the Reformation that the Divine Liturgy would be done away with by the Protestants, and the use of the Scriptures would become a tool for private interpretations.

The authority and reverence of Sacred Scripture in the Church

It must be noted that the Sacred Scriptures have always been held in high esteem in the Church. This especially being the case after the NT canon was formulated by the Church and began to be used in its totality versus individual books being used in different places. In fact the Church began to create a calendar that revolved around the Gospels. The Scriptural readings in the Divine Liturgy reflected certain readings at different times of the year reflecting a certain Christ event. This is maintained in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, while the Protestant churches have done away with this. In reality we can see a higher reverence for the Sacred Scriptures within the Catholic and Orthodox Churches than the Protestants who claim to hold a Sola Scriptura position. In fact in the Catholic church we celebrate many feast days pertaining to Christ events that stem directly from the Sacred Scriptures. We don't just celebrate Christmas and Easter as feast days. We include Christ's Ascension into heaven, the Healing of the Blind Man, the Transfiguration, the Feast of Pentecost, etc, etc. The Catholic Church has always held the Sacred Scriptures in high esteem. We also see the Catholic Church using the Scriptures, within Tradition to defend and to teach doctrine and dogma.

The Church's Councils and documents on the Sacred Scriptures

I wanted to include here a few statements from the Catholic Church on the Sacred Scriptures to demonstrate again the rightful place of Sacred Scripture. We can plainly see that the Catholic Church holds the Sacred Scriptures in very high esteem. We can also see the consistent teaching that the Church guided by the Holy Spirit , within Tradition, is a necessity for proper interpretation.

Vatican I (Chapter 2 on Revelation) states:

Now since the decree on the interpretation of holy scripture, profitably made by the council of Trent, with the intention of constraining rash speculation, has been wrongly interpreted by some, we renew that decree and declare its meaning to be as follows: that

* in matters of faith and morals,
* belonging as they do to the establishing of christian doctrine,
* that meaning of holy scripture must be held to be the true one,
* which holy mother church held and holds,
since it is her right to judge of the true meaning and interpretation of holy scripture.

Pope Leo XIII Encyclical on the Holy Scriptures (PROVIDENTISSIMUS DEUS paragraph 3.)

3. Among the reasons for which the Holy Scripture is so worthy of commendation - in addition to its own excellence and to the homage which we owe to God's Word - the chief of all is, the innumerable benefits of which it is the source; according to the infallible testimony of the Holy Ghost Himself, who says: "All Scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church States

105 God is the author of Sacred Scripture. "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit."69

"For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself."70

107 The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures."72

110 In order to discover the sacred authors' intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. "For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression."76

111 But since Sacred Scripture is inspired, there is another and no less important principle of correct interpretation, without which Scripture would remain a dead letter. "Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written."77

113 2. Read the Scripture within "the living Tradition of the whole Church". According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church's heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God's Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (". . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church"81).

Part II: Why Sola Scriptura is not a Christian Teaching

The Westminster Confession, and its authority.

I could have started this essay with the same old arguments on why Sola Scriptura is false. I thought that I would take a different position for a change and show how the Scriptures are to be understood correctly as I have done in the first 3/4 of my essay. I want to look at some of the claims that the Westminster Confession makes. The first being on Holy Scripture in which the confession says, “and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing;” So this confession would have us believe that the complete Gospel has been committed to writing, to better preserve the the truth? My first question is, why should we believe this confession? It certainly holds no authority from God to make this matter of fact statement. The problem with confessions, and private interpretations of Scripture and the like, is that the claims they make are always usurped by the their own authority. In more clearer terms, the one who says that Scripture alone is the authority, becomes a greater authority than that which they are proclaiming has the authority. The Catholic does not have this problem, since Jesus Christ Himself gives us the authority through His apostles as guided by the Holy Spirit. We do not have a problem of authority, as the “Reformer” does whether he will admit it or not. One cannot say the Scriptures are the only authority, and then go on to tell us how they are to be interpreted, and furthermore what the Scriptures are even to be comprised of. The authority of the Scriptures becomes usurped by the one telling me what they really mean, and what they are, since the Scriptures are not going to speak to me themselves to give me a clear exegesis.

The problem of the Canon

The “confession” says, III. “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.” I would like to ask once again, says who? The “confession” written by mere men? This is to whom I should answer to? We can find many different opinions throughout history as to what books should be in the Canon and what should not be. Once again, the Church given to us by Jesus tells us that they are (the Deuterocanonical books) Sacred Scripture. Who is to ultimately decide upon the variations of opinions? Although we can find ample evidence proving that the Deuterocanonical books were considered Scripture by most Christians for the first 300- 400 years, who is to say they were not wrong? Who is to say they were correct? If we are to know God's will, then the authority must come from Him alone, in the means that He said he would give to us, that is through His Church, not through a manmade confession.

The Early Church and the “Apocrypha”

The Protestant Scripture scholar Bruce Metzger says in the Oxford RSV notes,
"During the early Christian centuries most Greek and Latin Church Fathers, such as Irenaeus, Tertulian, Clement of Alexandria, and Cyprian (none of whom knew any Hebrew), quoted passages from the Apocrypha as "Scripture," "divine Scripture," "inspired," and the like. In this period only an occasional Father made an effort to learn the limits of the Palestinian Jewish canon (as Melito of Sardis), or to distinguish between the Hebrew text of Daniel and the addition of the story of Susanna in the Greek version (as Africanus)." Here we can deduce that the Deuterocanonical books were viewed as Sacred Scripture by the vast majority of early Christians. Why should I, or anyone for that matter believe the Westminster Confession, telling me they were all wrong? The Sacred Scriptures were given to us by the Church, they are part of the living Gospel, and they are only interpreted within this God-breathed entity. The entity being the Church that has apostolic succession back to the apostles with the authority given to them by Jesus Himself. The Westminster Confession cannot prove itself to be Divinely inspired, nor apostolic, and therefore cannot be trusted. It holds itself up to be a higher authority than the Scriptures by its own action. If we eliminate the Westminster Confession here, then in short we must conclude that those who hold to Scripture alone without some confession, are those who believe in the clock pendulum swinging, but no clock for it to swing from.


Ariel, David S. What Do Jews Believe. New York: Schocken Books, 1995.

Ratzinger, Joseph. God's Word. San Francisco: Ignatius P, 2008.

Hahn, Scott. Letter and Spirit. New York: Doubleday, 2005

Fagerberg, David. The Liturgical Mystery and the Mystery of God (Letter and Spirit Journal Vol2) Steubenville, Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology 2006

Provan, Charles D. The Bible and Birth Control. Monongahela PA: Zimmer Printing 1989

Steinsaltz, Adin. The Essential Talmud. New York: Basic Books, 2006.

Lossky, Vladimir. In the Image and Likeness of God. Crestwood NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2005

Fortescue, Adrain. The Early Papacy. San Francisco: Ignatius Press 2008

Metzger, Bruce M., and May, Herbert G., New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha Expanded Edition RSV. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Libreria Editrice Vatican 1997

Holy See, ed. "Catechism of the Catholic Church." Vatican.Va. Vatican/Holy See. .

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ruled by the Word of God (AC)


“Search the Scriptures,” said Jesus [John 5:39], and even today we follow his words. They were words spoken to his critics: to those who did not believe on him. Christ submitted his own teachings to the light of Scriptures. These critics were members of the visible congregation (the OT equivalent of church) of God. The Pharisees were not simply Jews, they were religious Jews, Jews who claimed to worship God, and whose sect was the dominant one. They were devoted to ritual and to the performance of good deeds, yet they did not believe the Scriptures.

From Jesus’ words we can glean several lessons. First, there are Scriptures. Scriptures, as Paul tells us [2 Tim 3:16] are given by inspiration of God. Such books exist. There are Scriptures, something denied neither by my opponent in this debate, nor by virtually any sect of Christianity. Since the time of Moses, the Jews (later the whole world) have had Scriptures.

Second, the Scriptures are searchable. They are able to be searched i.e. examined. The Swedish Bible expresses it, “I rannsaken skrifterna” – which we might interpret: “Ransack the Scriptures.” The underlying Greek word seems to justify a strong sense to searching. The word describes a deep investigation, not merely a cursory scan. The Scriptures can be examined deeply, in great detail.

Christ thirdly teaches that Scriptures speak of him. This is the topic of Scripture. Recall Luke’s account of Christ on the road to Emmaus. Luke 24:27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

So then, let’s diligently obey the command to search the Scriptures, for they speak of Christ: both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Philip the evangelist preached Jesus to Ethiopian Eunuch from Isaiah [Acts 8:35]. So then, from Scripture we can learn about the Messiah, the Lord Jesus, and the way to be saved from our sins. It is there for us to read.

Summary of the doctrines

The WCF, chapter 1, provides the following ten sections, each backed up by footnoted prooftext.

(I) The Reformed doctrine of Scripture is at heart a practical one. We use the revelation that we have. We acknowledge that there is general revelation of God in the works of creation and providence, and that this general revelation renders men unexcusable. We also recognize that general revelation is not enough. We acknowledge that Scripture is not the only way that God has revealed himself propositionally to men. God has revealed himself at various times in various ways. Today, however, God does not speak to us face to face – as with Adam in the garden. God does not speak to us out of a burning bush, as He did with Moses in the wilderness. Jesus does not teach us on the mountaintops or in the synagogues, as during His earthly ministry. Nevertheless, we have revelation: Scriptures. The Scriptures serve to comfort the Church and provide resistance to human frailty of memory, as well as to the hatred of Satan and the world.

(II) We have sixty-six books of Scripture. Since this is not a debate on the canon of Scripture, I will not expound at length on the matter of the canon. The canon of Scripture is simply all of those inspired writings that God has given to us. We find it handy to write out the list of the canon, as a sort of table of contents to it. But of course the list itself, nor the ordering of the list, is inspired. Indeed, even the titles of some of the books are not inspired, but simply conventional.

(III) We reject as authoritative the Apocrypha – those additional books and parts that are not inspired, but which have sometimes been called Deuterocanonical. They are of historical interest – and they are of grammatical interest, since they are ancient books written in Greek. Nevertheless, since they are not inspired, they do not have any more authority than any other human writings. Again, however, the topic of the Apocrypha is largely a question of the canon of Scripture, which is not the topic of this debate, and so a greater length exposition of the matter is unnecessary for now.

(IV) The authority of Scripture is entirely the result of Scripture being inspired by God. It is not the result of the testimony of any man or group of men. It is the Word of God, and is therefore to be believed. In other words, we obey Scripture because it is God speaking, not because men say that it is God speaking.

(V) The Church testifies to the Scriptures, and this may be something that leads us to Scripture. Likewise, the content of Scripture may itself persuade us that it is God’s word – because of its beautiful style, its internal consistency, and its providing a discussion of God and his character. Ultimately, though, we accept Scripture because we are inwardly persuaded by the Holy Spirit that it is God’s Word. He may use means, but in the final analysis we accept the Scripture’s as God’s Word because the Spirit enlightens our minds. Such a distinction is not intended to downplay or derogate the means. As Scripture says: Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! Nevertheless, we do not believe men, but rather God.

(VI) The Bible is a complete document. It is sufficient. It contains everything that we need to know for faith and life in general, in order to glorify God and in order to be saved. Nevertheless, the illumination of the Holy Spirit – who persuades us of the truth of inspiration of Scripture – is necessary for anyone to obtain a saving knowledge of God, even from Scripture. It is complete – but it is not exhaustive. It does not tell you how to program in Fortran – it does not tell you whether to work in retail sales or landscaping. The Bible doesn’t even tell us what time of day to have our church services. It does provide general guidance in those areas, and it does teach the use of prudence.

(VII) Not all of the teachings of Scripture are equally clear, but the things necessary to be known for salvation are clearly taught, so that even uneducated people can understand them. That is not to deny that a saving knowledge requires the illumination of the Holy Spirit: it surely does. It is also not to deny the value of teachers in the church and of the counsel of our fellow brethren whether with us or preceding us. Nevertheless, we note that it is not those deep things of the word (whose depths we plumb with the help of the great theologians), but the necessary things of which we speak. As Chrysostom so memorably put it in his Third Homily on Second Thessalonians, “All things are clear and open that are in the divine Scriptures; the necessary things are all plain.”

(VIII) The authentic version of the Bible is the original language in which the Bible was written. For the most part, that is Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). Thus, when there are disputes they are to be settled by reference to the original language texts. Nevertheless, since many people cannot read the Greek of the New Testament or the Hebrew of the Old Testament, it is both proper and necessary to translate the Scriptures into a language that is understandable to the reader. Recall in Acts 2:7-21, the account of the outpouring of the gift of tongues at Pentecost. By the miraculous gift of tongues it was not only signified but provided that the word of God would be preached to every part of the world, not in a foreign language but their own.

(IX) Scripture interprets Scripture. That is to say, we let Scripture speak for itself. We do not (or at least we ought not to) seek to impose our own ideas, theories, etc. on Scripture. If we come to a difficult passage, we should search out its meaning by turning to more clear passages, because that is safer. Indeed, this is how we read documents normally. If there is some difficult word in a letter, whose meaning is not perhaps immediately apparent, we look to the context. If the immediate context does not help we look to the broader context.

(X) Whenever there is a dispute among men on matters pertaining to religion, the supreme arbiter that we have is the Holy Spirit, speaking through Scripture. Thus, when two Christians disagree, they ought to seek to resolve their disagreement ultimately by reference to Scripture. That does not mean that there is no role for the church in resolving disputes. That is not to say that the church always plays its role well. As the Apostle John reminds us, speaking of Diotrephes, 3 John 10 Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. Finally, Scripture provides a way for men to settle their disputes over such doctrines as the doctrine of alleged papal infallibility. Otherwise, how would we decide whether that doctrine is a true doctrine?

It is this doctrine, the doctrine that Scripture is the ultimate arbiter, that ultimately seems to serve as the primary bone of contention between the Reformed and the papists. It should be noted that the fallible authors of the Westminster Confession of Faith heavily footnoted their work with Scripture. Thus, at least on its face (and until someone has given us reason to doubt their proofs), we might conclude that the WCF’s chapter I, on the doctrine of Scripture were properly derived from Scripture.

Definition of the Questions

There are two main questions to be considered. The first question is whether the Scriptures are an authority – a source to which Christians can turn to settle disputes. The second question is whether there is any other authority of equal or greater dignity in our possession.

The answer to the first question is that Scriptures are authoritative: Christians can turn to them to settle disputes. Normally this question is not disputed by the papists. They normally admit to the authority of Scripture. They normally recognize that any doctrine contrary to Scripture is wrong. The answer to the second question is that it is really up to the proponent of the other authority to demonstrate its dignity. But the papists cannot establish that there is some other authority existing today that is God’s Word: that has the same or greater authority than the Bible. Therefore, we answer both questions in favor of the doctrines of Sola Scriptura, leaving Mr. Bellasario the burden of demonstrating any other Word of God.

Several objections, however, are sometimes raised.

Objection 1 – Scriptures are not Clear

Sometimes it is objected that Scriptures cannot serve as an ultimate arbiter because they are not clear. This is a very old objection, but as invalid today as when it was first raised. A first part of the answer to this objection may be found in the fact that Christ commends the search of Scripture. If Scripture were so unclear as not to be understandable, or not useful for resolving disputes, it does not seem reasonable that Christ would commend the study of Scripture.

Historically, some papists have acted consistently with their view that Scripture is unclear by hindering the promulgation of editions of Scripture in the common tongue. For example, while the “Venerable” Bede is said to have provided an early partial translation of the Bible (perhaps only John’s Gospel) into English, and there are various other partial translations (for example, a translation of at least some of the Psalms in Alfred’s day, and perhaps by his authority) that are believed to have been made, they were incomplete and poorly distributed. The first English Bible was not published until the time of Wycliffe in the 14th century. Wycliffe received martyrdom for his troubles, and the papist authorities sought to destroy the copies of the Bible that he printed. It was not until the beginning of the 17th century, by which time the flood of English Bibles was already unstoppable, that a complete papist edition of the Bible in English was released.

The following admonition was included with the papist Bible: “To prevent and remedy this abuse, and to guard against error, it was judged necessary to forbid the reading of the Scriptures in the vulgar languages, without the advice and permission of the pastors and spiritual guides whom God has appointed to govern his church, Acts 20:28. Christ himself declared, “he that will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican.” Matt. xviii. 17.” (all emphases in original)

This objection was raised long ago. Irenaeus describing heretics states, “When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition.” [Ante-Nicean Fathers, volume 1, page 415, Roberts et al.] Irenaeus’ comments confirm that Ireneaus believed that Scriptures are correct, of authority, not ambiguous, and that the truth can be extracted from them by those ignorant of tradition.

The answer that Irenaeus gives is that these are people who do not follow Scripture. They appeal to it when they think it useful. They appeal to tradition when they think that is useful. But when they are presented with Scripture or tradition to the contrary of their views they just reject it. Irenaeus’ reasoning makes sense. Either Scriptures have God’s authority, or they do not.

Objection 2 – Scripture’s Authority Derives from the Authority of the Church

Sometimes it is objected that Scripture obtains its authority by recognition of the church. For example, some papists object that it is the church that provides us with Scripture, and that we trust Scripture because we trust the church. In this matter, they are fond of quoting Augustine.

But Scripture is authoritative because inspired. It is of authority because God is its author, not because men recognize it as such. Scripture was authoritative before it was even complete. Scripture has been authoritative since Moses wrote down the first parts of it. Scripture is to be believed whether or not it is promoted by godly men. The Scribes and the Pharisees were not godly men, but they were those who promulgated the Scriptures in the time from end of the prophets. But Moses’ writings had authority, not because they were from the Pharisees, and not because they were from Moses, but because they were from God.

As Paul explained: 1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.

Objection 3 – The Canon

Sometimes one sees objections to the authority of Scripture based on the doctrine of the Canon. For example, it is claimed that the Scripture contains no infallible table of contents. But this objection is a bit absurd. If they will grant that we know that these sixty-six books of the Bible are from God, then the table of contents is easily derived from the books, simply by laying them on the table in front of us.

Usually the objection is more practical, though: how can we convince someone of the canonicity of Esther (for example)? The answer to that question, however, ultimately lies in the persuasion of the Holy Spirit. We must receive the word of God by faith. Thus, it is written that “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” (Hebrews 11:3)

Furthermore, Scripture was authoritative with an incomplete canon. One only needs to look to Paul’s own behavior: “And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures….” (Acts 17:2).

So let us hasten humbly listen to Scripture, recalling Chrysostom’s exhortation, from his 3rd Homily on Second Thessalonians, “Tell me then, I beseech you, if now, when we are all present some one entered, having a golden girdle, and drawing himself up, and with an air of consequence said that he was sent by the king that is on the earth, and that he brought letters to the whole city concerning matters of importance; would you not then be all turned towards him? Would you not, without any command from a deacon, observe a profound silence? Truly I think so. For I have often heard letters from kings read here. Then if any one comes from a king, you all attend; and does a Prophet come from God, and speak from heaven, and no one attend? Or do you not believe that these things are messages from God? These are letters sent from God; therefore let us enter with becoming reverence into the Churches, and let us hearken with fear to the things here said.”

Positive Scriptural Presentation

Given the foregoing, we could rest the matter. Nevertheless, let us hear the testimony of Scripture itself, for it does speak of itself.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

14But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 15And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

What may we gather from these verses? First we may gather that holy scriptures are sufficient to provide knowledge for salvation. Paul tells Timothy that the scriptures “are able to make thee wise unto salvation.” It’s hard to imagine a more clear statement of the sufficiency of Scriptures than that.

What else may we gather? “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” All Scripture is, literally, God-breathed. God is the author, not man. Men pen the Scriptures, but the Scriptures themselves are breathed by God. It is His word, not theirs. This goes to the authority of the Scriptures. Scriptures are of authority because they are the word of God.

Next, “and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” While the Bible is not a textbook, it is useful for dogmatic inquiries both of a positive kind “for doctrine” “for instruction in righteousness” and of a negative kind “for reproof, for correction.” From the Bible we can determine not only what things should be believed about God, but – negatively – what things are not to be believed about God.

Finally, “That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” This combination of “perfect” from the Greek word αρτιος and the phrase “throughly furnished” from the Greek word εξηρτισμενος, provides a double confirmation of the sufficiency of Scripture.

Romans 15:4 similarly calls us to Scripture, specifically indicating that there was a purpose to Scripture and that its purpose was not limited to its immediate audience but to future generations as well. It is written for our learning. That is to say, it provides teaching. And it provides our hope, thereby giving us reason for patience and comfort. This speaks, like the previous verse, to the sufficiency of Scripture.

We may see that Jesus himself relied on Scripture as authoritative. In disputing Jew tradition regarding the Sabbath, in Matthew 12:1-8, Jesus hammered the Pharisees with Scripture. As noted above, the nation of Israel was the Old Testament equivalent of the Church in the New Testament. Their tradition was errant, and Jesus corrected it from Scripture.

We can see something similar in Mark 7:1-23. In that passage, Jesus again hammers the Jews for their extra-scriptural traditions. Note that Jesus condemns not only the extrascriptural requirement of continual handwashing, but even more so the contrascriptural tradition of misusing the concept of “Corban” to avoid filial duties. Of significance, Jesus here identifies Scripture as “the word of God.”

Of course, “the word of God” is any revelation from God. Moreover the word of God is exclusive and not to be added to by human authority:

Proverbs 30:5-6

5Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. 6Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.

And of course, Proverbs is not the only such warning:

Deuteronomy 4:2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

Deuteronomy 12:32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

Revelation 22:18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

Next, let us turn to a verse that doesn’t mention Scripture explicitly:

John 6:68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

This verse is important because it sums up the practical aspect of Sola Scriptura. We trust what the Bible says, and don’t go away from it, because – frankly – what’s the point? Scripture has the words of eternal life: it has not only the law, but the gospel.

As it is written:

Hebrews 1:1-4

1God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; 3Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; 4Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

From this passage too we can see a shift in the revelation of God. There were prophets for the fathers – and there was Christ himself for the apostles and evangelists. There were before many ways in which God revealed himself, but now through the Gospel of Christ. And how is that Gospel provided? Through Scripture.

But not everyone will hear Scripture. Let us turn to the passage that Jesus quoted against those who had decided to impose human tradition:

Isaiah 29:11-13

11And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: 12And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned. 13Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:

Notice how this passage goes? It answers the first objection identified above. It answers the objection that Irenaeus was faced with, and it answered them more than 700 years before the virgin birth of Christ. Fro you see, the learned people try to claim that they cannot read the Bible, and so do the unlearned people – but the implication is that both can read them. Isaiah is not afraid to question their motivation for doing so, either: he explains that their heart is far removed from Him, and instead of learning from His Word, they prefer to learn by the “precept of men.”

One thing we know for sure, the word of God is true.

Psalm 119:160 Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.

1 Peter 1:25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

So then, as well, Scripture is the standard by which we measure all things. Jesus Christ himself, in the passage that opened in the introduction to this essay was willing to submit his teachings to Scriptural scrutiny, and furthermore, in the passages discussed above, used Scriptures as an authority to judge human traditions.

We can see the same thing confirmed elsewhere in Scripture. For example, the Bereans are commended in this way:

Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

Notice that they searched the Scriptures diligently to determine whether the things they were being taught were true. For this to be commendable, it must be understood that there is possible for Scripture to be used as a standard. In other words, it is not the height of arrogance, but a noble trait, to search the Scripture to determine whether a doctrine is true or not.

That does not mean that mere human effort is guaranteed to produce the correct answer in every instance. As mentioned above, the Holy Spirit’s illumination is necessary:

Luke 24:45 Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,

Furthermore, contrary to some contentions of adversaries of Scriptures as our sole rule of faith, it is not the knowledge of Scriptures, but lack of knowledge of Scriptures that leads to error:

Mark 12:24 And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?

Matthew 22:29 Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.

Finally, let us turn to a most practical passage:

Galatians 1:6-9

6I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

This verse provides a serious warning. But how do we check for gospel versus false gospel? It is by comparison to the gospel preached by Paul – a gospel that we have in Scripture. We don’t have Paul. But even if we did, it wouldn’t make a difference. Look carefully at verse 8. Paul writes “though we” – to wit the apostles. Paul places the gospel message, the true one, in a higher position than his own teachings, such that if he himself apostatized and taught another gospel, it should be rejected. Such a warning presumes that the men of Galatia would compare Scripture (or the remembered preached message) to the newly preached message to determine whether the new message is true.

Why? Because we know that there will be false prophets – those claiming to have the word of God, who do not have it.

2 Peter 2:1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

And the apostle John provides the solution to the problem, the way to discern the spirits:

1 John 4:1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

How do we try (i.e. test) the spirits? By comparing their teachings to those teachings we know to be true. John even provides a specific example in 1 John 4:2-3 of how we can rightly pass judgment on the teaching of teachers.


The conclusion of all the above is that Scripture is authoritative. It is to be believed. It is a reliable standard by which we may judge other things. There is no other such standard. What we will turn to? Our church? But churches have erred. The Old Testament church, the congregation of Israel, erred. The church at Galatia erred. Other churches erred as well. How can you know if your church errs? Turn to Scripture. Determine whether the doctrines it teaches come from God or not by comparing them to the sure and steadfast word of God. 2 Peter 1:19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: “For whatever things the Scripture says, are more to be trusted than things we see.” (Chrysostom – 8th Homily on 1 Thessalonians) As it is written, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.”