Sola Scriptura – a Conclusion

Eamonn Clark, STL

After two previous posts on this topic, I am about ready to wrap it up. My first post, my most popular ever, still retains its value. I did a follow up post responding to a critique, and there is a response to that post. Unfortunately, that second response was intellectually lazy, and, seemingly, just a cop-out which amounted to – “he made some straw men, but I won’t say how, it’s too hard.” Well… Okay then. Disappointing – and also revealing. Read for yourselves to judge and see if that’s really the case. I tried to be quite fair. Anyways, consider this my final word on the matter.

The problem of canonicity is probably the most basic problem for Sola Scriptura. That is, how do we know what books are Scripture in the first place? I submit that there are only 4 ways to answer this question, period.

  1. Scripture is not a rule of faith, so it doesn’t matter (held by non-Christians)
  2. One is bound to be personally wise/holy enough to know intuitively which texts are Scripture (held by nobody)
  3. We have a fallible collection of infallible books (a deeply problematic pretzel of a position held by major Protestant scholar R. C. Sproul – again, how do we know that these books are infallible in the first place, and why would God leave some infallible texts outside our use and possibly allow some fallible texts to show up in what we call the Bible?)
  4. There is an authority external to Scripture which determines what is Scripture and what is not, thus undermining the position that Scripture alone is the entire rule of faith, as if an authority can define what is contained in Scripture, it follows that it is a parallel teaching authority (held by Catholics, Orthodox, etc., and, ironically, in practice held by Martin Luther, who presumed to create his own canon, prompting Trent’s definition of the canon)

With regard to #4, one would struggle to explain how and why an authority external to Scripture would exist solely to define the canon and not also be able to interpret its contents without error. It just does not sound very much like the God of Christianity: “Here’s a book, good luck.” And here we go into the problem of anarchy, which I described in my first post… each is left to his own devices, with many people with contrary positions claiming the support of Scripture and even that they are being instructed from within by the Holy Spirit that “x” is true and not “y.” It’s like we’ve returned to the time of the Judges, when “there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own mind.”

That’s it. If anyone can show me how this point – just this one – falls apart, I will return to this topic. But that’s about all I have to say on it. For more, see here.

7 thoughts on “Sola Scriptura – a Conclusion

  1. I am playing devils advocate here for the sake of discussion, not because I disagree with you. On the whole, I think this is the best one-shot takedown of Sola Scriptura I have seen. But most of the people I have encountered who support Sola Scriptura are not exactly rationalists. The argument I would expect to hear is that “Scripture is divinely inspired”–which would imperfectly evade your answer #3. As divinely inspired books, one would think they were given to someone who knew they were divinely inspired, and when all the divinely inspired books were assembled into one they formed the Bible.

    Other arguments against this follow–were the books Martin Luther removed from the bible not divinely inspired? And you can return to Answer #4.

    Just pointing out that Sola Scriptura is not exactly a rational argument– but if Sola Scripturists were rational in the first place, they would be Catholic.

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    1. I suppose there is a 5th possibility – “History didn’t happen.” The early disputes over the canon are well established – so it is simply a flop from the start to suggest that Scripture was protected in its integrity from the first in such a way as to be evident to all without magisterial intervention – back to #1.

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  2. Hi Clark,

    I just saw this post of yours a couple of days ago. For some reason, I didn’t get a pingback like last time. It sounds to me you’re seriously interested in engaging further, so I posted a belated response, addressing your “one point”, for starters.

    Peace be with you.

    Nemo

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    1. Sure thing. Not sure why pingbacks aren’t working… I will have a response by the end of the week. But the next round will likely be my last public response on the topic, though I am happy to continue by DM ad infinitum.

      Thanks for the articulation of your objections… it’s worth it!

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