Apologetics for the Masses #235 - Blue Collar Apologetics (cont'd)

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General Comments

Hey folks, 

Last chance to jump on board the Napa Valley Catholic Men's Conference train.  I'll be there next Saturday, May 3rd, to give two talks: 1) Marriage and the Eucharist: The Two Shall Become One; and 2) God's Plan for Men as Revealed in Scripture (which is a brand new talk I am debuting).  If you're in the Northern California area, I hope to see you there.  For more information on the conference, check out: https://www.nccmc.net/

Also, I wanted to mention the Theology of the Body Conference in Philadelphia in July.  I will not be speaking there, but this is such a fabulous conference, that I wanted to let everyone know about it so you have some time to think about, and time to plan on getting to it.  Get more information on it, and check out the incredible speakers here: http://tobcongress.com/speakers/#sthash.UJhEUFjJ.ySY4OvCN.dpbs


Okay, more this week on Chapter 3 of my book, Blue Collar Apologetics.  Chapter 3 is on Sola Scriptura...

Blue Collar Apologetics - Chapter 3 (cont'd)

Sola Scriptura - The Perspective Provided By Scripture
We have seen that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura fails the tests of logic and history, but what about the all-important test of Scripture?  What does Scripture say about Sola Scriptura?  Does the Bible teach that it is the sole infallible authority for deciding matters related to Christian doctrine  and practice?  In other words, does the Bible teach that it is the sole rule of faith for the Christian?

Well, let’s look and see.  First of all, it has to be admitted by all that there is no passage...none...in the Bible which explicitly states that the Bible is the “sole infallible authority” for Christians, or the “sole rule of faith” for Christians, or any such thing.  But, are there passages that implicitly state this?  Proponents of Sola Scriptura say that indeed there are such Scripture passages. So, let’s look at some of these “Sola Scriptura” verses:

                   The Bereans

The first one I want to examine is Acts 17, verse 11.  This verse is talking about the Jews in a place called Berea, which Paul and Silas visited on one of their mission trips.  Acts 17:11 says, “Now these Jews [the Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the Word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”  The King James Version of the Bible says that they “searched” the Scriptures daily.  

You know, I keep hearing about these Berean Jews from Acts 17, and every time I hear about them, someone is using them to “prove” Sola  Scriptura...to prove that one should go by the Bible alone.  They argue that the example of the Bereans proves Sola Scriptura because the Bereans were searching Scripture to see if what Paul was saying was true.  That’s it, that’s their entire “proof.”  Well, there are a few problems with this “proof” of theirs.  The first problem is that nowhere does this verse actually say the Bereans went by the Bible alone.  It doesn’t even imply it, as I’ll show in a moment.  In fact, it is well known that Jews, whether in Berea or elsewhere, did not go by the Bible alone...they did not practice Sola Scriptura...they believed in authoritative Scripture and authoritative tradition.  Which means Jesus, being a good Jew, didn’t believe in Sola Scriptura.  And, as I’ve already mentioned, neither did the early Christians. 

What was apparently going on here with the Bereans in Acts 17 was this: Paul was preaching to them about Jesus being the Messiah. And Paul, in his preaching, would quote Scripture verses - from the Old Testament - that he would say had their fulfillment in Jesus, or some such thing. Paul would say something along the lines of what he says elsewhere when he is quoting Scripture, “It has been testified somewhere...,” [put in references here] and the Bereans would then simply open up their Scriptures to verify what Paul was saying.  They were not searching the Scriptures to settle doctrinal disputes, they were searching the Scriptures to see if what Paul told them was actually in the Scriptures!

And simply searching the Scriptures doesn’t make one a believer in Sola Scriptura.  If I were to tell you that somewhere in Ezekiel it says that the righteous can fall away from their righteousness, which “proves” the doctrine of eternal security (to be discussed in a later chapter) is false, and you went searching the Scriptures to confirm what I said, would that necessarily mean that you believed in Sola Scriptura?  Of course not!  It would mean you weren’t familiar enough with the Bible to know if what I was saying was true or not, so you had to go look for yourself.  

The Bereans had to do the same, which strongly suggests they didn’t know their Scriptures well enough to know if what Paul was telling them was even in their Bibles or not!  They had to “search” the Scriptures to see if what Paul was telling them was even in the Bible!  Not a very good evidence that these folks believed in Sola Scriptura.  

Another thing: If this verse is a “proof” of Sola Scriptura then you have a little bit of a problem in that the Bereans were Jews, and the only Scriptures they had were the Old Testament Scriptures.  So, if Acts 17:11 “proves” Sola Scriptura, then it would be proving Sola “Old Testament” Scriptura.  It would be proving that the Old Testament alone is all we need as Christians in order to come to salvation in Christ.  But no Sola Scriptura believer would admit to that.

One other problem for Sola Scriptura enthusiasts in regard to this passage, a problem which is utterly devastating to their argument, is the fact that the Bereans obviously did not understand the true meaning of the Scriptures until Paul explained it to them.  Think about that.  One of the corollaries to a belief in Sola Scriptura is the belief in individual interpretation of Scripture.  That each individual, guided by the Holy Spirit, has the ability to read the Bible for themselves - without answering to any outside authority - in order to come to a correct understanding of the truths necessary for salvation.  

Yet, the example of the Bereans shows us that this obviously isn’t the case.  The Bereans needed Paul to explain the Scriptures to them.  The Bereans, left alone with the Scriptures - just me and my Bible - obviously had not come to a correct understanding of the truths necessary for salvation.  I mean, if they had, they wouldn’t have still been Jews, right?.  No, they needed a guide - Paul - to help them correctly interpret Scripture.   Which means the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, with its corollary of individual interpretation of Scripture, obviously is not supported by this passage from Acts 17 about the Bereans.  In fact, the example of the Bereans actually testifies against a belief in Sola Scriptura.

                    How Can I Unless Someone Guides Me? 

So, how about that?  The Bereans needed a guide to properly interpret Scripture.  Do we see the need for a guide in order to properly understand Scripture elsewhere in the Bible?  Indeed we do.  In Acts, chapter 8, we have the story of the Ethiopian eunuch.  He was returning from Jerusalem, reading Isaiah, when Philip ran up to him and asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  Did the Ethiopian say, “Hey, no problem, the Holy Spirit is guiding me...I understand everything?”  Or, did he say, “The Scriptures are so easy to grasp.  How could one not understand the very clear words of God?”  No!  The Ethiopian responded, “How can I unless someone guides me?”  So, again, the Bible is telling us that we need a guide to properly understand the Bible.

Along those same lines,  in the Old Testament, we see in Nehemiah, chapter 8, verses 1-8, that Ezra, the priest, read “the book of the law of Moses” to all the people who could, as the Bible says, “hear with understanding.”  And it goes on to say that the people listened intently to the reading.  So, they read the book of the law of Moses, to all the people who could hear with understanding, and the people listened attentively, and so they all understood without any help from anyone, right?  Right?!  Uhhm...I don’t think so.  In verse 7 it names a number of men, along with the Levites, who, after the book of the law of Moses was read, “helped the people to understand.”  In verse 8, it says, “And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”  The people needed a guide, or guides, to help them understand, to help them get the “sense” of the Scriptures. 

And, see, this is one of the problems with this whole doctrine of Sola Scriptura, so many Sola Scriptura adherents believe in the perspicuity, or clarity, of Scripture.  This basically means that they believe the Bible is clear enough that it can be understood by pretty much anyone, particularly on what they call the “essential” matters.  They believe that, through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, people need to search the Scripture and judge for  themselves what it means.  There’s that “search the Scriptures,” idea from the Bereans that we just talked about.  

There’s a problem with this, though, in that the Bible itself tells us that the Scriptures are not necessarily clear, especially in “essential” matters.  2 Peter 3:16: “There are some things in them [Paul’s letters] hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.”  Scripture tells us that there are some things in Scripture that are difficult to understand, and that these things that are hard to understand are important to our salvation.  They are not non-essential matters because, as it says, it is possible to twist these things to our own destruction.  You can’t twist a “non-essential” matter to your own destruction, can you?  

What Peter was saying here in 2 Peter 3:16, is that there were apparently a number of Sola Scriptura folks out there reading the Scriptures on their own, not paying attention to what Peter or Paul or the other Church leaders were telling them, and these people were misinterpreting things in Paul’s letters, and other parts of the Scriptures as well, in such a way that it was leading to their damnation.  That should be a very scary and sobering passage for anyone who believes they can simply pick up the Bible and read it on their own to come to the knowledge of the truth necessary for salvation, without any help from any authority other than themselves.

Let’s look at another passage of Scripture that completely obliterates the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.  This is from Acts, chapter 15.  This passage reinforces for us that the early Christians did not believe in Sola Scriptura.  This passage is about the Council of Jerusalem.  The very first church council. At the Council of Jerusalem, which is described in verses 6-29, of Acts 15, what do we see?  We see that a dispute arose in the early Church over whether or not the Gentile converts should be circumcised, and this was obviously a matter of great importance for one’s salvation - just see Galatians, chapter 5, verses 1-4, if you doubt it.  This was an essential, not a non-essential, matter that was being debated at the Council.  After all, why call a church council to debate something non-essential to one’s salvation.  That makes no sense whatsoever.  

Well, what did the early church do to solve the dispute?  How did they decide the matter?  Did they consult Scripture, as any good Sola Scriptura believer would do?  Did they say, “Here is the question before us, let us open up the Scriptures to see how the Word of God decides this matter?”  No! They called a council.  (Hmm...who else does that?)  The leaders of the Church, in a council, decided the first doctrinal dispute in the early Church.  The teaching of Sola Scriptura obviously did not exist in the early Church, because if it had, and they had indeed gone solely by Scripture to decide this dispute, what would have happened?  Well, they would have seen in Genesis, chapter 17, how God required circumcision and they would have come to a completely different conclusion than the one they came to.

                     2 Timothy 3:16-17  

Let’s look at another verse.  And this verse is one of, if not the main verse, that Sola Scriptura folks point to in order to make a scriptural case for their belief.  It is 2 Tim 3:16-17, which reads as follows: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  First, as a Catholic, let me say, “Amen! I agree 100% with this passage.”  However, it nowhere says anything about the Bible being the sole rule of faith for the Christian or the sole infallible authority for the Christian in matters of faith and morals.

A couple of things to note about this passage: 1) It says scripture is “profitable”, it does not say scripture is “all sufficient”; in other words, it does not say that the Bible is the sole rule of faith for Christians; and, 2) Nowhere do we see the word “alone” in this passage, as in “scripture alone”.  

All this passage is saying, is that all of Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching and correction and so forth.  As a Catholic, I agree, but, this passage still doesn’t say Scripture is the sole rule of faith for Christians.  People try to force this scripture verse to say something that it doesn’t actually say.  

“But,” someone might say, “this verse says that the scriptures are given so that the man of God may be complete, or, as it says in the King James Version (KJV), that the man of God may be perfect.”  And they argue that if the Scriptures make one perfect, then there is no need for anything else.  

There are, however, a couple of problems with that interpretation.  First of all, it doesn’t say Scripture “alone” makes the man of God complete or perfect.  For example, a soldier needs a rifle to be complete, to be made perfect for battle.  But, is a rifle the only thing he needs to be complete?  No.  He needs his helmet, his boots, his fatigues, his backpack, his ammunition and so on.  In other words, he needs his rifle to be complete, to be perfect for battle, but not his rifle alone.  Just so the man of God in relation to Scripture.  He needs the Scriptures to be complete, to be made perfect, but it does not say Scripture alone.  

The other problem with this interpretation, is Scripture itself.  In James 1:3-4 it says this: “...for you know that testing of your faith produces steadfastness [patience].  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  So, we see here in James that steadfastness, or patience, makes the Christian, the man of God, “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” 

So, what do we have here?  Well, if we interpret this verse the same way Sola Scriptura defenders interpret 2 Tim 3:16-17, then we have a good case for arguing that patience “alone” is all that is needed for the man of God to be made perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  Apparently he doesn’t even need Scripture, as long as he has patience.  The Bible says that with patience a Christian is “lacking in nothing.”  So, apparently it’s not Sola Scriptura, it’s Sola Patientia - patience alone.

Another big problem with 2 Tim 3:16-17, is that if you put it in context, which you can do by going back just one verse, to 2 Tim 3:15, you will see that Paul is actually talking about the Old Testament here.  In 2 Tim 3:15, Paul says to Timothy, “…and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”  The sacred writings that Timothy has known from childhood?! Little, if any, of the New Testament had been written when Timothy was a child.  So, if one wants to interpret this passage as “proving” Sola Scriptura, then what they are actually “proving” is Sola “Old Testament” Scriptura, just as we saw in the case of the Bereans.   

So, we have seen, from Scripture, that the early Christians did not believe in Sola Scriptura.  We have seen, from Scripture, that we need to have a guide to help us in reading and properly understanding Scripture.  We have seen, from Scripture, that there are some important things in Scripture that are difficult to understand and that, on our own, we can indeed twist the Scriptures to our own destruction...to our own damnation.  And, we have seen, from Scripture, that the passages often relied upon to prove the case for Sola Scriptura do not actually say what some people try to force them to say.  In fact, they say the exact opposite when taken in context.


I hope this Easter Season is a happy and holy one for all of you! No newsletter next week, as I'll be traveling, but I should be back at it the following week.

Apologetics for the Masses