Before I begin, I want to thank Rhology for agreeing to this debate and acknowledge that he did the most work in planning out the schedule and topic. My hope is that this debate will remain both serious and friendly.
During this debate, Rhology will defend the position that Scripture is the sole infallible authority for Christians. In his attempts to provide substantiation for Sola Scriptura, Rhology will have to bring forth arguments which essentially attempt to evade the point, as Sola Scriptura is so clearly untenable.
Rhology will argue, against the explicit testimony of history, that there was a period in which what was “really” the canon all along came to be finalized and recognized by Christians. He will have to admit, however, that during this period, which must have lasted for at least the first 500 years of Christianity, Sola Scriptura was impossible; therefore, it is impossible that the Apostles taught it, so Scripture does not teach it.
I, though, will present the indubitable history of Scripture, which itself demonstrates the unhistorical nature of Sola Scriptura. The development of the Christian canon of Scripture spanned several hundred years and was largely undertaken as a reaction to the writings and canons of heretics, especially Marcion, who compiled the earliest Christian canon, which included only edited versions of the Gospel of Luke and ten of St. Paul’s letters. Forming an Orthodox canon was one means by which early Christians fought heretics like this, but such a canon was never intended to be the sole infallible authority for the Church. We know this because none of the individuals who took part in forming this canon introduced such an idea. The canon of Scripture was not set over the Church; it was intended to be used by and within the Church, under the Church’s authority.
Reading the Christians of the first four centuries, we can watch as the canon of Scripture is formed. Taking the gospels as an example, we read in the earliest fathers various sayings and activities of Christ (some of them not recorded in the four gospels we have!) but rarely is a particular source cited; most of these were preserved in oral tradition. Later, St. Justin the Philosopher (AD 150) mentions an unspecified number of “memoirs of the Apostles.” It is with St. Irenaeus of Lyons in AD 180 that we find a four-gospel canon for the first time and his lengthy defense of it, involving a comparison with the four winds and other natural sets of four, shows that the idea of four gospels was a novelty in his time.
As late as 325, the historian Eusebius lists James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and the Apocalypse, all of which are in our New Testament, alongside several writings which are not, as “disputed.”
The earliest date at which we find our current New Testament with all 27 of its books and no others is in 367, in a letter by St. Athanasius of Alexandria. Debates about the contents of the New Testament, though, continued long after this. The three oldest complete (or nearly complete) Bibles which we have, Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Alexandrinus, all date from around the time of Athanasius as well, and the New Testament of each differs both from each other and from Athanasius’, including in them books which we do not include and excluding books which we do include.
This shows that Sola Scriptura would have been impossible for the first several hundred years of Christianity. This is important because the Scripture tells us, in Jude 1:3, to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” If the Apostles and early Christians weren’t even capable of practicing such a thing, it is clearly not part of “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” And, as St. Paul tells us in Galatians 1:8, anyone who teaches a Gospel different from that which the Apostles taught is “accursed.”
In addition to the above tactic, Rhology, in an attempt to make the illogical heresy of Sola Scriptura appear logical, will produce an even more muddling argument, namely, that there are in fact two canons, the one which is divinely inspired and the other which is man’s knowledge of what the first consists of. All of this is simply an attempt to evade what is an undeniable fact of history: the Church decided what Scripture is and duly preserved it for us.
Protestants are forced to trust the Church in regards to the preservation and canonization of Scripture. Other than a few fragments, we have no older texts of the New Testament than the 4th century; Protestants are forced to trust that the Church reliably chose and preserved Scripture.
They are also forced to admit a point which demonstrates just how illogical Sola Scriptura really is. Nowhere in Scripture does Scripture actually lay out the canon of books contained in Scripture! The authorial attributions of many of the books of the New Testament are also nowhere to be found in Scripture. Protestants are forced to admit that the Church infallibly decided the canon of Scripture and has authority in this matter. If the Church was not infallible in deciding the canon of Scripture, then the canon of Scripture is fallible and Scripture is errant, unworthy of being called the sole authority for the Church and, obviously, incapable of being called an infallible authority. If the Church did not have this authority, the canon of Scripture is still open and things can be added and subtracted (this is the logical conclusion that Martin Luther, the inventor of the Sola Scriptura heresy, reached, as he added words and deleted entire books to support his views). And if, as must be admitted, the Church did indeed act infallibly and with authority in choosing the canon of Scripture, the Protestant must answer the question: Why was the Holy Spirit able to guide the canonization of Scripture but, according to you, no other decisions of the Church?
The scheme that Rhology will introduce, positing canon1 and canon2, is nothing more than a deceptive plot to get around the clear truth. He will state that while canon1 has always been the sole infallible authority for the Church, canon2 is our knowledge of what canon1 consists of, which knowledge has not always been complete. In the end, even if this argument were true, it would still lead back in a circle to the original question: how do we know that canon2 now matches canon1 (perhaps they better matched in the 3rd century, when The Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, and Epistles of Clement were included in Scripture)? The answer in the end remains the same: because the Church, which is the true sole infallible authority has made the decision.
Rhology will also take Scripture verses out of context in order to support his position. As Scripture nowhere includes the words “Scripture only” or anything even remotely resembling the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, Protestants have found it necessary since their beginning to twist and mangle and invent strained interpretations for the words of Holy Scripture (or even alter the words of Scripture itself when they posed too great a problem) to find support for their beliefs.
Sola Scriptura is ultimately self-refuting. If only Scripture is a binding authority on matters of faith, and Scripture nowhere contains the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, then it cannot be true. Sola Scriptura is not only outside the self-understanding of the Scriptures; it even directly contradicts this self-understanding.
Whereas the reliance on “Scripture only” is nowhere found in Scripture, Scripture frequently points its readers outside of itself and certainly never understands itself as a coherent whole or closed canon. Such an attitude would have been foreign to the minds and times of Scripture’s authors.
The Epistle of Jude, for instance, quotes from two books which are not part of the canon of Scripture as if they were Scripture. In verse 9, Jude paraphrases from the Assumption of Moses; in verses 14-15 Jude quotes verbatim from 1 Enoch. Both of these Old Testament Apocryphal books are not included in the canon of Scripture and yet Jude clearly understands them to be Scripture. Scripture, then, is speaking of books which are not Scripture as if they were Scripture; coherency and canonization, requirements for a doctrine like Sola Scriptura, are clearly not in play here.
St. Paul, in his letters, also makes reference to 1 Enoch, taking his readers’ acceptance of it for granted. In both Ephesians 1:21 and Colossians 1:16, Paul uses the words of Enoch to describe the heavenly hosts.
Paul also draws on Jewish oral traditions, again unquestioningly accepting their validity as part of God’s revelation under the Old Covenant. In 1 Corinthians 10:4, for example, he speaks of the rock that Moses struck with his staff and brought forth water from as having “followed [the Israelites].” The Old Testament makes no mention of this Rock moving anywhere; Jewish oral tradition, though, taught that it followed the Israelites throughout the desert. It is this tradition which Paul is referencing.
Paul also quotes frequently from the early Christian Liturgy. For example, historians and textual critics have long recognized that Paul is quoting early Christian hymns in Philippians 2:6-11 and also in Galatians 3:27. In fact, the latter is still sung at every Orthodox baptism to this day.
Paul also points his readers even to that very thing which Sola Scriptura was invented to undermine: Tradition. In 1 Corinthians 11:2 he applauds the Corinthians for “keep[ing] the traditions just as I delivered them to you.” In 2 Thessalonians he twice refers to Tradition. In 2 Thess. 3:6, Paul commands Christians to “withdraw from” those who do not walk according to the tradition which he and the other Apostles taught. Earlier, in 2 Thess. 2:15, he admonishes the Thessalonians to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.”
Note that: “by word or our epistle.” What is preserved in the New Testament? Epistles; spoken words, obviously, are not. Paul is pointing his readers to oral tradition. Scripture is clearly pointing outside of itself. This verse makes clear that observance of oral tradition is an Apostolic commandment.
In addition to pointing us to oral tradition, Scripture also points outside of itself in regards to interpretation and authority. In 2 Peter 1:20, we are told that “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private interpretation.” The story of the Apostle Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 also confirms that we cannot properly understand Scripture “unless someone guides [us]” (Acts 8:31).
So, if Scripture forbids that Scripture be interpreted individually, who, then, is to interpret it for us? Scripture points us to the authority: the Church. Christ promised the Church infallibility, assuring us “the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). He also gave authority to the Church, telling the Apostles, the original Bishops from whom all Orthodox Bishops since derive their succession via laying on of hands, that “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18). As we can see, it is clear from Scripture that the Church, not Scripture, is the sole infallible authority for Christians.
Of note also is that Paul grants the authority to interpret Scripture (“rightly dividing the word of truth”) only to a newly-ordained fellow-Bishop (2 Timothy 2:15).
The Christian “faith … was once and for all handed down to the saints.” It is our job to “contend earnestly” for this faith, as any different teaching is “accursed.” Sola Scriptura is clearly not a part of this faith as it would have been impossible for the Apostles and early Christians to hold such a position. Sola Scriptura is illogical and it is in disobedience to Scripture. Orthodox Christians obey the commandment of Scripture and reject it.
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