Month: September 2009

Sola Scriptura

In this video, I discuss the Protestant belief of Sola Scriptura. I present three arguments in favor of Sola Scriptura which are commonly presented by Protestants and address each of them from the perspective of an Orthodox Christian. I then explain four reasons why the Orthodox Church rejects Sola Scriptura.

Read an excellent article on Sola Scriptura by Father John Whiteford, an Orthodox Priest who is a former Protestant Evangelical, here.

This is my last video in my series on Holy Scripture.

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Pseudo-Scholarship

In a recent post on her blog, The Forbidden Gospels, April DeConick, Professor of Biblical Studies at Rice University, discussed what she referred to as “confessional scholarship.” She alleges (and I’m sure her allegations stick in some cases) that “confessional scholars” are a group within the field of Early Christian and New Testament studies who consistently twist or excuse history to defend their theology.

She points to the “historical-critical method” as the scholarly standard that needs to be upheld and defended against these “confessional scholars.” The historical-critical method, though, is a deeply flawed approach to Scripture and history which arises from a deeply flawed philosophy. [The ironically-named] Ferdinand Christian Baur is the father of the historical-critical method, sometimes called “higher criticism,” as an approach to the study of Christianity’s history and Sacred Text.

Baur was an adherent to the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Hegel’s philosophy, like most Continental philosophy, looks good on paper but doesn’t have a leg to stand on when it’s applied to the real world. Hegel posited a historical dialectic in which two (or more) equal opposites begin in conflict with each other and eventually form a synthesis. According to Hegel, this was the course of history; he believed that the story of man was unity proceeding from diversity. His philosophy, in addition to inspiring Baur’s historical-critical method, helped to lay the framework for both Communism and Naziism.

Baur, in applying Hegel’s assumptions to early Christian history, posited that Pauline Christianity and Jewish Christianity were the two equal and opposite forces of early Christianity which eventually formed the synthesis we know today. Others, following in Baur’s footsteps, have added even more early “Christianities” to the mix, including Marcionitism (which they sometimes identify with Pauline Christianity) and the various strains of Gnosticism.

All of this is essentially unhistorical, though, as it defies the common sense facts of the matter: there was one person, Jesus Christ, who, unless he was a deceiver or insane, taught one consistent message. Either one or none of the groups in early Christianity preserved this message and the others falsely attributed their beliefs to a man who didn’t teach them. And, as time went on, more and more groups popped up with new false claims.

In history, diversity proceeds from unity far more often than unity proceeds from diversity. To look only at the history of religion:

  • Muhammad founded Islam. After his death, the Shi’a split from the Sunni in a disagreement over who should succeed him. The Sufis later split from both in favor of a more “spiritualized” reading of the Qur’an.
  • The Buddha founded Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhists split from Theravada Buddhists as they favored a more cultural, colorful form of spirituality. Of course, most Mahayanans will readily admit that the Theravadins carry on the original teachings and practices of the Buddha himself. Later, various sects such as the Pure Land Buddhists and Zenists broke off from the Mahayanans claiming new revelations or interpretations.
  • Martin Luther broke from the Roman Catholic Church, founding Protestantism. His newly-founded counter-Church quickly broke up into dozens of different sects as more and more individuals cast more and more doubt on more and more traditional Christian teachings.

The story is the same with early Christianity. Christ founded a single early Christian group with a single set of beliefs (I won’t attempt here to name what “group” that is, but I’m sure you can guess what I believe it to be); everyone else came later and either broke from this first group or copied from it in founding their own group. The theory of unity proceeding from diversity in history is illogical.

All that said, I’d also say that scholars who use the historical-critical method are confessional in their own way. Historical-critical scholars are the equal and opposite of those who excuse history to defend their faith (will there be a synthesis, I wonder?).

In her post, Professor DeConick unintentionally gives several examples of what I’m talking about. She outright and reflexively declares the Resurrection and Virgin Birth to be impossibilities. By doing so, though, she acts in the same unscholarly, unscientific manner in which she accuses others of acting; she automatically biases the results in favor of her own agnostic worldview. She, like most Biblical scholars, starts with assumptions which do not allow her to reach unbiased conclusions, proving the old adage about those who assume (don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about).

Bart Ehrman, a Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and prolific author on early Christianity and the New Testament, provides a good example to help me explain. In arguing against the extreme fringe of scholars in the field who assert that Jesus Christ is not even a historical personality, he has stated what is the obvious truth: there’s abundant evidence for a historical person called “Jesus,” upon whose life and teachings Christianity is based. He even goes as far as to say that there is abundant historical evidence for the empty tomb. He stops short, however, and claims that, as a historian, he cannot defend the historical veracity of the Resurrection. The problem with his logic, though, is that every one of the early sources which mentions Christ mentions the empty tomb and every mention of the empty tomb is explained with the Resurrection! In short, he claims that the Gospels and other first- and second-century sources are abundant evidence for a historical Jesus, but not for the theme which every one of them makes its central declaration: the Resurrection.

This, obviously, isn’t logical. So why do so many scholars continue to do it? The only explanation I can see is that they’re afraid to follow what every bit of historical evidence points us towards: that Jesus Christ really did Resurrect. And that would, of course, make someone a Christian. And who’d want to be one of them?

Sola Scriptura debate: first rebuttal

Rhology begins with paraphrases from Psalm 119, in which David meditates on and extols Scripture. I disagree with nothing David writes. There is much, however, that Rhology falsely reads into David which I heartily disagree with.

First, David is talking, as is clear from his repeated use of the words “law” and “commandments,” about the Torah. He is not talking about his own writings nor about the Prophets and, obviously, not about the New Testament. Is Rhology, then, positing that Torah is sufficient for salvation? Not for a Christian.

Rhology next turns to the words of Christ and seems to have the false understanding that Christ never drew upon extra-biblical traditions. In Matthew 23:2, Christ cites, with authority, a Jewish oral tradition which is not in the Old Testament. He tells his followers that the Pharisees sit on the “seat of Moses.” According to Jewish tradition, this “seat” was the teaching office of Moses, which he passed on to his successors. This should sound familiar to Orthodox Christians, who believe that Bishops sit on the seat of St. Peter, inheriting his apostolic and teaching ministry.

John 10:22-23 also records that Christ went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festival Hannukah. This is problematic for Rhology, as the story behind this religious holiday is contained in 1 Maccabees, one of the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament, which Rhology does not accept as Scripture. The fact that Christ celebrated this holiday means Rhology either has to admit that Christ believed in and practiced this extra-biblical tradition or that Christ accepted 1 Maccabees as Scripture (which leads to the question: why does Rhology not accept this book as Scripture?).

He then goes on to paraphrase 2 Timothy 3:15-17 out of context. This verse picks up in the middle of a sentence which began in verse 14. I will quote the relevant portion: “… continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scripture …”

Take note of that “and” which I have put in boldface. To answer Rhology’s questions (“To what does he point Timothy? Oral tradition of the elders? Something separate that was for his ears only? Or the Scripture?”): Yes, yes, and yes. Paul points Timothy both to oral Tradition which he learned personally from his elders and Scripture.

Paul is also referring to Scripture which Timothy has known “from childhood.” We can safely assume that Timothy is a grown man. We also know that Paul was martyred in AD 62, which means this is the latest possible date on which he could have written this letter. Timothy’s childhood, then, occurred before the formation of the New Testament. Much of the New Testament (such as St. John’s and St. Luke’s writings) was not written for another few decades. The Scripture which Timothy would have known “from childhood” is the Old Testament. Is Rhology stating that the Old Testament is an all-sufficient source for Christian Faith? Why even have a New Testament at all?

Rhology maintains a theme throughout both entries of arguing from silence. He quotes several verses from Scripture which extol Scripture and expects us to draw the conclusion that reverence for Scripture somehow implies the acceptance of Scripture alone. If I were to apply his argument from silence to Ephesians 4:11-15, I could easily argue that Scripture is entirely unnecessary, as Paul here extols only oral sources of doctrine as being sufficient for the Church.

Rhology also quotes Mark 7:1-13 as if it were a condemnation of all tradition. It is not; it is a condemnation, as Christ says in verse 13, of traditions which “[make] the word of God of no effect.” Rhology makes the mistake of assuming what he wants to prove, namely that “word of God” only refers to written and not oral communication. He seems to forget that the majority of Scripture verses in which the phrase “word of God” appears refer to oral communication.

In Matthew 19:7, Christ condemns the Pharisees, not for their traditions, but for following the Scriptures. If we interpret Matthew 19 as broadly as Rhology interprets Mark 7 we will find ourselves, alongside Marcion, getting rid of the Old Testament entirely.

The Apostles also did not interpret Christ’s words in Mark 7 as directing them towards Scripture alone. If they had, why did the Apostolic Council in Acts 15 choose to teach converts to actively disobey the Old Testament circumcision and dietary laws? The Apostles did not believe in Scripture alone, but in the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit within the Church. And both Peter and Paul were willing, as Scripture records, to submit themselves to the decrees of this Church in council.

Rhology also offers a quote from Athanasius of Alexandria. He assumes that I’ll disagree with this quote; I’m not sure why. I don’t disagree with it at all – if put in its proper context; but Rhology seems to be as apt at taking passages from the Fathers out of context as he has proven himself to be at taking Scripture out of context.

In the passage which Rhology quotes, Athanasius addresses the problems posed by Arians after the Council of Nicaea. In the quote, he is saying that the Scriptures are “sufficient above all things” to show the falsity of the Arian heresy. A couple of sentences earlier, Athanasius states the exact same thing about the Council of Nicaea.

Not only does he take Athanasius out of context from within this single writing, but also from within the entirety of his writings. Athanasius was not an adherent to Sola Scriptura:

“Let us look at that very tradition, teaching, and faith of the catholic Church from the very beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers preserved. Upon this the Church is founded.” – Athanasius’ First Letter to Serapion, 28.

The question that Rhology must now answer in regards to Athanasius is this: whose beliefs more closely match those of Athanasius, Orthodox or Reformed Baptist? Obviously, the answer is Orthodox; and, since Rhology has chosen to quote Athanasius on this matter, he must admit, then, that Scripture is “sufficient above all things” in teaching the Orthodox Faith.

Rhology then goes on to present a form of the slippery slope fallacy. He asks which Church we should choose as the infallible interpreter of Scripture, mentioning Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Branch Davidians, as if these somehow had equal claim to that of the Orthodox Church. Rather than explain 2000 years of history and compare these various groups’ beliefs with those of the early Christians to show how ridiculously absurd this point really is, I’ll simply posit a counter-question: just as there are “rivals” (I use that word loosely) for the claim of One True Church, there are “rivals” for the claim of Holy Scripture; why not the Koran, Book of Mormon, or Gospel of Thomas? Will Rhology finally admit that it is because a sufficient Church has sufficiently proclaimed otherwise? Perhaps the Church was “sufficient to the task” after all?

If the Church was not sufficient to the task, then by what criteria does Rhology proclaim Scripture to be sufficient? If the Church had not sufficiently proclaimed Scripture, by what means does Rhology know what does and does not belong in the canon of Scripture? To invert his question to me, can Rhology answer this question “without a circular, question-begging appeal to [Scripture]?”

Rhology admits God has communicated orally in history, but posits that Sola Scriptura applies to the Church in its “normative state.” He does not define what this “normative state” is nor when it began. When did “inscripturation” end and the “normative state” begin? Surely not before AD 367, the earliest date of our current New Testament canon. I also ask Rhology where he finds scriptural support for this curious belief. Where, in Scripture, does Scripture mention this end to oral communication? If Scripture does not teach this, Sola Scriptura proves itself essentially self-refuting.

Rhology also makes the perplexing statement that Scripture “expects disunity.” What he seems to ignore is that (as in both of the passages he mentions) such disunity is condemned. On the contrary, Scripture demands unity; see, for instance, 1 Corinthians 1:10. Christ prays in John 17:23 that we “may be made perfect in one and that the world may know that You have sent Me.” Visible unity is a confession of the truth of Christ.

Rhology goes on, in his rebuttal, to create a straw-man on the matter of canon in the Orthodox Church. He does this by overstating the issue and then slanderously mischaracterizing some statements by Metropolitan Kallistos. The lectionary of the Orthodox Church has changed little since the fourth century and not at all since the seventh. This lectionary includes readings from the deuterocanonicals; according to the rule of faith lex orandi, lex credendi there can be no doubt amongst the Orthodox that the deuterocanonicals are Scripture. The issue is at what rank they belong within the canon. There are ranks within Scripture; the Gospels, for instance, belong on a higher level than the Epistles. Protestants may disclaim this in theory, but they practice it equally with the Orthodox. For instance, in practice, do Protestants regard Esther as of equal status with Romans? Clearly not.

In the end, nearly every argument Rhology has present thus far is filled with holes and logical fallacies. I hope I have done a better job of avoiding his supposed errors than he has done with avoiding basic errors of logic.

[Word count: 1598]

Click here to read previous entries in our debate.

Comment for posts with debate entries are closed. Click here to go to the comment repository for the debate.

Orthodoxy & Scripture 3B: History of the New Testament

This is the second part to the third installation in my series on Holy Scripture. In this video, I finish the history of the New Testament’s canonization, beginning in AD 200 and ending with the official proclamation of the Orthodox canon of Scripture at the Pan-Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem in 1672.

To learn more about the history of the canon of the New Testament, click here.

To read the writings of Tertullian, click here.

To read the writings of Origen of Alexandria, click here.

For more information about Codex Claromontanus, click here.

To read “History of the Church” and other writings of Eusebius of Caesarea, such as his “Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine,” click here.

Read the oldest Bible in the world! You can read Codex Sinaiticus, with an image of the actual manuscript, a transcription in its original Greek, and an English translation all side by side here.

Read the writings of St. Cyril of Alexandria here.

Read the writings of St. Athanasius of Alexandria (called “the Great”), the first man in all of history whose canon (found in a letter from AD 367) exactly matches our New Testament. He was one of the foremost defenders of Orthodox Christianity and his New Testament is the New Testament of the entire Christian world. Check his writings out here.

Read the Vulgate, the Latin Bible translated by St. Jerome, in both Latin and English translation here.

Read the Peshitta, the Bible in the language of Christ, in both English and Syriac, here.

The lectionary (annual cycle of Scripture readings) used in the Greek Orthodox Church can be found here.

Read the decrees of the Pan-Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem (AD 1672), which officially declared the canon of Scripture in the Orthodox Church in response to Protestant editing and misinterpretation of Scripture, here.

You can visit my YouTube channel and watch all of my videos here.

Orthodoxy & Scripture 3A: History of the New Testament

This video is part 3A in my series on Holy Scripture. In this video, I begin discussing the history of the New Testament and the process by which the Holy Spirit guided the Church to canonize our current 27 books. This video discusses the criteria by which candidates for Holy Scripture were judged, the three major classifications of candidates for Holy Scripture, and the opinions of various early Fathers, in chronological order, on what was and wasn’t Holy Scripture.

By the far the best website I’ve seen on the development of the New Testament canon is NTCanon.org .

An excellent table of which Fathers (and heretics) accepted which books can be found here.

Also included on this website is a table with more information about the books which were candidates for Holy Scripture in the early Church but are not included in our current New Testament, including links to websites where you can read the texts. You can view this here.

To read the writings of Sts. Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Justin the Philosopher, Irenaeus and more Apostolic Fathers, click here.

To read the writings of St. Clement of Alexandria, click here.

To read the Muratorian Fragment, an anonymous early list of canonical New Testament books, click here.

If you’re interested in this topic, I highly suggest that you pick up a copy of Bruce Metzger’s The Canon of the New Testament; it’s pricey but by far the best modern scholarly work on the development of the New Testament canon.

You can visit my YouTube channel and watch more of my videos here.