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.
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