Monday, June 14, 2010

The Case Against Sola Scriptura, Part IV: The Biblical Record

Having laid out some foundational issues surrounding the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura and a very brief outline of how Catholics approach this issue, I would now like to consider the Biblical evidence that Protestants raise towards a defense of the teaching.  It is my position that for all the claims of the Protestant, the idea of sola scriptura is alien to the biblical record which we shall examine.

No discussion on this manner would be complete without analyzing the primary argument Protestants put forth for sola scriptura, that being how they understand Paul's Second Letter to St. Timothy, Chapter 3:15-17

And because from your infancy you have known the holy scriptures which can instruct you to salvation  by the faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice:  That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.
To the Protestant, sola scriptura is self-evident in this passage.  The Scriptures instruct us in salvation, and are isnpired by God.  Not just inspired, but theopneustos.  The Scriptures are filled with the very breath of God.  As a result, they are able to equip the man of God with everything he needs on matters of salvation.  Since nothing else in the Scriptures is theopneustos, we follow only the Scriptures, not some man-made Church, or so the argument goes.

Many Catholics will approach this with various styles.  They will talk about the exegesis behind the phrase "profitable", the extent of the Scriptures that Timothy was reading and would have known to be Scripture, that Paul is writing only to the "man of God", the priest, etc.  All of these things are interesting discussions, but wholly irrelevant I feel.  We can leave the exegesis of the word "profitable" to Greek scholars.  Catholics firmly uphold the glories of Scripture.  Leo XIII was quite clear when extolling her benefits.  I will quote this great Pope at length because his message needs to be understood:

Let all, therefore, especially the novices of the ecclesiastical army, understand how deeply the sacred Books should be esteemed, and with what eagerness and reverence they should approach this great arsenal of heavenly arms. For those whose duty it is to handle Catholic doctrine before the learned or the unlearned will nowhere find more ample matter or more abundant exhortation, whether on the subject of God, the supreme Good and the all-perfect Being, or of the works which display His Glory and His love. Nowhere is there anything more full or more express on the subject of the Savior of the world than is to be found in the whole range of the Bible. As St. Jerome says, "To be ignorant of the Scripture is not to know Christ." In its pages His Image stands out, living and breathing; diffusing everywhere around consolation in trouble, encouragement to virtue and attraction to the love of God. And as to the Church, her institutions, her nature, her office, and her gifts, we find in Holy Scripture so many references and so many ready and convincing arguments, that as St. Jerome again most truly says: "A man who is well grounded in the testimonies of the Scripture is the bulwark of the Church.''  And if we come to morality and discipline, an apostolic man finds in the sacred writings abundant and excellent assistance; most holy precepts, gentle and strong exhortation, splendid examples of every virtue, and finally the promise of eternal reward and the threat of eternal punishment, uttered in terms of solemn import, in God's name and in God's own words.
In short, we can grant the Protestant 99% of what he says when it comes to this verse.  However, when he maintains that this verse teaches that the Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith for Christians today, it is here we must part ways.

We start with the concept of the scriptures being the rule today.  Rightly does the Protestant understand that since Scripture was being written, Sola Scritpura could not possibly be what was understood.  This in and of itself disqualifies the verse from being used.  Ironically, it by nature excludes the entire Bible! 

We also must point out that the very context of this passage disqualifies the idea that Paul was teaching the Sacred Scriptures as the sole infallible rule of faith:

But you have fully known  my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, patience,  persecutions, afflictions: such as came upon me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra: what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord delivered me.  And all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.  But evil men and seducers shall grow worse and worse: erring, and driving into error, but continue in those things which you have learned and which have been committed to you.  Knowing of whom you have learned them. (2 Tim 3:10-14)
When St. Paul wrote this letter, he was about to die.  (2 Tim 4:6-10)   By this point, St. Paul is not interested in giving lengthy doctrinal treatises.  He is concerned with ensuring his teachings are put into good practice.  He knows there will be those who come after him, who will do their best at deceiving the faithful.  It was for this reason he named the youthful Timothy as elder of the Church of Ephesus.  He wishes Timothy to carry out his work within that Church?  How did he do this?  By citing a few Scriptural passages, and saying "do this?"  That is not all he did.  Rather, he laid his hands upon Timothy.  (2 Tim 1:6.)  The very laying of these hands imparted the grace to Timothy to do the job.  Even further, he charges Timothy to do likewise to other men, giving them that same grace.  (2 Tim 2:2).  This is what sets the stage for the third chapter.

At this point we come to Paul's charge to remember what has been learned and which have been committed to you.  From this text, we see that Timothy is given a sacred obligation from Paul.  Paul gave him the Gospel, and Timothy is to protect sound doctrine in its fullness.  The focus is not just on the Scriptures, but on the entirety of the message of God.  Timothy had the entirety of Paul's teachings to safeguard.  They came through the Scriptures, and through his oral testimony.  Both had to be safeguarded completely, hence the need for grace which came upon the imposition of hands.  To see to it that this occurs, Paul cites his own example and testimony, which is to always be with Timothy, and his future successors.  Here we see the Catholic teaching of Apostolic succession, as well as that lived Tradition of the Church.  Far from giving only one rule of faith, we see that he places his teaching, in the oral lived experience alongside the written, without distinction.

The only way one can read Sola Scriptura into this text is through anachronism.  One builds up a set of inferences and presuppositions, and wrestles the meaning into the text.  If we are to be Christians firmly dedicated to the Word of God, we cannot allow this.

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