And by ‘it’ I mean joined a conversation about the respective merits of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. I don’t know how I keep doing this, but in for the penny is in for the pound so . . .
My friend, colleague and erstwhile fellow-protestant Rob Porwoll hopes to catch the unsavvy Protestant believer by pointing out a logical inconsistency in the doctrine of sola Scriptura. I’m just going to post the first half of his piece, because I don’t think there is a good way to link it.
Whether the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura is logically or theologically tenable?
Clarification of the Question
SS as understood by the continental reformers, Luther and Calvin, is an umbrella category that subsumes several minor points necessary for the position. These minor points are articulated differently between Luther and Calvin and in different works, but roughly one finds:
a. “The Internal Perspicacity of Scripture” – That Scripture itself is not obscure but rather wholly or largely clear. Scripture illuminates itself by self-interpretation. (I will add my citations at some point. Luther dwells on this point on Bondage of the Will.)
b. “External Perspicacity of Scripture” or “The Priesthood of All Believers” – All Christians are in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit and illuminated so to understand and interpret the Scriptures, such that each believer can rightfully interpret doctrine from Scripture. (I want to emphasize this last point, as it is the crux of Protestant “epistemology” and the nub as well.)
c. Scripture is the Final and Only True Authority – Scripture is the only infallible source of revelation and is must be the final authority in all matters of doctrine. Further nothing ought to be believed as Christian doctrine except that which is found in or proven by Scripture.
d. Tradition: Tradition, for Luther and Calvin, was to be respected and continually mined for its insights into faith and praxis. Yet Scripture interprets and judges the ideas with tradition, not the other way around.
This is a sketch of how the Continental Reformers meant SS. We need not dwell, I think, on the subtle differences between the two or various formulations. I have stuck to what appear the essentials of the doctrine for the Protestant position in general.
Objections to the Doctrine:
1. Logical Objection from Internal Inconsistency
According the doctrine of SS (as from the above articulation)
1. If doctrine is not in Scripture, it ought not to be believed.
2. SS is not in Scripture
3. According to the doctrine of SS itself, SS ought not to be believed.
[Version 2 for the sake of argument.
1. One can believe no doctrine or tradition not present in Scripture
2. SS is a doctrine of Christian tradition.
3. The doctrine of SS is not present in Scripture.
4. According to the doctrine of SS itself, SS ought not to be believed.]
Thus, SS is internally inconsistent by fault of self-contradiction (which is symbolized: P —> – P, Self-contradiction, – P).
Thus, if [SS is to be believed] THEN [SS is NOT to be believed].
My response is to reject (1) in Rob’s argument because I don’t believe it gets at what the Reformers mean by sola scriptura, indeed, (1) seems much closer to the view the Reformers call ‘solo scriptura’ or ‘nuda scriptura’ which they expressly reject. This occasions the question how Rob derives the principle he expresses in premise (1) from the four characterizations of Protestant opinions about Scripture (a)-(d). In fact he does not derive it at all, (1) seems to me simply to repeat what he asserts in (c), namely that SS means that nothing ought to be believed except what is ‘taught in’ scripture.
I don’t think the Reformers would agree with this version of SS. Since Rob is the one charging Luther and Calvin with inconsistency, I think it is incumbent upon him to demonstrate textually where they adopt (c) or (1). (It wouldn’t surprise me if somewhere Luther actually does say something like that–he’s prone to overstatement and contradicting himself–but I would be surprised if Calvin did so.) I think it is unlikely that Luther or Calvin would support (c) simply because the doctrine of the Trinity is not taught in so many words in the scripture. We can make a distinction between what is taught explicitly and what is taught implicitly, but I’m not sure that really moves things forwards.