Monday, May 09, 2005

Pope Benedict and Sola Scriptura--unbelievable...

What I mean by unbelievable is the quality of the discussion over at Dawn Eden. Stunning. This might be the finest discussion and the most thought-provoking discussion of the issue that I've ever read. Click the comments when you go to the post and start reading.

This is important because this is potentially a key area where Pope Benedict XVI has an excellent opportunity to build bridges between evangelicals and Catholics.

A few comments here:
1. The first person that I know of in Church history to use the phrase sola scriptura is St Thomas Aquinas in his commentary on John: sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei--the canonical scriptues alone are the rule of faith.
2. St Thomas consistently affirms that the Bible itself gives to the bishops standing in apostolic succession the authority to make final rulings on the meaning of scripture (cf. Mt 16.18, Acts 6.1-6, Acts 14.23, 1 Tim 4.14, 2 Tim 1.6, 2 Tim 2.2). Hence any denial of the Church's authority to issue binding rulings on the meaning of scripture is contradicted by the Bible itself.
3. The Reformers used the term sola scriptura in a variety of conflicting and mutually exclusive ways. The most balanced use of sola scriptura was not that all doctrine could be derived from scripture, but that all doctrine necessary for salvation could be found in scripture. This moderate view would appear to be consistent with the Catholic faith.
4. Most remarkably, this appears to be also the view of Pope Benedict XVI: A dogma by definition is nothing other than an interpretation of scripture. I'm citing from memory--I will try to get the exact citation up later tonight.
5. It is for this reason that Pope Benedict as the theologian Joseph Ratzinger regularly made it clear that in his view sola fide, sola gratia, and sola scriptura are areas where Catholics and Protestants are in basic agreement. That is very important since these issues have often been taken as the theological causes of the schism at the time of the Reformation. For Pope Benedict to make it clear that these issues are bridges, rather than causes of division, is potentially very constructive for evangelical-Catholic alliances.

Finally: my own professional work is largely with the ancient biblical papyri. In my judment, any strict view of sola scriptura is untenable, simply because the originals of the bible do not exist and have to be reconstructed out of the manuscript tradition. Every evangelical New Testament textual scholar that I've ever discussed the issue with has agreed with me on this point. The more moderate view of sola scriptura sketched in point 3 above would in my judgment be consistent with both Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism.

6 Comments:

At Tuesday, 10 May, 2005, Blogger Beyond The Rim... said...

> but that all doctrine necessary for salvation could be found in scripture

I would also argue that sola scriptura would include everything necessary for adequate sanctification, not just salvation. Now I know some view salvation as conversion--sanctification taken as a whole, but I want to be make sure that sola scriptura is seen as adequate for both bringing you to Christ and keeping you in Christ.

Also, while its truth is not exhaustive, it is truth and all enlargements of the domain of truth need to be judged by how well they fit into what already populates the domain.

 
At Tuesday, 10 May, 2005, Blogger Phil Aldridge said...

Great post! As a protestant, I'm in total agreement on point 3.

 
At Tuesday, 10 May, 2005, Blogger Kevin D. Johnson said...

You wrote:
"Finally: my own professional work is largely with the ancient biblical papyri. In my judment, any strict view of sola scriptura is untenable, simply because the originals of the bible do not exist and have to be reconstructed out of the manuscript tradition."

I agree that there are some simplistically or erroneously stated views of sola scriptura out there today, but the lack of original manuscripts does not nullify the proper Reformed doctrine of sola scriptura as it was defined by Calvin or others.

As with "Zippy", somehow these discussions fail to present their participants with the fact that the Holy Spirit is active in presenting the Word of God that we have in the Bible to people. It seems your view would preclude this as well and limit the nature of the biblical text to be identical to any other extant historical text.

The existence of multiple copies and traditions regarding the manuscripts speaks only to the overall reliability of the biblical text and does not hinder an understanding of the Scriptures that somehow nullifies its authority as God's Holy Word. If anything, the plethora of manuscript copies (even with variants, 99% of which are insignificant if you know anything about textual criticism) buttresses the authority of God's Word because it speaks to the legitimacy of the textual data itself.

It doesn't surprise me, however, that New Testament or other scholars might tend to agree with you--that really doesn't mean a lot in this day and age given the influence of modernism and a preoccuppied academia intent for two hundred years on assuming that the Bible is no different than any other ancient text.

Calvin and others in his day were quite aware of variants and different manuscript traditions even though they existed in a pre-critical age. That understanding of such differences between manuscripts didn't keep them from understanding and believing in the absolute authority of God's Word as it is defined by the doctrine of sola scriptura and doing so in a reasonable and justifiable fashion.

You might ask yourself what the difference is between the two camps--those of pre-critical days and today's modern scholars--you might find it very much has to do with their overall view of the role, place, and nature of the Scriptures in the first place.

In short, today's scholars view the doctrine as untenable simply because they have already assumed what they would wish to prove concerning it.

 
At Tuesday, 10 May, 2005, Blogger GrenfellHunt said...

As a Thomist, I'm in full agreement with a modified version of sola scriptura--as I've tried to suggest under point 3.

A difficulty in discussing sola scriptura is that the term comprises a variety of meanings, and the Reformers never settled on which one was the "true" sola scriptura. Part of the reason why Luther and Calvin supported infant baptism against the Anabaptists was that the sides had conflicting views of sola scriptura.

I'm happy to defend the basic reliability of the manuscript tradition of the NT, and certainly no Catholic would rule out the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. Vatican II's Dei Verbum). The key point here is only that it rules out some uncritical affirmations of sola scriptura: we cannot live by scripture alone (as opposed to tradition), in part because scripture has to be reconstructed out of the manuscript tradition. Hence we live by both scripture and tradition, although it is true that every thing necessary for salvation can be found in scripture. As I've mentioned, evangelical scholars (including charismatics!) have a stronger grasp of this point than is seen in some popular presentations.

 
At Tuesday, 10 May, 2005, Blogger Kevin D. Johnson said...

I'm not sure we would wind up disagreeing all that much--though there might be some disagreement as to the extent of how tradition should help us define things. Tradition is both important and necessary for the Church--even the magisterial Reformers recognized this.

I do believe that you are right about popular presentations of sola scriptura being off today and that many are coming to understand differently. A close look at the magisterial Reformers will reveal, however, that their position was really not one that jettisoned tradition though that is often hard to tell because their writings are in many cases steeped in a polemic against the Roman hierarchy of the day.

A careful read of Calvin will reveal a much more subtle view that I believe many Roman Catholics today could work with if given the opportunity to examine it in a context that is free from the 500 year-old fight to the death we have had between our respective communions.

Much of the problem inherent in today's presentation of the various looks at the doctrine stem from an overt Baptist/anabaptist influence in Reformed thought that is foreign (as you note) to the presentations of Luther and Calvin, sadly.

The Reformed churches need to work harder in capturing the original vision of the magisterial Reformers. I believe this would work to move us closer to unity rather than farther away on these issues.

 
At Tuesday, 10 May, 2005, Blogger GrenfellHunt said...

I agree. I know Michael Horton has stressed the extent to which classical Reformed theology is the work of the entire church, rather than just private individuals. I think if we continue to work in this direction we might be surprised at the amount of common ground we discover.

Peace and grace!

 

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