Doctrines of Sola Scriptura and Tota Scriptura.

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Doctrines of Sola Scriptura and Tota Scriptura.

Post by Caswell on Sun Oct 11, 2015 7:38 pm

The idea that scripture is the only source of authority is generally known as Sola Sciriptura.  The debates that circle around this concept are many and deep but the short boils down to this, is scripture the only source of authority for Christian Theology and Practice.  Related is the doctrine of Tota Scriptura, which holds that the whole canon (as held by whichever group is espousing the doctrine) is indivisible and with each part being equally authoritative.

Before any discussion can proceed, it is important to lay out what argumentation is allowed.  Generally in the West truth is accepted by one of three approaches, empirically, rationally, and revelationally (not a word but you know what I am saying).  What is the relationship and interplay among them?  Some would contend a polarity between empiricism and rationality; this seems contrived and artificial.  They are more intertwined than that.  For instance, an empirical approach to any phenomenon is dependent on a rational understanding and means of interpreting what is garnered empirically.  So I see these not at odds and both valid.  So what about revelation as it relates to the other two methods of knowing.  Some contend that revelation is the only means to know truth and that conclusions reached through reason or empirical means must match revelation or be false.  If you saw or heard the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham then you clearly witnessed this in operation.  Bill asked Ken something to the effect of, what could convince him that the Biblical account of creation was wrong.  (I'll leave aside interpretation problems).  Ken answered, "nothing"; there is no evidence that could countermand his affirmation of the creation account in scripture.  The problem, of course, is how then can you verify revelationary truth if it is the highest arbiter of truth.  The irony is that even the Bible gives empirical tests, based on a rational mental process, for verifying prophesy.

Deuteronomy sets forth that God will raise up for Israel another Prophet like Moses from among the people.  Interesting aside, is Moses in this context not considered from among the people, is he an outsider sent by God to redeem a people.  Anyways, back on point:

Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (NIV - because I like it) wrote:15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

Here we clearly see that prophesy is subject to empirical verification within the scripture itself.  One could try to make the case that only things which scripture invites to be tested empirically may be tested such and Deutonomy is only inviting testing the prophesy of supposed successors to Moses.  I think this would be deliberately obtuse as scripture is full of empirical foundations for belief.  None more important than the incarnation itself.

John 1:32-34 (NIV) wrote:Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

This is an empirical validation of a word received by John, the Baptist not the author.  It serves two purposes.  First the act itself, the Sprit descending, is unique enough that it validates John's word previously received as being from God.  It carries more weight then if God had told John that the one with a brown hair is the one to look for.  Also and more importantly. it allows him to know that Jesus is the Lamb of God who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

We could go further but I think I have shown briefly that revelation is generally subject to empirical analysis which in turn is predicated on a rational framework.  This could be its own age long discussion so I wish not to belabor it.  The final issue that may be addressed is whether Scripture is a special revelation from God, of a higher degree and not subject to the same analysis as general revelation from God.  Though there are Christians who follow this thinking they are creating for themselves a quagmire of thought.  The conclusion of such thinking is that God does not equally imbue his words with truth, some are more true than others.  There is no more or less true, something is simply true or false.  Caveats to the contrary are predicated on the givens, definitions and conclusions but not what is meant by "true."  Some argue the special revelation is only such because of its broader application and therefore holds authority over more.  This may be accurate but it no way makes special revelation of different kind than general revelation, and therefore still subject to rationality and empiricism for understanding and application.

All this is said to settle that rational and empirical means are acceptable to understanding the Bible.  No one can pull the, "God's wisdom is not like man's wisdom" card to get out of a logical fallacy.  I agree God is bigger than sophists' games, but if a deus ex machina can always be employed to salvage a contradiction, fallacy, or error, there is no means for discussion.

Caswell
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Let us Begin

Post by Caswell on Sun Nov 01, 2015 11:19 pm

The main issues to overcome in establishing the supremacy of scripture as being sole authority for Christian theology are twofold. First, by what authority did that which is sole authority become established; for anything that is established is subaltern to that authority. Second, given the reality that meaning is ultimately derived from interpretation, how is it that the text would be the ultimate authority when interpretation is what brings forth meaning. These two stumbling blocks have been long known and long debated. In the first volume of Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion”, there is a brief acknowledgement and, amongst the author’s constant maledictions, there is some argumentation found. Hyperbole? Certainly, but anybody who has read Calvin can see this man writes angry prose against those to which he is opposed. Calvin is as good a starting point as any and I recommend anybody interested read Chapter VII of the first volume.

This first issue is subtle but deeply problematic. If Scripture is the ultimate authority, how was it established? I propose that basic thinking for many follows these lines:

1. God inspired men to write it (Who does the writing is another problem in itself)
2. God inspired men to receive it (tacit)
3. What inspired men wrote and inspired men received is scripture, everything else is of man.

This is a nice little formulation whose two premises start and end with what every Christian believes is the ultimate authority of everything, namely God. Great, Bob’s your Uncle and we can go home. But wait, how is it different churches recognize different writings as scripture? Well one of them is right, or none of them are right, but all of them aren’t right. Clearly some people must not have been led by the Holy Spirit in establishing Scripture. Okay, but then how are we to decide who was led and who was misled on what is Scripture if Scripture itself is the ultimately authority in knowing what’s what in the Christian faith. Clearly we cannot be passive receivers of truth, we have to make an active call above Scripture itself to establish Scripture. To whom do we ascribe the through-working of the Holy Spirit? Yay me, I get to decide who was inspired in determining (receiving) what scripture was, I am the authority on what is Scripture. Sarcasm aside, this is a glaring problem.

The other main problem stems from the fact that written texts, like all communication, only gain meaning through interpretation. This starts at the fundamental level of penned marks being not random but letters and those letters themselves are ordered to bring forth words. Those words are both known to those writing and reading and together with syntactical rules create meaning that can be transferred from the former to the latter. But we all know interpretation goes well beyond syntax to context. “Shoot me now!” takes on a different meaning when the context is a visit from trying in-laws versus a revelation that one will die of flesh eating bacteria. Though for some the meaning may be the same. Scripture did not come with a detailed interpretation guide. Therefore the framework of interpretation that one uses is a priori Scripture itself and the “authority” of Scripture is really just the end result of the individuals preferred formulation applied to the chosen body of Scripture. The interpretative framework together with Scripture, may be authoritative, but Scripture alone cannot be. Of course, these leads to the questions of where does the authority for the framework, or framework and Scripture, come from?

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