A Compelling Argument AGAINST Sola Scriptura? (The Scriptures Alone) Part 2
I just couldn’t resist reposting this article by Father John Whiteford, who happens to be an Eastern Orthodox priest. If you are a Protestant like me, then you may have never even heard of the Orthodox church, I know I had not. I am very grateful that I have discovered them. The following is a very well thought out rejection of one of the cornerstones of the Protestant Reformation: Scripture Alone. Read it with an open mind and then share your thoughts with the rest of us. I think he makes some good points. It is a very long article, so I will break it up into 3 parts. Here’s Part 2: Read part 1 HERE
FALSE ASSUMPTION # 2:
The Scriptures were the basis of the early Church, whereas Tradition is simply a “human corruption” that came much later.
“Especially among Evangelicals and so-called Charismatics you will find that the word “tradition” is a derogatory term, and to label something as a “tradition” is roughly equivalent to saying that it is “fleshly,” “spiritually dead,” “destructive,” and/or “legalistic.” As Protestants read the New Testament, it seems clear to them that the Bible roundly condemns tradition as being opposed to Scripture. The image of early Christians that they generally have is essentially that the early Christians were pretty much like 20th Century Evangelicals or Charismatics! That the First Century Christians would have had liturgical worship, or would have adhered to any tradition is inconceivable — only later, “when the Church became corrupted,” is it imagined that such things entered the Church. It comes as quite a blow to such Protestants (as it did to me) when they actually study the early Church and the writings of the early Fathers and begin to see a distinctly different picture than that which they were always led to envision. One finds that, for example, the early Christians did not tote their Bibles with them to Church each Sunday for a Bible study — in fact it was so difficult to acquire a copy of even portions of Scripture, due to the time and resources involved in making a copy, that very few individuals owned their own copies. Instead, the copies of the Scriptures were kept by designated persons in the Church, or kept at the place where the Church gathered for worship. Furthermore, most Churches did not have complete copies of all the books of the Old Testament, much less the New Testament (which was not finished until almost the end of the First Century, and not in its final canonical form until the Fourth Century). This is not to say that the early Christians did not study the Scriptures — they did in earnest, but as a group, not as individuals. And for most of the First Century, Christians were limited in study to the Old Testament. So how did they know the Gospel, the life and teachings of Christ, how to worship, what to believe about the nature of Christ, etc? They had only the Oral Tradition handed down from the Apostles. Sure, many in the early Church heard these things directly from the Apostles themselves, but many more did not, especially with the passing of the First Century and the Apostles with it. Later generations had access to the writings of the Apostles through the New Testament, but the early Church depended on Oral Tradition almost entirely for its knowledge of the Christian faith.
This dependence upon tradition is evident in the New Testament writings themselves. For example, Saint Paul exhorts the Thessalonians:
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word [i.e. oral tradition] or our epistle (II Thessalonians 2:15).
The word here translated “traditions” is the Greek word paradosis — which, though translated differently in some Protestant versions, is the same word that the Greek Orthodox use when speaking of Tradition, and few competent Bible scholars would dispute this meaning. The word itself literally means “what is transmitted.” It is the same word used when referring negatively to the false teachings of the Pharisees (Mark 7:3, 5, 8), and also when referring to authoritative Christian teaching (I Corinthians 11:2, Second Thessalonians 2:15). So what makes the tradition of the Pharisees false and that of the Church true? The source! Christ made clear what was the source of the traditions of the Pharisees when He called them “the traditions of men” (Mark 7:8). Saint Paul on the other hand, in reference to Christian Tradition states, “I praise you brethren, that you remember me in all things and hold fast to the traditions [paradoseis] just as I delivered [paredoka, a verbal form of paradosis] them to you” (First Corinthians 11:2), but where did he get these traditions in the first place? “I received from the Lord that which I delivered [paredoka] to you” (first Corinthians 11:23). This is what the Orthodox Church refers to when it speaks of the Apostolic Tradition — “the Faith once delivered [paradotheise] unto the saints” (Jude 3). Its source is Christ, it was delivered personally by Him to the Apostles through all that He said and did, which if it all were all written down, “the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25). The Apostles delivered this knowldge to the entire Church, and the Church, being the repository of this treasure thus became “the pillar and ground of the Truth” (I Timothy 3:15).
The testimony of the New Testament is clear on this point: the early Christians had both oral and written traditions which they received from Christ through the Apostles. For written tradition they at first had only fragments — one local church had an Epistle, another perhaps a Gospel. Gradually these writings were gathered together into collections and ultimately they became the New Testament. And how did these early Christians know which books were authentic and which were not — for (as already noted) there were numerous spurious epistles and gospels claimed by heretics to have been written by Apostles? It was the oral Apostolic Tradition that aided the Church in making this determination.
Protestants react violently to the idea of Holy Tradition simply because the only form of it that they have generally encountered is the concept of Tradition found in Roman Catholicism. Contrary to the Roman view of Tradition, which is personified by the Papacy, and develops new dogmas previously unknown to the Church (such as Papal Infallibility, to cite just one of the more odious examples) —the Orthodox do not believe that Tradition grows or changes. Certainly when the Church is faced with a heresy, it is forced to define more precisely the difference between truth and error, but the Truth does not change. It may be said that Tradition expands in the sense that as the Church moves through history it does not forget its experiences along the way, it remembers the saints that arise in it, and it preserves the writings of those who have accurately stated its faith; but the Faith itself was “once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
But how can we know that the Church has preserved the Apostolic Tradition in its purity? The short answer is that God has preserved it in the Church because He has promised to do so. Christ said that He would build His Church and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Christ Himself is the head of the Church (Ephesians 4:16), and the Church is His Body (Ephesians 1:22-23). If the Church lost the pure Apostolic Tradition, then the Truth would have to cease being the Truth — for the Church is the pillar and foundation of the Truth (I Timothy 3:15). The common Protestant conception of Church history, that the Church fell into apostasy from the time of Constantine until the Reformation certainly makes these and many other Scriptures meaningless. If the Church ceased to be, for even one day, then the gates of Hell prevailed against it on that day. If this were the case, when Christ described the growth of the Church in His parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32), He should have spoken of a plant that started to grow but was squashed, and in its place a new seed sprouted later on — but instead He used the imagery of a mustard seed that begins small but steadily grows into the largest of garden plants.
As to those who would posit that there was some group of true-believing Protestants living in caves somewhere for a thousand years, where is the evidence? The Waldensians 7 that are claimed as forebearers by every sect from the Pentecostals to the Jehovahs Witnesses, did not exist prior to the 12th Century. It is, to say the least, a bit of a stretch to believe that these true-believers suffered courageously under the fierce persecutions of the Romans, and yet would have headed for the hills as soon as Christianity became a legal religion. And yet even this seems possible when compared with the notion that such a group could have survived for a thousand years without leaving a trace of historical evidence to substantiate that it had ever existed.
At this point one might object that there were in fact examples of people in Church history who taught things contrary to what others taught, so who is to say what the Apostolic Tradition is? And further more, what if a corrupt practice arose, how could it later be distinguished from Apostolic Tradition? Protestants ask these questions because, in the Roman Catholic Church there did arise new and corrupt “traditions,” but this is because the Latin West first corrupted its understanding of the nature of Tradition. The Orthodox understanding which earlier prevailed in the West and was preserved in the Orthodox Church, is basically that Tradition is in essence unchanging and is known by its universality or catholicity. True Apostolic Tradition is found in the historic consensus of Church teaching. Find that which the Church has believed always, throughout history, and everywhere in the Church, and then you will have found the Truth. If any belief can be shown to have not been received by the Church in its history, then this is heresy. Mind you, however, we are speaking of the Church, not schismatic groups. There were schismatics and heretics who broke away from the Church during the New Testament period, and there has been a continual supply of them since, for as the Apostle says, “there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest” (ICorinthians 11:19)
FALSE ASSUMPTION # 3:
Anyone can interpret the Scriptures for himself or herself without the aid of the Church.
Though many Protestants would take issue with the way this assumption is worded, this is essentially the assumption that prevailed when the Reformers first advocated the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. The line of reasoning was essentially that the meaning of Scripture is clear enough that anyone could understand it by simply reading it for oneself, and thus they rejected the idea that one needed the Churchs help in the process. This position is clearly stated by the Tubingen Lutheran Scholars who exchanged letters with Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople about thirty years after Luthers death:
Perhaps, someone will say that on the one hand, the Scriptures are absolutely free from error; but on the other hand, they have been concealed by much obscurity, so that without the interpretations of the Spirit-bearing Fathers they could not be clearly understood…. But meanwhile this, too, is very true that what has been said in a scarcely perceptible manner in some places in the Scriptures, has been stated in another place in them explicitly and most clearly so that even the most simple person can understand them.8
Though these Lutheran scholars claimed to use the writings of the Holy Fathers, they argued that they were unnecessary, and that, where they believed the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers conflicted, the Fathers were to be disregarded. What they were actually arguing, however, was that when the teachings of the Holy fathers conflict with their private opinions on the Scriptures, their private opinions were to be considered more authoritative than the Fathers of the Church. Rather than listening to the Fathers, who had shown themselves righteous and saintly, priority should be given to the human reasonings of the individual. The same human reason that has led the majority of modern Lutheran scholars to reject almost every teaching of Scripture (including the deity of Christ, the Resurrection, etc.), and even to reject the inspiration of the Scriptures themselves — on which the early Lutherans claimed to base their entire faith. In reply, Patriarch Jeremias II clearly exposed the true character of the Lutheran teachings:
Let us accept, then, the traditions of the Church with a sincere heart and not a multitude of rationalizations. For God created man to be upright; instead they sought after diverse ways of rationalizing (Ecclesiastes 7:29). Let us not allow ourselves to learn a new kind of faith which is condemned by the tradition of the Holy Fathers. For the Divine apostle says, “if anyone is preaching to you a Gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).9
B. THE DOCTRINE OF SOLA SCRIPTURA DOES NOT MEET ITS OWN CRITERIA
You might imagine that such a belief system as Protestantism, which has as its cardinal doctrine that Scripture alone is authoritative in matters of faith, would first seek to prove that this cardinal doctrine met its own criteria. One would probably expect that Protestants could brandish hundreds of proof-texts from the Scriptures to support this doctrine — upon which all else that they believe is based. At the very least one would hope that two or three solid text which clearly taught this doctrine could be found — since the Scriptures themselves say, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (II Corinthians 13:1). Yet, like the boy in the fable who had to point out that the Emperor had no clothes on, I must point out that there is not one single verse in the entirety of Holy Scripture that teaches the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. There is not even one that comes close. Oh yes, there are innumerable places in the Bible that speak of its inspiration, of its authority, and of its profitability — but there is no place in the Bible that teaches that only Scripture is authoritative for believers. If such a teaching were even implicit, then surely the early Fathers of the Church would have taught this doctrine also, but which of the Holy Fathers ever taught such a thing? Thus Protestantisms most basic teaching self-destructs, being contrary to itself. But not only is the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura not taught in the Scriptures — it is in fact specifically contradicted by the Scriptures (which we have already discussed) that teach that Holy Tradition is also binding to Christians (II Thessalonians 2:15; I Corinthians 11:2).”
Posted on November 19, 2011, in Christianity, Early Church History, Theology, Worship and tagged christianity, early church history, Eastern Orthodox, Gospel, John Piper, Luther, Protestant, reformed, religion, Sola Scriptura. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.