to sola scriptura ii

Aelianus’s fuller exposition of his views on sola scriptura is here, and I’m going to follow his good example of putting a post-sized response in a post (since my reaction outgrew the Laodicean comment boxes almost as soon as it got started).

There seem to be two basic misconceptions about what’s even under discussion.

1) Sola scriptura is not a claim that everything which the apostles taught by word of mouth was written down. Rather it is a claim that all things necessary for faith and practice are provided by Scripture. So the fact of, eg, John saying the world couldn’t contain the books that would be needed to record what the Lord did, is no objection to sola scriptura: the claim has never been that the Bible contains all truth or everything that God has ever revealed.

2) Sola scriptura is not a claim that the Church has no authority. So prooftexts to demonstrate that the apostles had unique authority in the church, and that their successors (albeit our understanding of succession is not shared) have power to bind and loose, etc, are beside the point. The point is the nature of the Church’s authority and how it relates to the authority of Scripture: while we confess that the Church has authority to declare what Scripture teaches on doctrine and practice, the Church has no authority to go beyond Scripture in what she teaches. The Church is not meant to rely on herself to declare authoritatively on questions of doctrine or duty, but rather on Scripture.

Let me deal with one other point here before getting back to the question of sola scriptura itself: canonicity – related, but not the question itself. Questions about sola scriptura take to do with the nature of the scripture [coming back to this in the next para]; questions about canoncity take to do with what gets recognised as scripture. On the OT canon, the claim that ‘the Protestant canon of the OT did not exist in Our Lord’s time’ has no New Testament support. The Gospels record Jesus appealing constantly to a known, fixed body of writings in his disputations with the Pharisees and Sadducees, and these were the writings which the Apostles used to demonstrate the truth of their claim that the Messiah had indeed come, eg. So the strategy of discrediting the Jewish Scriptures is not only a mischaracterisation of the situation that obtained at the time of Christ but is also really fatal to the gospel of the New Testament (which relies on the revelation in the Old Testament). As for the ‘Protestant canon of the NT’ – whatever Luther’s “rejection” of any NT books looked like in practice, his views were never ‘the Protestant’ view. You don’t need to project your imagination of how a Protestant should according to your analysis view the pronouncements of a Protestant figurehead, as if Protestants just can’t help supplying themselves with inadequate Pope-substitutes who only embarrass them by saying awkward things. The Protestant canon is identified in the Protestant creeds/confessions, not the overinterpreted speculations of one Protestant theologian, and the Reformation confessions are unanimous on the extent of the canon.

Returning to: the nature of Scripture itself. Aelianus thinks I should think that most of Scripture is superfluous because I’ve said that John wrote enough to convince anyone that Jesus is the Christ. But that’s not exactly where I was going with that. The position is rather that all the Scriptures are a revelation that has been given by God himself, and as such it has certain characteristics. That means that the Gospel of John has the same qualities as any other part of God’s revelation, and vice versa. It’s not as if the Bible is a random assortment of isolated texts with no cohesion, whose message has to be treated as tentative until it gets external approbation. Rather, this is the revelation that unfolded as God gave it, and each piece that he gave both connects organically with the other pieces he gave, and has intrinsically and in its own right the properties of a divine revelation. Such as, divine truthfulness, divine authority, and divine fitness-for-purpose. The argument from John is not just that the segment in the Bible called John’s Gospel contains enough for someone to believe that Jesus is the Christ, but that John’s Gospel being a part of God’s revelation has the property of providing the basis for anyone to believe that Jesus is the Christ and have life through his name. It’s due to being what God has spoken. Not just John’s gospel but the holy scriptures in general are able to make someone wise unto salvation.

Which brings me finally round to 2 Timothy, and to say that what Aelianus gives with one hand by way of affirmation of the authority of Scripture, he takes with the other when he continues to say ‘it does not contain all that is morally necessary to persevere in God’s grace…’ Referring to 2 Timothy, Aelianus says, “That the scriptures render one complete would only constitute a claim to their sufficiency if it were the scriptures with which one began.” But there doesn’t need to be any doubt about this: as it happens, Timothy did begin with the Scriptures, as Paul’s direction makes clear: “Continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation.” The scriptures which Timothy had known from childhood were able – had an innate ability to accomplish their stated purpose – to make him wise for salvation. Calling Scripture ‘profitable’ doesn’t here mean that Scripture supplements something else – Paul says Scripture is profitable (for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness) to make the man of God complete, and fully equipped for every good work. There’s really no wiggle room here. If the man of God wants to be perfect, or equipped for any good work, the resource he is meant to turn to is the scripture which God breathed out. Scripture claims that Scripture provides all the doctrine and instruction to make a man perfect.

The alternative is for the man to think himself wiser than Timothy, wiser than Paul who advised Timothy, and wiser than God who inspired Paul. That’s why it just isn’t good enough to affirm that Scripture is authoritative, inspired, inerrant, … and then stop short of confessing that it’s sufficient for doctrine and practice. To the extent that someone thinks that Scripture needs to be supplemented by some top-up revelation, or some parallel transmission of revelation, to that extent they are effectively rejecting the authority which Scripture itself claims for itself as the complete encapsulation of everything necessary for doctrine and practice (and then exacerbating it in proportion to the unscripturalness of the doctrines or practices which they think is included in the content of that extra revelation).


65 thoughts on “to sola scriptura ii

  1. ‘the Church has no authority to go beyond Scripture in what she teaches.’

    How is that reconcilable with the actions of the First Council of Jerusalem (Act 15) where a) the only scriptures would have been the OT and b) the Council Fathers introduced clear changes to OT law?


    • Not Lazarus, the actual post. In response to Lazarus – for a start you assume there was a ‘council’ at Jerusalem, but that aside, the Apostles were there to superintend the early church when there was not a complete canon. They had authority that church leaders today quite clearly do not.


  2. Hi Jonathan

    Yes, as soon as I pressed the ‘send’ button, I realized that I’d fallen foul of my own previous warnings that the moves here were well rehearsed -so I was being silly in indulging in the ‘Ah, but have you thought of this…?’ game. Apologies to all!

    I think this does emphasize the difference of view between Protestantism and Catholicism/Orthodoxy: both basing their arguments fundamentally on scripture, we see the establishment of a Church with apostolic governance (bishops and the Petrine office) which continues seamlessly from Jesus’ life on earth up till the present (and of which the establishment of a canon of scripture is part of its development); whilst Protestants see a fundamental discontinuity between the apostolic age (pre-Scripture) and the post Apostolic Church (with scripture).


  3. Actually I’d be happy to acknowledge the meeting at Jerusalem as a church council (in fact would probably insist on it, as it’s so important for establishing a precedent for future church activity) but would very much resist any suggestion that this was an instance of a church council going beyond Scripture.

    Again I think it links back with your understanding of the relationship between the Old Testament order of things and the New – we would say the NT doesn’t contradict but fulfils the OT. So the first Council of the NT church was not contradicting the OT church but fulfilling it, just as the apostles constantly went around proving from the scriptures (of the OT) that Jesus was the Christ. In fact that’s basically what James was doing in his summing up statement at the Council – what clinched it was the reference to ‘the words of the prophets’, ‘as it is written…’.

    Also, the only changes endorsed by the council between the OT administration and the NT were in things which even in the OT itself were ceremonial and typical, ie had a built-in expiry date, namely the coming, death, and resurrection of the Saviour. So that the deliverance made by the apostles (and elders) didn’t emerge from some intrinsic authority of their own, as though any council convened by religious leaders had the right to declare an end to the ceremonial rituals mandated in the law of Moses, but was contingent on the historical fact that the Messiah had now come and fulfilled the promise of scripture: that’s what had lifted the burden of the ceremonial law, not the statement of the apostles – they affirmed what was already true, their saying so didn’t make it so.

    (I really don’t think it’s at all accurate to view the Protestant position as identifying the apostolic age as pre-Scripture).


  4. Again I think it links back with your understanding of the relationship between the Old Testament order of things and the New – we would say the NT doesn’t contradict but fulfils the OT. So the first Council of the NT church was not contradicting the OT church but fulfilling it, just as the apostles constantly went around proving from the scriptures (of the OT) that Jesus was the Christ.

    Do you remember that conversation we had about the speaking-in-tongues type gifts? Where you held/said that all the churches at the time had had these gifts, but they were only for then, and I said there’s no evidence that all of them had them, and it seems that it was not only for then, and that it is not really surprising that they should turn up now? That would be an example of what Lazarus noted – what seems to be the Protestant idea that the church at the time of the apostles was a different kind of thing than the church now, where the only difference (other than “cool, they actually spoke with Jesus and knew what colour His beard is” etc) Catholics see is that some of the bishops at the time co-wrote, with the Holy Spirit, inspired texts.


    • I do vaguely remember, and remember the ‘duh’ moment when I realised I’d just spouted forth on the assumption it would be common ground, when of course, it wasn’t.

      But. Without exactly knowing what the relevant aspect of your view of the church is, hence how to interpret what you think the difference between your and our view is, I’d just say in general terms that I think we’d say the church is essentially the same then and now (‘then’ just after the resurrection, and ‘then’ from Adam and Eve onwards), and it was the uniqueness of the situation at the transition between the Old and New administrations which meant that unique provisions were made at that time, for that time. The office of apostle would be the most relevant of those provisions – the office ceased to exist when the last of the apostles died (or transferred their membership from the church militant to the church triumphant, as i’ve seen it endearingly described, although that’s a digression), so the apostolic succession is a succession in terms of doctrine, not of office. Speaking in tongues and the other gifts were again the kinds of signs and wonders that were really only displayed in particularly momentous periods in the history of redemption to add corroboration to a particularly important prophet’s message, and now that we’re just in the intervening period between the first and second comings, there’s no particular reason to expect any further manifestation of such corroboration, since we have the last word of The prophet already complete in our possession.


  5. Pingback: Sola Scriptura III « Laodicea

  6. Cath

    If you discovered something you said was wrong, and A was right, would you consider becoming Catholic?

    Simple question. I would say if you proved me wrong, I would be happy to become Protestant. So…would you become Catholic?


    • Eh, well, much as I respect him and all, I’m not sure I’d stake my soul’s salvation on Aelianus’s orthodoxy. But in principle, sure, I’d follow the Scots Confession and say, if any man will note in my Confession any article or sentence repugning to God’s holy Word, that it would please him of his gentleness to admonish me of the same, and I promise either satisfaction from the holy Scriptures, or else reformation of that which shall be proved to be amiss.

      How does that sound? :-)


  7. “On the OT canon, the claim that ‘the Protestant canon of the OT did not exist in Our Lord’s time’ has no New Testament support. The Gospels record Jesus appealing constantly to a known, fixed body of writings in his disputations with the Pharisees and Sadducees, and these were the writings which the Apostles used to demonstrate the truth of their claim that the Messiah had indeed come, eg”

    No, but it has the weight of history on its side. Just ask any Jew. There was no Canon.. You are wrong to say this.

    “So the strategy of discrediting the Jewish Scriptures is not only a mischaracterisation of the situation that obtained at the time of Christ but is also really fatal to the gospel of the New Testament (which relies on the revelation in the Old Testament).”

    That is just a Protestant soundbite (Protestants always had the best soundbites thats probably one of the main reasons the Reformation was so popular, untrue, Protestant sounbites) .

    There is no question of A discrediting theJewish Scriptures. Not as you know them. Incidentally, the Hebrew scriptures and the Greek Scriptures, have both been quoted in the New Testament (Im talkinga bout the OT Scriptures here) and it has been found that 75% of the time the Greek Septuagint is being used/translated by our Lord and his disciples. ( Thats quite a convincing arguement I would say.)

    Thats enough just now, you have enough to be getting on with.


  8. Hang on, I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

    Ask any Jew – what? To the Jews were committed the oracles of God: that was one of the biggest advantages of being a Jew, said Paul. These were the people who spent their lives painstakingly preserving the scriptures down to the last jot and tittle (they counted). They thought they had eternal life in these very scriptures. The reason the apostles spent so much effort arguing from the scriptures was because there simply was no question in the mind of the devout Jew of the time but that they had the scriptures, that the scriptures were authoritative, and that if something could be proved from the scriptures, that was an end of all argument. Come off it, man, seriously. The case *against* a well-defined OT canon owes much more to rationalistic, liberal protestant, higher critical propaganda than to any honest follower of the tradition of the people of God through the ages – I really don’t understand why you folks invest so much in it.

    Soundbites were never my strong point, so I’m flattered :) Maybe I’ll offer my services to the ‘no to independence’ campaign, to help it get more popular.

    As for the Greek – I don’t know what I’m meant to be convinced about here. Do you think it’s a problem for the Protestant position that the Lord used the Greek translation? why/how?


    • Do you see the logical distinction between holding Scripture to be inspired and agreeing on the canon? We both hold Scripture to be inspired but we do not agree on the canon. Are you denying that the Sadducees only accepted the Pentateuch? Are you denying that the Pharisees accepted oral tradition as binding? Are you denying that the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls (probably the Essenes) had a much larger canon? Are you denying that the LXX has a different canon to the Protestant canon (there are variants but they all differ)? The fact that the NT usually quotes the LXX shows that if any canon is to be deduced from it, it ought to be some variant of the LXX canon.


      • Yes *of course* I see the distinction between holding Scrpture to be inspired and agreeing on the canon. You’re the one that keeps mooshing them together as if there was no such distinction! For the other questions: Probably, no, yes, and think so. More later.


  9. Maybe I’ll offer my services to the ‘no to independence’ campaign, to help it get more popular.

    Do! I won’t be able to vote in the referendum, it seems :( So if they do break up the UK, what will happen to my UK citizenship?


  10. A couple of particular questions:-
    1. Is the book of Tobit inspired and canonical or not? Polycarp quotes from it (Epistle to the Philippians, 10). He was a disciple of the apostle John, and lived from around AD 69-155. It is in the Septuagint, the version of the bible from which the NT authors quote. Fragments of it in Hebrew and Aramaic were found at Qumran. None of these things, alone or together, proves that Tobit is a scriptural book. But given such things, can the adherent of sola scriptura prove beyond reasonable doubt that Tobit is not a canonical book?
    2. Is there a plurality of physical sacrifices, purifying the soul from sin, under the gospel? There are passages in the Scriptures that suggest this, e.g. Zech.14:16-21; Hebrews 9:23. Perhaps these passages do not really mean this. But can one decide either way on the basis of sola scriptura?


  11. I’m not totally sure I understand these questions.

    As in, I’m not sure that we understand the same things by sola scriptura.

    Sola scriptura just says, Scripture contains everything necessary for doctrine and practice. The question of what is included under the term “Scripture” is a separate question. It has to do with canoncity (and behind that, the doctrine of inspiration). And, by definition, sola scriptura does give the basis for deciding on doctrine. So I’m confused what the questions are getting at: this terrible sense of incoherence must mean we’re talking at cross purposes ??


  12. My point in the first question is that there needs to be some way of knowing what books are scriptural. Scripture itself doesn’t tell us what books are in the bible. So how can Scripture contain everything necessary for doctrine and practice, since to know what books are in the bible and what books are not is surely something necessary for doctrine and practice? If one says, ‘I accept those books as biblical which that church which is faithful to scripture says are biblical’, then that doesn’t resolve the problem, since you can’t know which church is faithful to scripture without first knowing what books are in scripture.

    In other words, what is the criterion for deciding if a given book, like that of Tobit, is scriptural?

    My point in the second question is to give an example of a potentially confusing passage in the Bible. After insisting that there is only one sacrifice, St Paul then speaks of a plurality of sacrifices under the gospel. Does this mean that Hebrews 9:23 is a strange figure of speech, using the plural for the singular? Or that it is to be understood literally, as a Catholic can interpret it, as referring to the plurality of celebrations of the Mass by which Christ’s sacrifice is perpetuated on earth? Could one be sure either way, if one only has the written word and not a teaching body which the Holy Spirit guides into all truth?

    In other words, what is the criterion for deciding between disputed interpretations of passages of Scripture?


  13. In reply to Thomas;

    With reference to ‘sacrifices,’ plural. Have a read and a think over this paragraph which I consider to be helpful.

    It is the use of the plural number here in connection with the sacrifice of Christ which has occasioned difficulty to some. It is a figure of speech known as an ‘enallage,’ the plural being put for the singular by way of emphasis. It is so expressed because the great sacrifice not only confirmed the signification, virtue, and benefits of all others, but exceeded in dignity, design and efficacy all others. Again; under the law there were five chief offerings appointed unto Israel: the burnt, the meal, the peace, the sin, the trespass (see Leviticus 1-5), and in Christ’s great Sacrifice we have the antitype of all five, and hence His has superseded theirs. Thus, the plural, “sacrifices” here emphasizes the one offering of Christ, expresses its superlative excellency, and denotes that it provides the substance of the many shadows under the law.

    AW Pink – An Exposition of Hebrews – in relation to 9.23.


  14. Yes, that is one possible interpretation of the passage. Here is another, from Cornelius a Lapide, a great 17th century exegete:-
    ‘the heavenly things, that is the faithful, and the things of the Church, are purified by better victims, that is, by the blood and sacrifice of Christ, both as it was offered on the Cross and as it exists in the Eucharist which is daily offered and repeated in the Church; for these daily repeated mysteries of the Eucharist, being many, are said [in Hebrews] to be many victims not one, as also Ribera remarked.’

    How on the basis of sola Scriptura would one be sure that Pink is right and Lapide and RIbera are wrong?


  15. The Bible speaks of the Redeemer’s death in terms of it being ‘one sacrifice for sins forever.’ Hebrews 10.12. By that work which He fully accomplished and finished to the absolute satisfaction of God and His throne, His people’s sins have been expiated, as He is said to have ‘put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.’ Hebrews 9.26.

    That His redemptive work on earth is complete, is a given. However He continues His work as the High Priest of His people in Heaven, where He is said to ‘appear in the presence of God for us.’ Hebrews 9.24. His present ministry is one of efficacious intercession on the behalf of those He redeemed, ‘seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.’ Hebrews 7.25.

    The ultimate success of Christ’s intercessory ministry is based on the foundation of His ‘one sacrifice for sins forever.’ It is because He lives on high, presenting and pleading the intrinsic merit, worth and value of His sacrificial death and His ‘precious blood’ shed on account of His people that the final salvation of all those who are His own will be gloriously secured.

    The Apostle John saw Him ‘in the midst of the throne’ – ‘a Lamb as it had been slain.’ Revelation 5.6. It is the perfect participle – indicative of completeness and permanence. In layman’s language, that sacrifice though it was but ‘one sacrifice for sins,’ has an enduring efficacy, freshness, quality and vitality that shall never diminish, ‘world without end.’

    In light of the above, i.e. the Lord Jesus Christ’s all excelling sacrifice at Golgotha and His present intercessory ministry in the Glory – and I say this in all charity – what further need have we for anything else said to be sacrificial in character or nature, repetitive or otherwise? Horatius Bonar – one of our Scottish hymnwriters has put it well in the following few lines;

    No blood, no altar now,
    The sacrifice is o’er,
    No flame, no smoke ascends on high,
    The lamb is slain no more,
    But richer blood has flowed from nobler veins,
    To purge the soul from guilt and cleanse the reddest stains.


    • Certainly Christ by His death has merited all graces for mankind and made satisfaction for all sins, and now lives to intercede for us. But we are not automatically saved because of this; there must be some means by which those graces which have been won for us all in principle are in fact, here and now, received by a given human being. So, the question arises, how?

      God could have so ordained things that these graces would be received only by that work which is faith (He tells us that faith is a kind of work in Jn 6:29.) The need for such a work on our part would not have taken anything away from the sufficiency or perfection of Christ’s sacrifice. Or He could have so ordained things that the work by which we benefit from Christ’s sacrifice should be that very sacrifice itself, to which we unite ourselves by faith. The Catholic Church holds that God chose the second option: according to this view, Christ’s sacrifice, as a ‘bloody’ offering, involving a death, is the source of salvation; and that same sacrifice, offered in an ‘unbloody’ and sacramental manner in the holy Mass, is the means or work (the greatest, not the only means) by which the faithful receive that salvation. The advantage of this second option would be that Christ’s sacrifice is more present, as both source and means of salvation, and so God would be more perfectly glorified.


      • The means whereby those graces which Christ purchased for His people are applied to them is by the Holy Spirit in due time regenerating their souls – we call it new birth. As the Lord Jesus stressed to Nicodemus, ‘Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.’ John 3.7. Thus the souls of those formerly spiritually dead are quickened or vivified and come into the benefit of all the blessings that the Redeemer procured for them.


        • Yes, certainly, no Christian will deny that the Holy Spirit applies to our souls those graces that Christ won for us in superabundance by his sacrificial death. However, since the simple existence of the Holy Spirit doesn’t entail that all men are saved, the question still arises, what is or are the created means by which the Holy Spirit justifies and then sanctifies souls?

          Is it simply the act of faith? As I said above, that would be one possibility; but it would also involve a danger of pride, since then it would be our act alone which was serving as the channel for the Holy Spirit. In any case, the Catholic faith is that this normally happens through the sacramental economy, at the pinnacle of which is the holy Mass. In this way, Christ’s sacrifice is not only the source of salvation, but also enters into the very application of the graces won on Calvary to our souls – leaving the less place for human boasting.


          • Saving faith – is not something that can be drummed up at a whim, i.e. contingent upon the will of an individual. That any are possessed of it at all is because it is a grace purchased by Christ for His people – and then applied to them – it is said to be, ‘the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.’ Ephesians 2. 8-9. Faith being that channel or conduit through which salvation is received is inwrought in the soul by the Holy Spirit upon regeneration. There is a sense that it is a work – but not a work of man – rather – it is the work or working of God – ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.’ John 6.29.


            • Faith is a human work in the sense that it is an act of the human mind under the influence of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, to be baptised or to be absolved are not acts of the one who is baptised or absolved (hence the use of the passive voice, ‘I am baptised’, as opposed to ‘I believe’). That is why I say the sacramental economy leaves less room for boasting, since the created reality by which the grace of the Holy Spirit enters is not purely an activity of my mind. it demands greater humility to accept baptism from another fallen human being, or to confess one’s sins to him than simply to believe the words of God. This is why God has designed an economy of salvation in which, as St Peter says, ‘baptism saves you’ (1 Peter 3:21).

              Incidentally, does not the very length of this discussion show the need for a divinely-validated, objectively recongisable interpreter of Scripture?


              • Alas Thomas, many countless millions are trusting themselves to outward ordinances – whether Baptism or the Lord’s Supper – who are wholly devoid of the inward reality required of which these ordinances do but speak.

                Such is but a false hope – a vain refuge. It will no more suffice them for the great Eternity than will ‘a spider’s web’ avail the poor insect in a storm – no matter how curious a piece of workmanship that web may appear to be.

                Faith in Christ alone savingly unites the soul to Him. All other ground is but shifting sand. ‘Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.’ Isaiah 45.22

                The dying thief was never baptised nor did he ever partake of the the Lord’s Supper – yet a look of faith to the crucified Redeemer who was dying the death of a substitutionary sacrifice on his account – begot that comforting reply – ‘Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.’

                Simon the Sorcerer professed to believe and was baptized. ‘Ere long the Apostle Peter saw through him – he had the outward sign – but not the inward reality – and told him so – ‘thy heart is not right in the sight of God’ – ‘For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.’

                As the hymnwriter Joseph Hart wrote;

                “Vain is all our best devotion, If on false foundations built.”


                • If you look back at my comment from the 10th February you will see that you are fighting with a straw man in this last comment. I pointed out there that of course attendance at holy Mass, and by implication the whole sacramental economy, is of no value without faith. I didn’t think it necessary to repeat it each time, since the necessity of faith is something we both agree on.

                  The Catholic Church has always held that in the absence of the possibility of receiving the sacraments, the faith-filled desire for them can also open a channel for God’s grace (though to a lesser extent). This doesn’t change the fact that it is part of the plan of Christ that normally speaking, justifying grace should be conferred through the sacraments. Our Lord indicates this when he couples faith and baptism by saying, ‘He who believes and is baptised will be saved’. I’m sure you would not say that it would have been better had He said simply, ‘He who believes will be saved’; yet that is the logic of your position. St Peter indicates that baptism – once again, not excluding faith – is the normal means of receiving justifying grace when he says, ‘baptism now saves you’ (1 Pet 3:21), his experience with Simon Magus notwithstanding.

                  Finally, once again, doesn’t the very length of this discussion show the need for a divinely-validated, objectively recognisable interpreter of Scripture?


              • Yes, God Himself has given us the very teacher we need, ‘But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things.’ John 14.26.

                ‘And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto Me.’ John 6.45.


                • Nothing can be truer than those quotations. But the simple fact of quoting them, or even of believing them, is not sufficient to show that they apply to oneself! The Muslims quote the first, I believe, and make the Paraclete Mohammed. One needs first to show that one is a member of that body of people to whom these promises were made.

                  The Catholic position is that Christ set up a kingdom on earth, visible as was the kingdom of Israel which foreshadowed it. The apostles gave people admission into this kingdom by instructing them, in person or by deputies, and when they were able to make a profession of faith, baptising them. It was thus always clear who was a member of this kingdom and who was not. The promise of the illumination of the Holy Ghost applies to those who are members of this kingdom, though in one way to those whom Christ appointed as teachers, in another to the others. The former are guided to hand on the truth which Christ has committed to them, the latter to accept it and instinctively to reject what is counterfeit.

                  Had the apostles not appointed successors to themselves, the kingdom set up by Christ would have become a chaos. It would no longer have been clear who was a member of it and who was not. To be a member of that kingdom, one therefore has to be subject to the successors of the apostles. In the case of a schism between these successors, one has to be subject to the first among them, to whom alone the keys were committed and the whole flock, sheep and lambs, that is, clergy and laity, was entrusted without qualification.


  16. With regard to the Apocryphal book of Tobit – I must confess that I have never read it through. I have more familiarity with J.R. Tolkein’s ‘The Hobbit’ than Tobit. However I am not altogether devoid of any knowledge as to its contents and why I would reject it as part of the canon.

    The Apostle Paul writes of the Jewish nation, ‘that unto them were committed the oracles of God.’ Romans 3.2. Hence they were custodians of the sacred writings in the sense that God sovereignly used them to superintend the preservation of the Holy Scriptures for us.

    Hence from the rejection of Tobit and other apocryphal books by the ancient Jews from the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible – as they did not consider it or them to be canonical – I believe that the Divine hand was behind what went into the scriptures and what did not.

    There is a marvellous harmony and unity to the Bible and its 66 books and no incongruity between either the Old Testament, the New Testament or any of the many penmen. However a brief scan through the book of Tobit will reveal much that does not square with scripture.

    There is the supposedly good and high angel, Raphael, who falsely misrepresents himself / deliberately lies to Tobit – claiming to be someone other than who he is – later on he reveals that he was actually another personage. Tobit 5.4, 5.12 and 12.15.

    The angel promotes the use of magic and potions to ward off demonical and evil spirits in Tobit 6.4-8, practices which are roundly condemned by the scriptures. Then to cap it all is the notion that almsgiving will purge away all sin which is found in Tobit 12.9.

    It would not take a Sabbath School scholar too long to pick up on the fact that there is something abit ‘iffy’ about Tobit. Since it so obviously contains an admixture of errors, to add it to the canon would have nothing more than a leavening effect.


    • When the Jews settled on their canon at the end of the 1st century AD, they had already ceased to be the chosen people. The rabbis who established the canon were the spiritual descendants of the scribes and pharisees who crucified our Lord. Why follow their tradition rather than the tradition to which St Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John, bears witness when he quotes from Tobit in the same manner as from other scriptural books?

      The angel calls himeslf ‘Azarias, the son of the great Ananias’, which means ‘the help of God, the son of the great grace of God’. There is no deceit here; he is giving himself a title appropriate to his office, and glorifying the grace of God at the same time. Does Daniel lie when he calls Gabriel ‘a man’ in Dan 9:21, even though he is clearly an angel?

      There is no magic in Tob. 6. Magic means appealing to occult, and in reality, diabolical powers; Raphael never recommends the invocation of such powers, but recommends only the fear of the Lord (Tob 6:17,22; 12:18-20).

      Raphael does indeed say that almsgiving purges sin. So does Jesus Christ: ‘give for alms those things that are within [or, that which remains, give alms], and behold everything is clean for you’ (Lk 11:41). Neither text means that almsgiving separated from faith and contrition would purge sins., but that for those who have a living faith in the Redeemer, almsgiving is one means by which the debts of past sins may be lessened.


  17. Just quickly, in reply to Thomas’s two questions above.

    The canonicity issue. The way the question is set up is back to front. Ie, it assumes that we’re faced with the puzzle of having a variety of texts to choose from, and needing to identify criteria for which we will or won’t recognise as canonical. But that’s not the reality of the situation. The starting point is: God delivering a message. God speaks, or God moves someone to write, and that word is what we have to receive. This is precisely how the Jews received their canon (which was settled hundreds of years BC, btw). It is also how the inspired writings of the NT era were received. In both cases the worshippers of God obediently received the Word of God, as such. In both cases it was on the basis of authority, and the Reformed position is that the authority is inherent in God’s Word (which was touched on in the first of the current series of posts, (in contrast to the Roman position, that the authority is in the (Roman) Church).

    The perspicuity issue. Or, how is scripture to be interpreted. When there are disputed interpretations of passages of Scripture, the Reformed position is that Scripture is its own interpreter. The Scripture is a living Word and God the Holy Spirit who inspired it continues to speak through it. The pursuit of understanding what Scripture means is as much as to say, the pursuit of understanding what the Holy Spirit means when he said whatever passage it may be. When there are differences of opinion about a passage, that is neither the fault of the passage nor of the Holy Spirit, and I will add that the Reformed position has never been that determining the meaning of all passages of Scripture is easy. The contrast with the Roman position though is that again the authoritative voice is God’s own, not his church’s, so that appealing to some Scripture-external churchly authority to decide between disputed interpretations of scripture is simply to push the problem along a bit, rather than to solve it.

    Bit scrappy, but that will do for now.


    • “God speaks, or God moves someone to write, and that word is what we have to receive.” Certainly, if God has delivered a message to a prophet, others must accept the message. But the questions remains, how are these others to know that the prophet in question is a real prophet and not a pseudo-prophet? By a direct personal illumination? Can anyone claim a direct illumination that tells him that the book of Ruth is inspired, and the book of Judith is not?

      You say that the Jewish canon was fixed hundreds of years BC. I don’t know of any official act BC by which the Jews said that ‘these and only these books are canonical, and no other canonical books will ever appear, or ever appear before the coming of the Messiah’. There is certainly none in the Bible. But even if there had been, did the body that made it claim to be infallible? If not, then the question remains open. If it did claim infallibility, why does this body not fall under the criticism offered of the Roman Church, that it is taking authority away from God?

      The Roman position is not that the Church confers authority on books, but simply that it recognises their authority. It has the authority to discern the canon; your position appears to be that the individual believer can discern the canon. On either side, such a great claim demands some proof before anyone can accept it. The Roman Church says that one such proof are the miracles worked within it, as Moses, the prophets and the apostles, worked miracles.

      Imagine 2 missionaries, one Catholic and one Reformed, speaking to a pagan, one showing a scripture of 72 books, the other one of 66, The Catholic says Christ set up a visible Church and endowed it with the authority to teach in His name; and this Church teaches that these 72 books are inspired and canonical, and no others. What does the Reformed missionary say?

      On the question of perspecuity, can Scripture be its own interpreter? Yes, if we all had a perfect understanding of Scripture – i.e. if there was no problem of perspecuity! But however long we look at Hebrews, it will not speak to us, and tell us whether Christ’s sacrifice is perpetuated in sacramental form in the Holy Mass or not, or whether ‘this is my body’ means ‘this signifies my body’.. Are individual Christians infallible, that they should trust their own interpretation?


  18. Thomas –

    The position really is not that individual believers can discern the canon – I don’t know where the idea of “direct personal illumination” comes from. There is a huge role for the church (in the sense of believers corporately and historically as distinct from the institution headed by the Bishop of Rome) in how the individual believer (today) comes to know and understand the Scriptures: please don’t make the mistake of thinking that since we have a different doctrine of the (relationship btwn Scripture and the) church from you we have no such doctrine at all and everything is down to the individual to make up as they go along.

    You still seem to be imagining a scenario where someone comes along and out of the blue they have to make a decision on what to accept/discard as canonical. But that’s not the scenario we’re dealing with, either at the point when the books were written or in the present day. In fact in the present day there is no ground whatsoever for an individual (singly or in large groups!) questioning the limits of the canon – the question has been settled since donkey’s years and no more needs to be revisited than say the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. Although the testimony of the church is not what the authority of Scripture depends on, the consensus of the church since New Testament times that *these* and *not these* are the books to be received as The Word of God relieves us (as individuals or church councils) of the need to start from scratch (in the same way as it does with say the doctrine of Christ’s divinity). Those who dispute the limits of the canon are disputing themselves into that area outwith the boundaries of the Christian Church. (Outwith, hey.) Just to spell that out, the ultimate authority for believing the doctrine of Christ’s divinity (etc) is not the voice of the Church but the revelation of God, and it’s the same for the identity of the canon, but restricting the question to ‘how can the individual know,’ the testimony of the church is invaluable in both cases.

    As for recognising canonicity at the time when the books were written, the issue here has to be framed by the doctrine of inspiration: that when God delivers a message, it comes with his own authority, truthfulness, comprehensibility, etc. Authority, truthfulness, etc, are intrinsically the properties of whatever messages God delivers (whether they come through a prophet speaking or in written form), which means that the inspired books are in the nature of things canonical right from the time they were written. The inspired=canonical books are qualitatively different from uninspired=noncanonical books. They can’t be made canonical but must simply be accepted as canonical on the basis of their own inherent authority. So when you’re talking about official Jewish bodies issuing official acts about the contents of the canon, it’s a very peculiar objection to raise. “I don’t know of any official act BC by which the Jews said…” – me either, but that’s hardly to the point! What we do know is that the Jewish canon had been fixed long ago by the time that Christ came (here I won’t repeat what I’ve already said in the original post above, but will repeat what I said earlier, “The idea that some collection either of Israelites or [NT] churchmen first sat down in judgment on whether or not to accept God’s own revelation as authoritative, is completely back to front”) ( The authority of the Holy Scripture depends wholly upon God the author thereof, and it is to be received because it is the Word of God.

    As for the imaginary situation with the missionaries, one Catholic and one Reformed. The Catholic says Christ set up a visible Church and endowed it with the authority to teach in his name. The Reformed says the same. The Catholic says their church teaches that 72 books are inspired and canonical, and no others. The Reformed says that God inspired 66 books and no others, and the church proclaims what he says there. Where is this going?

    Perspicuity. Scripture *is* clear, even when it’s not clear to us, or to some of us, or less clear to us in some of its parts than others. Scripture is its own interpreter to give us a (not perfect but) better understanding of Scripture. You must forget that Hebrews is the very book which calls the Word of God living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, etc etc. The Scriptures are God’s living Word, where the Holy Spirit who inspired them continues to speak to his church in all ages. When God communicates, the message he gives is fit for purpose – if there’s a breakdown in communication, the fault is at the receiving end, not in the revelation itself (an analogy in the domain of general revelation would be the heavens declaring the glory of God whether atheists are hearing it or not, eg).

    The only thing to add here is to pick up on the (again a bit odd odd) thing you’ve thrown at Seceder above – “doesn’t the very length of this discussion show the need of a divinely validated, objectively recognisable interpreter of Scripture?” Odd, not just because this discussion isn’t especially long, but because both sides say there is such an interpreter. The dispute continues, not for lack of an interpreter but for lack of agreement on the identity of the interpreter! It’s also patently obvious that the pronouncements of the Roman Church haven’t yet resolved all the diverging interpretations of doctrine within its own membership. The question remains ‘who has the authority’ not ‘who is apparently more effective in exercising their authority.’ Your claim that it’s the Roman Church who has the authority is at odds with the Scripture’s counter-claim for itself.


  19. Cath –

    The Catholic position on how a pagan can come to recognise the Scriptures is something like this. He receives, whether in oral or in written form, an account of Christ’s life, including some of His words and miracles, His death and resurrection, and the commissioning of the apostles to teach all nations. Looking at this according to the ordinary rules for assessing historical evidence, the fair-minded pagan can judge that the resurrection is true, that Christ is who He said he was, and that he, the pagan, should belong to the Church which Christ the Son of God founded. By God’s grace, this human, historical judgement can be transformed into an assent of faith. Having faith and sorrow for his sins, the pagan can then be baptised and so receive justifying and sanctifying grace (it is possible for him to receive this grace even before actual baptism, if his sorrow for sin is unusually pure, but only God can see if this is so.)

    Since the newly-baptised Christian believes that he is obliged to belong to the Church which Christ founded, he realises that he must believe everything which the Church says one must believe if one is to be a member. Among these things are the inspiration of 72 books. He believes this not because he has read them all, nor because he thinks that the Church has made them to be inspired, but because the Church tells him that they were inspired, and he knows that the Church cannot be wrong about things which it says are necessary to believe in order to belong to it. I submit that this is a coherent account of how a pagan can come to have due faith in the Scriptures.

    What I can’t understand is what your alternative account is. You say that the question of the canon was settled long ago by the Church. The question arises, ‘which church, and why should we have confidence in it?’ For example, it can’t be the Church that St Augustine of Hippo belonged to. Nor does it seem to be the Church that St Polycarp belonged to. My pagan can be given a reason why he should receive the 72 books. But what about your pagan? If he says to you, why do I receive just the 66, what will you say to him? ‘Because the Church does?’ But then he can reply, how do I know that your church is the true church? Because it receives the right books? But that is obviously circular! Or if you were to say to him, ‘these books carry with them their own authority’, what does that mean in practice? You say that it doesn’t mean that he will receive a direct prophetic illumination if he opens them that will convince him of their truth. Well, then, what is to convince him that they are inspired? The witness of the Church? But then, we must first decide what the true Church is. That is logically prior. Of course truthfulness if intrinsically the property of what God delivers, as you say; but it doesn’t follow that ‘being able to be recognised as true’ is intrinsically a property of it, independent of the authority of the Church.

    As for perspicuity, we seem to be in agreement in that you write, ‘Scripture is clear even when it is not clear to us’. I never doubted that it was clear to God! ‘The message of God is fit for purpose’ – of course, but what is the purpose? I should say, so that the divinely-appointed representatives of Christ, the successors of the apostles, can instruct His people in all they need to know; but not so that anyone can receive all they need to know independently of whether they are subject to those representatives. The word, that is the message of God, is sharper than any two-edged sword (by the way, St Paul doesn’t identify ‘word of God’ and ‘Bible’) – yes, but remember that a sword needs to be wielded rightly. The question is, who wields it? And how do we know if we are wielding it with due authority?

    {by the way, we once met in a pub in the north-east of England}


    • Right, it’s 23:47 and I *must* be logged off at midnight. Otherwise, pumpkins.

      So – the pagan – I disagree from the outset of the scenario. The pagan is confronted with the Word of God, with its own authority and its own demand to be heard/believed. The pagan hasn’t got either the right or the power to judge whether its revelation is true or not but rather there are only two scenarios: either he/she receives the Word ‘in word only’, or else he/she receives the Word ‘in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance’.
      If the latter, then the pagan, understanding from the Word that Christ is who he says he is, exercises faith in the Christ of the Word and is (by so doing) made a member of the Church Invisible. Assuming the relevant missionary is ordained to exercise the power of the keys, as they now know in Canada, the new convert should then be baptised into membership of the Church Visible, but that’s a separate issue.
      In other words, the account you offer is back to front. Rather than receiving the 72 books on the authority of the Church, the hypothetical pagan goes to the Church after receiving the truth authoritatively revealed in the (n) books.

      23:59: canonicity & perspicuity next time.


    • Ach, go on then.

      The canon. I’m happy to say “the question of the canon was settled long ago,” but I don’t think I’ve said “was settled long ago by the Church.” In the church, maybe, but I can’t emphasise enough that it is not the church that decides the canon: the canon *is* and the church recognises it. (So the reason why the pagan, or anyone at all, should receive the 66 books is because they *are* the Word of God, not because some Word-external authority pronounces them to be so.)

      To say that Scripture carries with it its own authority means in practice that an individual can acknowledge it as God’s Word in two ways – or rather, one way nearly but not quite, and the other in reality.

      The first way is (to paraphrase the Westminster Confession) that they see its entire perfection, its many incomparable excellencies, the full account it gives of salvation, its overall scope of giving all glory to God, the harmony of all its parts, the majesty of its style, the efficacy of its doctrine, and the heavenliness of its substance; and along with the testimony of the Church (whether the Church’s official pronouncements, or a person’s informal acquaintance with a churchly way of doing things eg by being brought up in a Christian family where the Word is reverenced), these things can induce an individual to acknowledge the Scripture to be the Word of God. This happens all the time and these are all useful and valuable and weighty evidences in favour of recognising Scripture as the Word of God, but, yet, it isn’t quite an instance of the individual recognising the Scripture on account of its own intrinsic authority. It still just leaves the individual in the position of the pagan newly encountering the Word: no individual has either the right or the power to sit down and weigh up all the evidences and judge for themselves whether or not to accept Scripture as the very Word of God: fallen, all the more so unregenerate, sinners are not competent judges in divine or spiritual matters. So someone who does make the acknowledgement that the Scriptures are the Word of God but only on such grounds as these is only nearly but not quite recognising the Word of God to be such for its own sake.

      So the real answer to how it looks in practice is that, again as we confess, the “full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word”. Which I instantly need to say, does NOT mean direct personal illumination, and does NOT mean that people need to sit around to wait for some wonderful mystical experience before they can know the Bible to be the Word of God. Rather this statement of the Confession points in, at least, i think, two directions. One, back to the intrinsic properties of the Word (which the Spirit witnesses by and with) – it is, as the Confession has just stated, the Word of God, authored by God, authoritative, and to the claims which it does make for/about itself and its authority and sufficiency. It’s not just a mystical or symbolical collection of obscure texts that just need to be taken on trust and toted about like some sort of talisman that we’re not really sure what it really does, but rather it does witness to its own infallible truth and divine authority, it does itself bear a witness which the Holy Spirit then reinforces.
      And two, that the bare Word whatever its inherent properties doesn’t accomplish anything redemptive on its own but only as an instrument in the hand of the Spirit. It doesn’t accomplish anything redemptive although it can be highly informative in philosophical, historical, etc, even theological terms, as a resource to be studied by rational readers – but it isn’t effectual to salvation except as it is used by the Holy Spirit. The redemption angle is essential because it’s entirely possible if not an everyday occurrence that the rebellion of a sinner’s heart is capable of making them see on one level that the Scriptures must be God’s Word while on simultaneously on another level making them refuse to submit to its authority in any practical sense (either for salvation or for growth in grace). But the Bible is a churchy book, it belongs to the whole community of those who by the work of the Holy Spirit worship the God who in the person of the Holy Spirit authored it – that’s the context where the Holy Spirit gives the capacity for readers to appreciate/respect/obey it.
      But both these go together: Word and Spirit. It’s not that any random individual/s can set up shop and claim the assistance of the Holy Spirit to preach things that are contrary to the Word (because what is contrary to the Word can be demonstrated or at least the data to be discussed is available in a third-party-observable way). But equally although the bare Word *is* the Word of God with its own inherent authority, human fallenness means that readers/hearers will only harden their hearts against it unless and until the Holy Spirit works inwardly to bear witness by it and with it in their hearts.

      1:21 and no time to make it any shorter and perspicuity just will have to wait.


      • I don’t disagree with all this, by any means, but…

        1. “The pagan hasn’t got either the right or the power to judge whether its revelation is true or not”. Clearly, once he has received the light to know that something has been revealed to God, he is obliged to receive it. But normally (there can be exceptions, but they would be miracles of grace), this light isn’t offered all at once; a pagan must first judge ‘this has been revealed by God, therefore I must believe it’; and the judgement ‘this has been revealed’ is one that he can legitimately make, based e.g. on miracles, fulfilled prophecies, perfection of Christ’s personality revealed in the gospels. Our Lord invited the pharisees to use their reason to discover that they should believe in Him: ‘Why do you not judge for yourselves that which is just?’ And we see St Paul ‘persuading them concerning Jesus, out of the law of Moses and the prophets, from morning until evening’, helping them to weigh the evidence and come to the right conclusion.
        However, I agree that the judgement ‘I should believe in this’, which can be reached by human reasoning, is different from the act of faith, ‘I believe’, which is possible only by the power of the Holy Spirit.

        2. It is not quite right to say that Catholics believe in Scripture on the authority of the Church. Rather, the Church tells us what God has revealed; and this enables us to believe God directly. If my mother brings me a letter from my father, she is the means by which I receive my father’s words, but he is the one whom I believe when I read it.

        3. “Rather than receiving the 72 books on the authority of the Church, the hypothetical pagan goes to the Church after receiving the truth authoritatively revealed in the (n) books.” I agree that the pagan goes to the Church, by which I mean that he seeks baptism and accepts her for his mother and teacher, after accepting the saving word of the gospel. But I don’t suppose either of us thinks that he should only be baptised after reading the whole bible, whether 66 books or 72. So the question still remains, how does he know whether, say, 2 Machabees is inspired or not? On my account, he has the Church to tell him that it is, and so he accepts this doctrine on God’s authority (see 2 above). But if he has neither a private inspiration nor a public teaching authority which is infallible when it speaks definitively on matters of faith and morals, how can he be sure? The Catholic missionary tells him that it is, the Reformed that it isn’t, he has no mystical experience to help him…what is the poor man to do?
        That we must accept Christ before accepting the Church, and accept the Church because of Christ – yes, of course. But that still leaves the question, ‘how is the canon determined? Accepting ‘the Word’ as in, the Word made flesh, isn’t the same as ‘accepting the bible’.

        4. There are important questions which, as far as I can see, aren’t determined by Scripture. E.g. in the Old Testament, how did female children become part of the people of God? (for boys, by circumcision, how for girls?); how did one enquire of God by means of the Urim and Thummim. In the NT, what day, if any, should we rest from servile works?; is contraception wrong?; is IVF wrong?; is gambling wrong?


        • 1 – in the interests of keeping the discussion manageable & moving is it ok if i just nod acknowledgement here & say no more for the time being!

          2 – I’m not sure how fitting your analogy is, actually. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that for you, the role of the mother is to tell you what can be accepted as the father’s words to start with? For us, we could also go so far as to say that the church is the mother who brings us the father’s letter, but we would say that when we read it, we believe it for the sake of hearing the father’s own voice in the letter. Whereas for you, surely, we wouldn’t be licensed to accept it as a letter from our father unless/until the mother confirmed it really was from him. Which has the mother playing quite a different role.

          3 – Ok, on your account, the hypothetical pagan has the church to tell him that Book X is inspired. On our account, the hypothetical pagan has the Word itself and the Spirit who inspired it to tell him that these 66 and not others are inspired. As I say, it’s not independent of the church, it’s an understanding/recognition/acceptance that takes place within the church, but the church is not the ultimate authority for that acceptance. It’s the same for all the doctrines which the church proclaims. On your account, the pagan has to accept *any* given doctrine because the Church says so. On our account, he only has to accept what Word and Spirit say. That’s just the short version of what I was longwindedly saying in my last post of the wee small hours.

          4 – Yes, of course there are important questions which aren’t determined by Scripture. I’d dispute that all the questions you’ve listed fall into that category, but I’ll certainly grant the general claim. But if this is an objection to sola scriptura, it doesn’t really get to grips with what sola scriptura really says. It’s not that scripture provides the answer to all possible questions, but rather that scripture reveals all things necessary for doctrine and practice – the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God.


          • On 2:
            My mother can assure me that the letter is from my father, and so I can be morally certain that it is from him, and that it will tell the truth, before I open it. Then when I open and read it, I can recognise my father’s voice, and believe, on account of this ‘voice’, both that it is from him and that what it says is true.
            Transfer this from the sphere of human life to that of revelation, and you have a Catholic account of the matter.
            You might ask, ‘why have the intermediate stage of believing your mother?’ Partly for greater humility; thus Cornelius, though having a vision of an angel is told to learn from St Peter. Also, the better to secure unity and to avoid self-deception: although it is theoretically possible for someone not to go wrong despite having no public divinely-accredited teacher, it is more likely that they will.
            ‘Obey your leaders and be subject to them’, says St Paul; which he would not have said if there was a possibility that those leaders might en bloc go into error.
            3 and 4 later!


          • On 3:-
            From my reply to point 2, you see that I don’t accept the characterisation of the difference between us as believing on the authority of the Church on the one hand and on the authority of the Word and the Holy Spirit on the other. The normal pattern according to us is that the pagan comes to believe in Christ by a combination of outward signs (miracles, fulfilled prophecies etc), and inward drawing by the Holy Spirit, the latter being the more important thing; thus believing in Christ, he also believes in Christ’s Church; believing in Christ’s Church, he believes in all her teachings, both because she declares them to be true, and also because in the very act of faith in a given doctrine (an act which he is disposed to make because of the infallible testimony of the Church) he continues to receive the light of the Holy Spirit to believe on account of the authority of God who is Truth.

            But I think it is helpful to take a definite example, such as my example of 2 Machabees above. You, I think, would say that the understanding or recognition that this book is not inspired but that 2 Chronicles is inspired takes place within the Church. But what does this mean for the pagan? He doesn’t belong to any Church. You could say to him, ‘join our church and in time you’ll come with us to recognise that 2 Chronicles is inspired and that 2 Machabees isn’t; only don’t expect to have any direct illumination beforehand You must join first.’ Does that give him legitimate reason for joining? No, not unless he independently has a reason for thinking that your church is the true church. That’s why I said above that the question of identifying the Church is logically prior to that of identifying the canon.


          • On 4 – then I think I don’t fully understand yet what you mean by sola Scriptura. I’d have thought that all the things I mentioned involved doctrine or practice.


  20. Sometimes things bear repetition so as the risk of sounding repetitive here goes. I ask for no forgiveness in doing so. In Romans 3.2, Paul the Apostle writes of his own nation, namely the Jewish nation, ‘that unto them were committed the oracles of God.’ It was a fait accompli when he wrote. This verse for me puts the whole argument to bed once and for all.

    In Romans 9.4-5 he writes of his fellow countrymen’s special position of privilege in Divine things when we read these words; ‘To whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.’

    That the Jews were also the instrument or the vehicle which God in His sovereignty used to superintend the preservation of the Holy Scriptures for us is something that should be beyond dispute by those professing the name of Christ.

    It is not a matter which should give rise to controversy or debate. It is something that is settled – it has not been left to chance or subjective opinion or the whim of fickle man. We have the Bible, all sixty-six books as God intended for man.

    Now as regards the Apocrypha there is abundant evidence that none of these books was ever received into the Jewish canon of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Jews, whether inside or outside of Palestine did not regard these writings as canonical. Now marry this fact up with the Apostle’s words in Romans 3.2. We have the Old Testament as God intended with no addendum required.

    The Apocryphal books were produced in an era when no inspired documents were being given by God. Malachi concludes his narrative by fast forwarding four centuries into the future and prophesied, ‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.’ Malachi 4.5. Given that this was a reference to John the Baptist, the implication was that no prophet would arise after Malachi until the coming of John. This then excludes the Apocryphal writings.

    It is of the utmost significance that the Lord Jesus did not quote from the Apocrypha not did the inspired penmen of the New Testament. We may drop names, ad infinitum as to who gave credence or otherwise to these writings. Okay, Polycarp may refer to the Book of Tobit – Jerome however set no store whatsoever by the Apocrypha nor did he regard it as canonical. All I can say is that the best of men are men at best.

    1 Corinthians 14.33 informs us that ‘God is not the author of confusion.’ It has always been the desire of the enemy of men’s souls to create confusion and doubt as to God’s word. ‘Hath God said?’ was the very poison he injected into our earliest forebear’s minds and he is as active today as ever. Is the word of God the word of God? Is it complete as we have it? Is it not complete? Do we need further revelation? Do we need an addendum? Call me dumb – i’ve been called worse – but i’ll run with 66.


  21. 1. “unto them [the Jews] were committed the oracles of God’. Yes, certainly. But how does this help determine whether Judith, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom and 1 and 2 Maccabees are canonical? All these books were written by Jews. If I’d said that Virgil’s Aeneid was canonical, you would have a point!

    2. You say: “there is abundant evidence that none of these books was ever received into the Jewish canon of the Hebrew Old Testament.” But unless I’ve overlooked it, you don’t say what you think this abundant evidence is. And I think you beg the question when you speak of the ‘Jewish canon’, as if the Jews had formally decided in OT times (when, exactly?) what the inspired books were and that there would be no more till the Messiah came. There is no proof of this in the OT.
    What we do know, is that when, being still the chosen people, the Jews appointed 70 official translators to produce a Greek version of their sacred books for the benefit of the large numbers of Jews living outside Israel, they included the books of Tobit, Judith etc. On the other hand before and during the time of Christ, we find the Saducees – preponderant in the Sanhedrin! – who apparently don’t recognise books other than the Pentateuch. So we don’t find a clear consensus in favour of the 39 books, much less abundant evidence.
    It is quite possible that even faithful Jews, if they had been asked. say in 50 BC, which the canonical books were, would have been in some doubt – they might have said, ‘we will have to wait till some prophet comes along, or the Messiah comes along, to make it all clear.’

    3. Are you sure that Malachi 4:5 bears the weight you want it to? All it actually says is that Elijah the prophet will be sent before the day of the Lord, not that there will be no other prophets. In fact, Zechariah, father of the Baptist, and the old man Simeon both prophesied before John was sent to preach. But in any case, the 6 books that Catholics recognise are not counted among the prophets, just as Proverbs isn’t (also, Tobit was written long before Malachi).

    4. If it is of the utmost significance that the NT doesn’t quote from these 6 books, of what significance is it that it doesn’t quote from the Canticle of Canticles, Ecclesiastes, 1 &2 Esdras and Esther? (in fact, St Paul seems to quote from Judith 8:25 in 1 Cor 10:9.)

    5. From the Catholic Encyclopedia, article ‘Canon of the Old Testament’:-

    “The sub-Apostolic writings of Clement, Polycarp, the author of the Epistle of Barnabas, of the pseudo-Clementine homilies, and the “Shepherd” of Hermas, contain implicit quotations from or allusions to all the deuterocanonicals except Baruch (which anciently was often united with Jeremias) and I Machabees and the additions to David. No unfavourable argument can be drawn from the loose, implicit character of these citations, since these Apostolic Fathers quote the protocanonical Scriptures in precisely the same manner.
    “Coming down to the next age, that of the apologists, we find Baruch cited by Athenagoras as a prophet. St. Justin Martyr is the first to note that the Church has a set of Old Testament Scriptures different from the Jews’, and also the earliest to intimate the principle proclaimed by later writers, namely, the self-sufficiency of the Church in establishing the Canon; its independence of the Synagogue in this respect.” I recommend the whole article:-

    6. It is not true that St Jerome ‘set no store whatsoever’ by the 6 books. Only this morning I was reading a letter of his in which he quotes Ecclesisasticus 3:33 (as water fire, so do alms extinguish sin), without any apology or reservation. More importantly, he would have submitted his judgement to that of the Roman Church:-

    “I follow no leader but Christ and join in communion with none, but the chair of Peter. I know that this is the rock on which the Church has been built. Whoever eats the Lamb outside this house is profane. Anyone who is not in the ark of Noah will perish when the flood prevails.” (St Jerome, letter 15).

    7. ‘Is the word of God complete?’ Of course!


  22. Well, you appealed to Jerome, so I sent you to Jerome!
    And yes, I believe that it is God’s will that we should all accept the authority of the Roman Pontiff, so that there should be, even visibly, one flock and one shepherd.


  23. 1 + 2 – the point here is that the Jews did have a fixed and well-defined canon, ‘the oracles of God,’ which was settled long before Christ came. Not by a formal decision of a religious assembly, but by the church aka community of believers as a whole accepting the written revelation that God inspired his holy men to write. That inspired revelation didn’t include Judith, Tobit, etc, although both Jews and Christians have through the ages recognised (at least some of) these books as being edifying and valuable texts. The fact that these books were written by Jews is neither here or there (unless it’s part of your claim that any book written by a Jew was potentially part of the canon until Trent decided it once and for all..) Further, the fact that these texts were translated into Greek really doesn’t confer canonical status on them, or imply that there was any confusion about the boundary between inspired=canonical and uninspired=noncanonical_even-if-generally-accepted-as-edifying. It’s entirely implausible that any Jew in 50BC would have been waiting for the Messiah to come and confirm their canon – quite the opposite, according to Peter – they were in fact searching diligently in their canon, the writings of the prophets, to see what the Spirit was testifying there about the sufferings and glory of the Messiah they were looking for.
    Btw, I’m not convinced that the Sadducees accepted only the Pentateuch. The dispute between the Saducees and the Pharisees wasn’t over which books were canonical, but only whether or not to accept the traditions which the Pharisees added to the scriptures. The disputes between the Saviour and the Pharisees and the Sadducees never included any disagreement about the identity of the scriptures – only ever their interpretation.

    4+5 – it’s only partly that the apostles don’t quote from particular sources, even though the early church fathers did, but more a question of how they quote what they quote, and whether quoting a particular source even as the last word in an argument implies that they thought that source was actually inspired vs a good statement of what inspired scripture teaches even though not itself inspired. But my heart sinks at the thought of demonstrating this in specific cases because it would have to involve a lot of detailed examination of often throwaway phrases and speaking for myself I’m just not familiar enough with the literature to be able to embark on that unless by making constant recourse to secondary sources, which is just unsatisfactory for all concerned.

    6 – Whether Jerome would have submitted his judgment to that of the Roman Church has to remain a matter of speculation at best – the claim is anachronistic. Meanwhile we too would concur that being outside Christ’s church makes someone ‘profane’ and in danger of perishing, and we too would aspire to there being one visible flock under the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls. But that’s all I want to say about that on this here thread, so that the discussion can stay as focused as possible on the topic of sola scriptura.


    • 1+2 You may be right about the Saducees – I don’t know.

      “the point here is that the Jews did have a fixed and well-defined canon, ‘the oracles of God,’ which was settled long before Christ came. Not by a formal decision of a religious assembly, but by the church aka community of believers as a whole accepting the written revelation that God inspired his holy men to write.”
      But this is the point that needs to be proved! What is the evidence that the phrase ‘the oracles of God’ as used by St Paul excluded Judith, Tobit etc?
      The individual Jew of 50 BC, however, not having the Holy Spirit to the degree of St Paul, could quite easily have been uncertain about some books – that wouldn’t imply that he was uncertain about all of them; he could still search the prophets and the law, knowing that these were divinely revealed.
      We don’t need to prove that the Jews as a whole accepted Judith etc before Christ; it’s enough for our position to show that there is no proof that the Jews as a whole rejected them. But you do need to show that the Jews as a whole did reject them.


  24. Just briefly to come back to the perspicuity point from earlier. I said ‘the message of God is fit for purpose’ and you said, ‘but what is the purpose? – so that the divinely appointed representatives of Christ can instruct his people in all they need to know; but not so that anyone can receive all they need to know independently of whether they are subject to those representatives.’

    But your proposal is at odds with how scripture itself presents itself to God’s people. Ie, scripture is addressed either to the average man in the church or else to all under heaven indiscriminately. ‘Hear, o Israel…’ ‘Peter to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, …’ ‘Look unto me, all ye ends of the earth…’ There really isn’t much support at all for a view that God’s revelation of saving truth is delivered to some select body of officials who then mediate it to the rest. God didn’t send his word of salvation to the church leadership but to all and sundry who hear it. So Moses can instruct the nation at large that what God reveals is not too hard for them – ‘it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off, … but very nigh thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.’


  25. “There really isn’t much support at all for a view that God’s revelation of saving truth is delivered to some select body of officials who then mediate it to the rest.” But isn’t this how God always works, e.g. revealing His will to Noah who passes it on to His descendants, or to Moses for 40 days on Mt Sinai who then returns to the people, or to the prophets, and finally to the 12 apostles who pass it onto the world? Isn’t this suggested by Christ’s words, ‘He who hears you, hears me’?
    The examples you give seem to support this idea, unless I’m missing something – God speaks to the people through Moses and through St Peter. Yes, every person can read the Scriptures and the writings of the great witnesses to Tradition, like the Church Fathers, and if they read in good faith, prayerfully and humbly, the Holy Spirit will guide them according to their capacity. But among the things that they will find by reading is that there are in the Scriptures, ‘things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest’; that there is a certain rock on which Christ has built His Church; that we should obey our leaders and submit to them; and won’t all these things incline them to seek the saving truth through those who represent Christ on earth, and whom He has given authority to expound the Scriptures, as the apostles did and as the bishops have always done after them?


  26. Hello,

    Belatedly, and just quickly (terrible how disproportionate can be the energy expended to the weightiness of the matter in hand)

    Re this: What is the evidence that the phrase ‘the oracles of God’ as used by St Paul excluded Judith, Tobit etc?
    – The evidence is both internal and external. The Scriptures which the Lord Jesus and the apostles constantly appeal to and allude to do not include Judith, Tobit etc, but do include the books which we know as the 39 books of the OT, or at least the vast majority of them. There was nothing uncertain about the limits of the Jewish canon as far as the Jews were concerned. They had “Scripture,” one coherent unit, “The Scriptures,” its parts, its twofold division into “The Law and the Prophets,” and its threefold division “The Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms.” The apocryphal books are not included. The distinction between the Jewish canon, and these noncanonical other books of varying degrees of usefulness, was kept up in the Christian church right up until Trent went off on its tangent and elimintated it.

    Re this: We don’t need to prove that the Jews as a whole accepted Judith etc before Christ…
    – Actually I think the situation is back to front. You DO need to prove that the Jews accepted these books. There is plenty evidence that they, and the Lord Jesus, and the apostles, accepted the 39. If Judith etc are equally inspired, why would there be less evidence that they were accepted?

    Re who God’s revelation is delivered to. Ok, and of course, the revelation came through the prophets, those holy men of God who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. But the content of the revelation is not ‘for the ears of you prophets only’ but ‘to you all’. The reason why people *should* read the scriptures is because it’s *for them,* whoever they are. Reading the Scriptures in line with how Scripture presents itself as to be read, then, will only incline people to seek saving truth in the place where it has been deposited – not primarily or ultimately through those who putatively represent Christ on earth, but, in the Scriptures themselves. As we confess, the Word of God is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. (‘Bishops’ (although we mean different things by the title) certainly have authority to expound Scripture, but their authority extends only as far as the extent to which their exposition is Scriptural.)


    • Hello again!

      The internal evidence doesn’t seem to me conclusive, since, as you indicate, not all of the 39 books are quoted in the New Testament. So non-quotation of an OT book by the NT doesn’t imply non-acceptance of it by the NT authors. Also our Lord and the apostles would naturally argue by using those books which were unanimously accepted by the Jews, not those which some accepted and some didn’t and some weren’t sure about.

      I’m not sure where you think the external evidence is to be found. The simple existence of phrases like ‘the law and the prophets’ or ‘the law and the prophets and the psalms’ doesn’t get us much further. One might infer from Christ’s use of the latter phrase in Luke 24 that there were only 22 inspired OT books! The Greek-speaking Jews in the diaspora BC had a bible with more books than the Jews living in Palestine. Probably both groups would have given pride of place to the Pentateuch, as we do to the Gospels. But that didn’t imply that nothing other than the Pentateuch was inspired, just as we don’t think only the gospels are inspired. The external evidence, I’d suggest, is inconclusive.

      It’s not the case that the Council of Trent innovated by declaring all 72 books canonical. Pope Damasus in the year 382, and Pope Innocent I, in the year 405, give exactly the same canon as Trent, with no distinctions between ‘inspired’ and ‘merely edifying’. This is the ancient tradition of the Roman Church, where St Peter and St Paul taught and died. The Synod of Hippo, in 393, under St Augustine, also gives the canon of 72.

      An a priori argument, which I put forward for what it’s worth: would it not be surprising that there should be no inspired account of the greatest crisis of the old people of God? I mean the persecution by Antiochus IV, which was aimed not just at the Jews as a nation, like earlier persecutions, but at the true religion itself.


  27. Picking up from the comments above, indented so much that they’re getting too long and skinny for comfort ( etc)

    Re 3 – so if i understand rightly, in your scheme, the order is: Christ, then Church, then Word. For us, the order is, Word, then Christ, then Church. As in, we cannot know who Christ-to-be-believed-in is, apart from how he is revealed in the Word.

    We don’t say to hypothetical pagans, ‘join our church and in time you’ll come to recgonise that 2 Chron is inspired and 2 Macc isn’t…’ We say to pagans, Here are the Scriptures, the Word of God. This is the Church’s job, to confront the world with the truth of God’s Word. The Word has its own intrinsic self-evidencing authority and when accompanied by the Spirit its identity is recognised and its authority is heard/felt. The reason for the pagan joining the Church is so that as a new convert he/she aligns him/herself with the rest of those people who believe the truth of God’s Word (the Church has its being only through the instrumentality of the Word, and not the other way around).

    Re 4 – apart from the question on the urim and thummim, I’d say that all of the issues you’ve listed can actually be determined by Scripture, either because expressly set down or by good and necessary consequence. But presumably what lies behind the question would be something like, What authority can determine a disputed point when Scripture is silent. You want it to be the Church. But this links up again with our differing views about the relationship between Church and Scripture. For us, the Church can only make authoritative pronouncements on what Scripture teaches. If Scripture doesn’t teach it, then the Church has no authority to speak. That is because the Church derives her authority from the Word, and not the other way round.


    • 3. “The Word has its own intrinsic self-evidencing authority” – this is the key statement. But how should we understand it? If I were to see, in His own divine essence, the Word of God which was in the beginning with God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, then, yes, I would infallibly see that He is the truth itself and that all that He says is true.

      But if by ‘the Word’ you mean ‘the word’ – that is, the message which God has sent mankind, then I think we need to distinguish. Normally speaking, God does not move people to assent to even the major parts of this message simply by virtue of the proclamation. If I am a pagan in the jungle and a missionary says to me, ‘God has sent His Son who died for your sins and rose from the dead – do you believe?’, then it would be unlikely to be a sin or resistance to the Holy Spirit for me to say, ‘Well, hang on a moment, let me hear more about this’. So the ‘word’ here, that is the saving truth *as communicated by a human agent*, doesn’t have its own intrinsic self-evidencing authority, or else I wouldn’t need to hear any more, just as I don’t need to hear any more when someone says 2+2=4.

      It is possible that God could move the pagan so powerfully that he would be able to make an act of faith simply at the bare first words of the missionary; but this I think would be a kind of miracle in the supernatural order, as causing bread to exist without a previous growth of wheat is a natural miracle.

      Normally, between the proclamation and the act of faith, some process of cogitation intervenes; the pagan makes use of his God-given power of thought to see the plausibility of what he is being told; and then finally grace lifts his assent to a higher level, and makes it an assent to God Himself, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

      So, even for the major parts of ‘the word’, something intervenes between proclamation and faithful acceptance.

      But if this true for those truths on which salvation depends, how much more for the accessory truths, e.g. the inspiration of the Book of Chronicles. But before saying more about this, I’d need to know you see the ‘intrinsic self-evidencing authority’ of the word acting here: is it the bible taken as a whole, or each book as a whole, or even each sentence as a whole to which you attribute this authority?

      4. ‘For us, the Church can only make authoritative pronouncements on what Scripture teaches. If Scripture doesn’t teach it, then the Church has no authority to speak. That is because the Church derives her authority from the Word, and not the other way round.’

      But we don’t treat ‘the Word’ and ‘Scripture’ as equivalent terms. Scripture is the written word of God; tradition is the unwritten word. So by teaching what is in tradition, the Church is still teaching what is in the word.

      By the phrase ‘good and necessary consequence’, aren’t you actually adding something to sola Scriptura – human reasoning?

      Finally, I’d be interested to see what in your view Scripture teaches about the questions I raised.


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