November 24, 2020

The Council

A modern day council!

Is Sola Scriptura Self Refuting?

I will be taking a look at an attempt to refute sola scriptura. The author is trying to become a member of the Oriental Orthodox church. So, it comes from the background:

In logic, there are self-referential propositions, where the criteria that the proposition establishes must be met by the proposition itself. For example, if somebody asserts the proposition “all propositions must be verified by scientific experiments” then that proposition must itself be verified by scientific experiments; otherwise, it is a self-refuting proposition, due to its self-referential nature. Illustrated in this article is this: that Sola Scriptura is a self-refuting proposition, and that the early church, and the scriptures themselves, teach against the idea that scripture is the sole, authoritative source for rules of faith.
If a doctrine must be taught by scripture, in order for it to be binding on Christians, then the doctrine of Sola Scriptura must itself be taught in scripture. And this is the problem: such a place in scripture cannot be found, where this doctrine is actually taught; this truth nullifies the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, via self-refutation. In other words, under this doctrine’s criteria of what qualifies as an authoritative rule of faith, Sola Scriptura would not be an authoritative doctrine. If a single verse cannot be provided, which teaches that scripture is the sole source of infallible, authoritative rules of faith, then Sola Scriptura is dismissed on its own grounds.

The ironic part of this complaint is that everyone that participates in these debates holds to sola Scriptura. Jonathyn maintains that divine revelation is the sole authority for faith and life. He simply extends that with his view of divine revelations also being contained through apostolic succession and tradition.

The notion of sola scriptura, I believe is Biblical but it is debatable whether that is necessary for a rule of faith to be self-referential. For example, Steve Hays challenged that idea:

Despite its facile, sales-worthy appeal, it isn’t clear to me that this is logically sound. I think it’s true that a rule of faith is self-inclusive. But it isn’t obvious to me that a rule of faith must also be self-referential.

For that’s not the rule of faith in itself. That isn’t built into the very nature or intrinsic definition of the rule.

Rather, that’s a statement about the rule of faith. That’s a convenient way to identify the rule of faith.

But a statement about the rule of faith is not, itself, the rule of faith–although it’s possible for the rule of faith to make a statement about itself. A statement about the rule of faith can obviously come from the outside. It can also come from the within, but that isn’t inherent in what makes it a rule of faith, that I can see.

For example, consider the need to standardize weights and measures. The BIPM issues the International System of Units. Yet it would be fallacious to say the units are self-refuting unless they refer back to the BIPM.

It is hard to imagine that a distinction exists between divine revelation and our highest authority. The bible does teach that God’s revelation supersedes any other teachings or authorities. This is the normative function of Divine Revelation:

Romans 3:4

Of course not! God is true, even if everyone else is a liar.

Mark 7:8-13

For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”

He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”—’ (that is, a gift to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, 13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

Hebrews 6:13-15

13 When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” 15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

Deuteronomy 13:1–5

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.

An objection that may be raised is that none of these passages say “Divine Revelation is the sole infallible authority”. This confuses the way people derive doctrines from the text of scripture. There exists a difference between something explicitly taught and implicitly taught. This distinction is understood by many Christians, such as Dr. Greg Welty:

2 Timothy 3:16-17

14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Jonathyn anticipates the most common prooftext for sola scriptura and tries to show why it doesn’t teach it. He states the following:

First, we must recognize that, in order for verse 16 to be teaching Sola Scriptura, it would have to be written that only scripture is profitable for doctrine, and not merely that all scripture is profitable. As Oriental Orthodox Christians, we believe that the scriptures are profitable for these things, and that the Bible is “God-breathed” (θεόπνευστος) and therefore authoritative and binding on Christians. However, we do not accept that this is the only medium through which revelation has been given, and neither do we accept that all binding doctrines, teachings, and rules of faith come from the scriptures themselves, but rather that the oral tradition—passed down by the Apostles, through the Church—is on equal standing with the scriptures. They don’t contradict each other, but rather complement each other, and one cannot be properly understood and contextualized without the other.

This only proves my point in the article above. He isn’t against sola Scriptura but he applies it beyond the sources we take to have divine authority. He has the burden to show that these “traditions” have Apostolic and therefore divine origins. The silence of Paul not mentioning any other sources of God breathed revelation is deafining. If many other sources exists for God breathed revelation exists, then why does Paul never mention it to Timothy when faced with oncoming future contained with false teachings?

That is merely one of the hundreds of cards the authority of the eastern church has to demonstrate. He will have to show where the Church has been for the last 6,000. Why does the Oriental Church look uninformed of the Old Testament? The Old Testament never points forward to such an idea that the Orthodox hold to. The Old Testament was focused on God as the judge and the forensic nature of things. Where is that in Orthodoxy? We see penal substitutionary atonement in the Mosaic sacrificial system and yet Orthodox reject the forensic nature of atonements. Where was the essence/energy distinction in the Old Testament? If we are to only know God’s energies and this is so deep of a truth that I’m a heretic for not believing it, where is it in the times of Moses to the Prophets? If no infallible body of individuals(The Church), then where are they in the intertestamental period? How could Jesus hold the Jews accountable to a book they can’t read nor have the authority to read? Were the Pharisees the infallible interpreters? I guess the Old Testament didn’t mean anything till Clement of Rome came and explained the Pheonix to us. How do we deal with the Orthodox faith that is so far from Apostolic teaching? Where are Preist in the New Testament? Why is nothing written by the Apostles showing any Orthodox distinctives? It also comes to show that the dogmas of the Orthodox church seem to suffer from logical deficiencies. The metaphysical difficulties with the essence/energy distinction. Jonathyn continues:

More-learned protestants will rely on verse 17, which again reads, “that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Since Sola Scriptura is not taught explicitly in verse 16, the protestant will make the argument that—based on the following verse—the scripture is sufficient for the man of God to be complete and equipped for every good work, and that therefore the Bible is completely sufficient for all binding doctrines (even though it says good works, not doctrines), thus proving Sola Scriptura. Notice how the verse doesn’t state that the scripture is complete or sufficient, but that it is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and instruction in righteousness so that the man of God may be complete and equipped for every good work. The completeness or sufficiency is applied to the man of God; it doesn’t say he that he will be, but that he may be thoroughly-equipped and complete. This verse is teaching that the scriptures are helpful in training the man of God, leading him to be equipped for every good work; is does not teach that only scripture is sufficient for authoritative rules of faith and doctrine.

It teaches Scripture has a unique function in doing so because it originates from God. This is a narrow understanding of sola Scriptura. Even Martin Luther believed other sources are profitable for doctrine and developing the “man of God”. For example, when he stood trial said that it would take scripture and plain reason to convince him. I believe the reason is a good tool for Christian development. The issue obviously is that being highly trained in logic has never corresponded to a godly life. Only that which is God-breathed can possibly grant you such.

The idea is because it is “God-breathed” it is profitable for such things. The idea that it is divine speech and that it comes from the Spirit of God is the point of the compound word. The idea is that God is a good source on these types of issues. Of course, Jonathyn operates with a position that extends what originates from God out to many other sources.

Hopefully, he doesn’t think a serious distinction exists between “works” and “doctrine” in this passage. Paul tells Timothy to stick to the teachings of his youth and this is to encourage him because false teachers will arise. So, supposing doctrine isn’t what Paul also has in mind is a poor understanding of what has been stated in this and previous chapters. Of course, works carry moral deeds connotation and the words of God teach us how we ought to live. But the idea is that the man of God is “thoroughly equipped” for these deeds which included “reproof”. What might be in the mind of Paul when he states that? I wonder if the Apostle maybe had some kind of controversy that he has spent a large amount of his time dealing with.

Timothy has known them “from infancy” (ἀπὸ βρέφους, a stock phrase; cf. 1: 5; Acts 16: 1), and they’re able to give him wisdom (σοφίζω; cf. 2 Pet 1: 16; Pss 19: 7; 105: 22; 119: 98) for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (1 Tim 3: 13; Gal 2: 16; Col 1: 4; cf. Rom 3: 22; Gal 2: 16; 3: 22). 641 Most likely, “salvation” isn’t here referring to entrance into salvation (conversion) 642 but to future salvation as a goal. Thus the function of Scripture is here not conceived as leading to conversion as aiding Timothy— and by implication, all believers— in attaining salvation as a future goal. 643 This coheres with the use of σωτηρία in 2: 10, where Paul’s endurance of all things contributes toward the elect obtaining the salvation that is in Christ, while here the sacred writings of Scripture are able to instruct Timothy toward the same goal. 644 With regard to the false teachers, Paul’s point here seems to be that the Scriptures (in which Timothy was reared from an early age and which he therefore knows well) are indeed of great value (see further below), but only if understood as pointing toward faith in Christ. Rather than using the Scriptures with an emphasis on law and the observance of its particular stipulations, a proper appreciation of the value of the Scriptures entails recognition of its true God-intended salvation-historical purpose. This coheres perfectly with the battles Paul fought earlier with the Judaizers and others who insisted on continued observance of the law by (Gentile) Christians. 645 Without any conjunction (such as “for”), Paul elaborates on the supreme value of Scripture, 646 focusing primarily on two aspects (with the emphasis being on the second element).

Köstenberger, Andreas J. . Commentary on 1-2 Timothy and Titus (Kindle Locations 5264-5283). Holman Reference. Kindle Edition.

 There is also a common argument that is proposed that is to undermine the protestant understanding by mentioning James 1:4. This argument is common in Catholic apologetics:

I have listened to several recorded debates on this topic. Protestant apologists often have cited 2 Timothy 3 against Roman Catholic opponents. The usual response of Roman Catholic apologists is to assert repeatedly that 2 Timothy 3 does not teach sufficiency. Sometimes they refer to James 1:4, Matthew 19:21, or Colossians 1:28 and 4:12 as parallel texts, claiming that the word complete in 2 Timothy 3:17 does not mean “sufficient.” But such passages are not parallel; a completely different Greek word is used. Where 2 Timothy 3:17 uses exartizo, which has to do with being fitted for a task, these other passages use the Greek word teleios, which has reference to maturity or having reached a desired end. Repeated assertions do not prove a point; that is only a propaganda technique. Our opponents need to answer in a responsible, thorough way.

John MacArthur; R. C. Sproul; Joel R. Beeke; Sinclair B. Ferguson; W. Robert Godfrey; Ray Lanning; Derek W. H. Thomas; James White; Don Kistler. Sola Scriptura (Kindle Locations 311-317). Reformation Trust Publishing. Kindle Edition.

This observation was also made by James White in his debate:

In fact, it is interesting:  you utilized one of the four passages that Mr. Keating utilized in Denver, using the term “complete.”  Matthew 19:21, Colossians 1:28, Colossians 4:12, and James 1:4, all use the term “complete.”  And Catholic Answers likes to say, “Well, see, if 2 Timothy 3 says this, then all these other things make you complete, too!”  And Mr. Madrid called it “faulty and shabby work” that I had done on the passage, and said that 2 Timothy 3 no more proves sola scriptura than James 1:4.  There’s a little problem:  none of those passages use the terms used in 2 Timothy if you looked at it in the Greek.  It is a common error for a beginning Bible student to assume that an English translation is going to utilize different words for different Greek terms.  The terms used in Matthew 19:21 are tevleios” (teleios),   Colossians 1:21 (sic) tevleios“, Colossians 4:12 teleios” and  James 1:4 tevleios” and oJloklhroi (holokleroi).  None of them use a[rtioss” (artios).  Mr. Madrid did not even begin to address the information that I presented.   He said, “It doesn’t teach sufficiency!”  And yet I quoted you major lexical sources that said what?  Sufficient.  Now, Mr. Madrid you don’t have the authority to overthrow the meaning of those terms, no matter how much you may wish to do so.  No other passage in the Bible can be used to deflect what we have said about 2 Timothy chapter 3.

He tries to turn this passage against the protestant by arguing that it teaches oral traditions:

Another important thing to note is that this passage has been grossly taken out of its context, by proponents of Sola Scriptura, because if we read just two verses before, a new picture forms. If we read from verse 14 of 2 Timothy, it goes “But you must 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 through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15 NKJV). Notice how St. Paul commands Timothy to follow the things which have been passed down to him by those before him and the Holy Scriptures which he was acquainted with (which didn’t include all of the New Testament). So Timothy is commanded to follow the traditions of those who taught him (the apostles) as well as the scriptures, so when 2 Timothy is read in its context, the position of scripture alone is refuted, word-for-word. Timothy was commanded to follow the tradition and the scriptures, with verses 16 and 17 emphasizing that scripture is especially profitable for doctrines, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, not that it’s the only source of these things.

The problem with this argument is that Timothy was taught the scriptures from his youth. Timothy had some teachers, including his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois(1 Tim. 1:4-7). So, does any proponent of Oriental Orthodox have any of these things taught to Timothy in his youth? Do they have any proof that it wasn’t the OT and possibly some of the NT(depending on Timothy’s age and the date of the NT writings)? Even if they were, why suppose that we have access to these teachings now? There is a difference in how we are to operate with and without the apostles. That isn’t an idea in the mystic forms of Christianity. The only problem is their position is only convincing if you take their claims to apostolic tradition to be true.

Jonathyn stated:

God may be complete and equipped for every good work. The completeness or sufficiency is applied to the man of God; it doesn’t say he that he will be, but that he may be thoroughly-equipped and complete.

The problem with this explanation is the purpose (hina) clause which isn’t meant to imply the notion that it possibly will fail to come about. It is meant to show what it is intended for. This means scripture is God-breathed and profitable for instruction, teaching, etc so that the man of God would be complete.

Jonathyn states this would only apply to the sufficiency of the OT and therefore would exclude the NT. I think this is a bad argument for several reasons. Paul refers to the category of scripture and not so much merely select books(Torah, Prophets, etc). Furthermore, it isn’t actually clear that this doesn’t refer to some NT books.

Apropos (i), Paul evidently uses “Scripture” in 1 Tim 5:18 to designate a saying from the Gospel of Luke. Moreover, Paul regards his own teaching as divinely inspired and divinely authoritative (e.g. 1 Cor 2:1314:371 Thes 4:2). Therefore, there’s no reason to think Paul is restricting Scripture in v16 to OT Scripture.

The Church model Timothy has is starkly different from the one Jonathyn operates with.  There was never one institutional church with all the powers that he believes the Oriental Orthodox Church has. There were local and regional churches. They were usually entangled in turf wars or dealing with internal struggles. If anyone is interested in what I have to say about 2 Thess. 2:15 I will point you to another post:

Further Suggestions:


The Issue of Canon and Sola Scriptura


The question “where is Sola Scriptura in the Bible?” is fundamentally dishonest

How To Argue For Sola Scriptura

The Historical Roots Of The Reformation And Evangelicalism

James Anderson on Sola Scriptura


All Scripture is God-breathed

History, sola scriptura, and the real presence

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