Sola scriptura: an analysis

I’ve been writing down my thoughts on why I abandoned Protestantism, and part of it is an analysis of sola scriptura as its taught in the Westminster Confession. I’m sure there’s nothing new here, but it was a good exercise and I’m more likely to remember it all now. I’d like to post it for others to review and comment on, especially for helpful bits about logical errors, clumsy phrasing or anything else I’ve missed.

An evaluation of Sola Scriptura as given by the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF).

The WCF says that the entire revealed word of God is contained in scripture, and that scripture is the sole inerrant rule of faith.

(Clause 1) “Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; (Clause 2) yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation; (Clause 3) therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church; (Clause 4) and afterwards…to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the holy Scripture to be most necessary… (Clause 5)Under the name of holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these: (list of 66 books). (Clause 6)All which are given by inspiration of God, (Clause 7)to be the rule of faith and life…(Clause 8)The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture…” (WCF, Chapter 1, Article 1/Article 2/Article 6)

Clause 1 summary: God’s existence and goodness is made known through nature. We agree.

Clause 2 summary: That which we can know through nature about God and his will is insufficient to attain salvation. We do not agree; insufficiency would be good grounds for an excuse. For purposes of this discussion we can let it pass.

Clause 3 summary: In various ways God revealed himself to us, and made it known that this revelation is his will for us. Agreed.

Clause 4 summary: God’s revelation was written down in its entirety, being completely contained in Sacred Scripture. We do not agree.

Clause 5 summary: The body of work (Sacred Scripture) that contains this revelation is comprised of 66 books. We do not agree, the correct number is 73. For purposes of this discussion we can let it pass.

Clause 6 summary: Sacred Scripture is given by the inspiration of God. Agreed.

Clause 7 summary: Sacred Scripture is the rule of faith and life. We do not agree, the rule of faith and life is Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, which together comprise the full deposit of Gods revelation.

Clause 8 summary: The whole counsel of God concerning salvation is expressly written in Sacred Scripture or may be deduced from it. We do not agree.

The WCF says that the task of interpreting Scripture has been entrusted solely to Scripture itself. The only authoritative source and infallible interpreter of God’s Word is the original, untranslated Hebrew and Greek texts.“The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them…The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture…” (WCF Chapter 1, Article8/Article 10)

The WCF says that in trying to understand the meaning of the text, the individual believer must rely only on his subjective intuition that the Holy Spirit is guiding him. The very councils that codify doctrines are fallible, and thus cannot declare a rule of faith:“We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture… yet, notwithstanding, our 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 in our hearts…All synods or councils since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both.” (WCF Chapter 1, Article 5; Chapter 31, Article 4)(cont.)

And yet at the same time,the WCF proposes as an article of faith that the unlearned, using ordinary means, may attain a sufficient understanding of scripture.“All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” (WCF, Chapter 1, Article 7)This is in opposition to the clear text of scripture, which warns of the perils of the ignorant trying to understand scripture without guidance.“In them (Paul’s letters) there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their destruction, just as they do the other scriptures.” (2 Pet. 3:16)Scriptures’ inerrancy does not extend to every possible sense that the words can be taken in, but only to the sense that God intended.

Understanding scripture is easiest when there is only one possible meaning and we don’t have to rephrase the passages, for example, “They went to Jerusalem”.

Job 38:7 (“Who laid the cornerstone, while the morning stars sang in chorus…”) could be taken to mean that the stars literally sang, but if that’s not what God meant then that’s not the inerrant meaning. The problem is that the text does not say whether or not the stars sprouted vocal cords. It may seem obvious that they didn’t, but God could have made it happen and to conclude that he didn’t is to rely on our own understanding rather than on scripture alone.

There is no scripture that tells us whether or not a particular preacher knows what he’s talking about. So if we read commentaries and hear sermons given by men who certainly have no direct Apostolic mandate from Jesus, and decide who among these men are most qualified to teach based on our understanding of their education and on how much they make sense to us, we are by definition relying on our own understanding and not relying on scripture.

WCF Ch. 1, Art. 5, which leaves the individual believer to rely solely on his subjective sense that the Holy Spirit is working in his heart, contradicts WCF Ch. 1, Art 10, which demands that he rely solely on the Holy Spirit speaking in scripture.

Thus, either each individual believer is his own arbiter of the faith, or sola scriptura is false: there is no other alternative.

The list of the Canon is not given in scripture: no scriptural text contains a table of contents for the Bible. Thus WCF Ch.1, Art. 2, which proposes a specific list of books as an article of the faith, contradicts WCF Ch1, Art.1/Art. 6/Art. 7/Art. 8, and Ch. 31/Art 4. which in total say that only scripture is authoritative and that a council cannot declare a rule of faith.

Thus, either the list of the canon is not an article of the faith, or sola scriptura is false: there is no other alternative.

(cont)

Scripture that the WCF points to in support of sola scriptura:

“Your word is a lamp unto my feet, a light for my path…the revelation of your words sheds light, gives understanding to the simple” (Ps. 119:105, 130)This verse does not say that all of God’s word is written, nor is such even implied. This verse does not provide a list of what written works are authoritative.

This verse does not say that it gives all understanding to the simple.

If this verse proves sola scriptura, it proves too much in saying that the entire word of God is contained in the works written prior to Psalm 119.

“That your trust may be in the Lord, I make known to you the words of Amen-em-Ope. Have I not written for you the “Thirty”, with counsels and knowledge, to teach you truly how to give a dependable report to one who sends you? (Proverbs 22:19-21)This verse refers to a collection of maxims written by an Egyptian scribe, and specifies that it is given to teach how to give a report to a superior.This verse doesn’t say that the collection contains the entire word of God, and in fact the collection is not canonical at all.

This verse does not say that the entire word of God is written, nor is such even implied.

This verse does not provide a list of what written works are authoritative.

If this verse proves sola scriptura, it proves too much in saying that the entire word of God is contained in the work of a single Egyptian scribe.

“And when they say to you, "Inquire of mediums and fortune-tellers (who chirp and mutter!); should not a people inquire of their gods, apply to the dead on behalf of the living?” --then this document will furnish its instruction. That kind of thing they will surely say.” (Isa 8:19-20)I can’t make heads or tails of this passage and its context, but it sure doesn’t obviously say anything that supports sola scriptura.“He said in reply. ‘It is written: one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God’…Jesus answered him, ‘Again it is written, you shall not put the Lord your God to the test’…At this, Jesus said to him “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve’”(Mat 4:4, 7, 10)The verse says it that we live by every word that God speaks.

This verse does not say that every word that comes forth from the mouth of God will end up in written form, nor is such even implied.

This verse does not provide a list of what written works are authoritative.

“I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teaching you have received” (Luke 1:3-4)The verse says that is an account of what happened. It does not claim that the account is comprehensive.This verse does not provide a list of what written works are authoritative.

If this verse proves sola scriptura, it proves too much in saying that the entire word of God is contained in the Gospel according to Luke.

“For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4)

The verse does not claim that all of God’s word is written.This verse does not provide a list of what written works are authoritative.

If this verse proves sola scriptura, it proves too much in saying that the entire word of God is contained in what was written prior to the Letter to the Romans (AD 56-58).

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, and now I say again, if anyone preaches to you a gospel other than the one that you received, let that one be accursed!” (Gal 1:8-9)

This verse does not claim that all of God’s word is written.

This verse refers to the gospel that was preached, which is oral transmission.

This verse does not provide a list of what written works are authoritative.

If this verse proves sola scriptura, it proves too much in saying that the entire word of God is contained not in scripture but rather in the oral teaching that was not written.

“See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition…” (Col 3:8)

This verse does not say that all oral tradition is of human origin.

This verse does not provide a list of what written works are authoritative.

(cont.)

“…not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a “spirit”, or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand” (2 Thess 2:2)This verse says to ignore to statements that the day of the Lord is at hand; it does not say to ignore verbal teaching.

If this verse proves sola scriptura, it proves too much in saying that one must ignore written teaching as well as oral.

This verse does not claim that all of God’s word is written.

This verse does not provide a list of what written works are authoritative.

“…and that from infancy you have known sacred scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God my be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:15-17)This verse does not provide a list of what written works are authoritative.

The verse says that scripture is “useful”, which does not mean “sufficent”.

Reworded slightly, “All vegetables are designed by God and are useful for digestive health and for a balanced nutrition, so that one who eats them may have a complete diet”; this is true, but does not mean that one has a complete diet by eating nothing but vegetables.

Or again, “All dress shirts are useful for fancy occasions, so that one who wears them may be completely dressed”; this is also true, but does not mean that one is completely dressed when wearing nothing but a dress shirt.

In 2 Tim 3:17, Paul is speaking of the Old Testament writings, which is the only scripture that Timothy could have known from infancy. If this passage means that scripture is sufficient, it proves that all we need is the Old Testament.

“Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Pet. 1:19)The context shows that this verse is an assertion of Apostolic Authority…

This verse does not provide a list of what written works are authoritative.

It does not support sola scriptura.

“In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe” (Heb 1:1-2)This verse does not say that all of God’s word is written.

This verse does not provide a list of what written works are authoritative.

“I warn everyone who hears the prophetic words in this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words in this prophetic book, God will take awy his share in the tree of life and in the holy city described in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19)The book referred to in this verse is the Book of Revelation, not the entire collection of canonical works: the collection didn’t exist at the time.

This verse does not provide a list of what written works are authoritative.

This verse does not say that all of God’s word is written.

In fact, Revelation 10:4 specifically says that God’s words weren’t all written down.

(END)

Wow, great thread.
I have always wanted to find time to shred and burn (not literally) the Westminster Confession and Synod of Dort documents. Looks like you got started on that already.

You gave me an idea with 2Tim3:16, from now on when I cite a passage from the Deuterocanonical books Im going to follow it up with 2Tim3:16!!

[quote=neophyte]Thus, either each individual believer is his own arbiter of the faith, or sola scriptura is false: there is no other alternative.
[/quote]

The sola scripture doctrine is void because each individual believer is the arbiter of his/her own faith.

Under such a doctrine, one’s faith is supposed to depend upon the text. However, perfect reading is an impossibility; the preconceptions which we need in order to operate in the world inflect our reading of any text. This is the cause for the arguments between Protestants over whether or not a given passage is “meant” to be literal. Thus, one’s faith depends upon one’s reading of the text, which depends upon one’s preconceptions: one’s faith depends upon one’s preconceptions.

Like you, I have been forced to abandon Protestantism by my inability to accept sola scriptura. Unfortunately, I cannot accept all of the Catholic or Orthodox doctrine either.

How come? What are the issues you have or doctrines that you dont feel comfortable with?

[quote=Mystophilus]The sola scripture doctrine is void because each individual believer is the arbiter of his/her own faith…
[/quote]

Yes, thank you, my phrasing was clumsy.This is the root of the problem with sola scriptura: in rejecting the visible authority of the Magesterium, the Reformers necessarily made each individual his own arbiter of the faith.

How about something like “Thus, according to the WCF, each individual believer is his own arbiter of the faith and need no education other than his subjective sense, AND scripture is the arbiter of the faith (which begs that there must be no grammatical ambiguity in the texts) and each individual believer must be fully fluent in ancient Hebrew and Greek. These assertions are mutually exclusive, and yet both are given by the WCF as required articles of the faith.”

Yuo know, when you combat them with stuff like this and they say you need to read the bible, all you have to say is, I am. the spirit guides the church, and I follow the church, so therefore, i follow the spirit

[quote=jjoshjl]Yuo know, when you combat them with stuff like this and they say you need to read the bible, all you have to say is, I am. the spirit guides the church, and I follow the church, so therefore, i follow the spirit
[/quote]

thats the funny part, should you “happen” to not come to the same conclusions as them they call you a heretic. Basically its up to each individual to read and interpret the Bible for themself so long as their interpretations are the same as their leader.

[quote=Catholic Dude]How come? What are the issues you have or doctrines that you dont feel comfortable with?
[/quote]

With the Orthodox church, I cannot accept the idea that doctrine and interpretation should be unchanging. With the Catholic Church, I cannot accept the idea of ecclesiastical infallibility. The two are related in that I have read enough history to see that fallibility is one of the most universally human of all traits.

We all make mistakes, and I believe that we were all meant to do so.

It is ironic in that there are people who are Catholics but do not believe everything that the Church teaches, but one cannot become Catholic without professing one’s belief in all that the Church teaches. Does that make me a prelapsed Catholic?

[quote=neophyte]This is the root of the problem with sola scriptura: in rejecting the visible authority of the Magesterium, the Reformers necessarily made each individual his own arbiter of the faith.
[/quote]

Considering the fact that I am an utter heretic because I reject both the authority of the Magisterium and the authority of the text, I am not sure that you ought to be listening to my answers…

How about something like “Thus, according to the WCF, each individual believer is his own arbiter of the faith and needs no education other than his subjective sense, AND scripture is the arbiter of the faith (which begs that there must be no grammatical ambiguity in the texts) and each individual believer must be fully fluent in ancient Hebrew and Greek. These assertions are mutually exclusive, and yet both are given by the WCF as required articles of the faith.”

I have not read the WCF, except for those parts of it which you have quoted, but I would suggest that the statement above is not necessarily the only reading of those parts presented here thus far.

“those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” (1.7)

By use of “ordinary means”, whatever they may be, a “sufficient” understanding is achievable. Note that this is “sufficient”, rather than “perfect”: it is not represented as complete understanding.

“The Old Testament in Hebrew … and the New Testament in Greek … are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them" (1.8)

Appeal does not guarantee award. Although the Church must appeal to them, this does not necessarily indicate that the true answer will be found, only that they are a higher source of authority than any human.

"The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture…” (1.10)

…whose voice must be identified before it can be taken as the source of authority.

“our 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 in our hearts" (1.5?)

Thus, when we know the infallible truth, our assurance comes from the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that all assurance comes from the Holy Spirit: it does not preclude the possibility that we could be assured of something else which is false.

"All synods or councils since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both.” (31.4)

“All councils … may err” means that the council writing the Confession could err.

As I stated at the outset, I have not read the WCF in full, and so I am merely working on those excerpts which you have provided here. From those, it is reasonable to assert that the WCF establishes the possibility of an accurate understanding of Scripture, but does not assert the proof of it. Thus, each individual believer would be the arbiter of his/her own faith, according to the reading of the text which s/he understands. His/her position thus derived may or may not be “accurate”.

[quote=jjoshjl]You know, when you combat them with stuff like this and they say you need to read the bible, all you have to say is, “I am.” The Spirit guides the church, and I follow the church, so, therefore, I follow the Spirit
[/quote]

On the other hand, you could give up on “combatting” them, and choose instead to talk with them.

I think that apologetics is seriously flawed by our natural human tendency towards competition. Which is more important: finding the truth, or winning the argument?

Mystophilus-

With the Orthodox church, I cannot accept the idea that doctrine and interpretation should be unchanging. With the Catholic Church, I cannot accept the idea of ecclesiastical infallibility. The two are related in that I have read enough history to see that fallibility is one of the most universally human of all traits.

Do you believe that there is one true God and one true Gospel?
If you do then doctrine should never change otherwise the truth is always shifting. A perfect example of doctrine and interpretation shifting is protestantism, go down the street and see all the different interpretations coming from each protestant church.
We agree that all men are fallible, but I would extend that to also say not all men are fallible in the same ways. All popes have sinned, that has nothing to do with infallibility. Infallibility applies to when a teaching concering faith and/or morals is officially pronounced as binding on all Catholics, infallibility means that when a teaching like that is pronouced it will not be in error, an example are the books of the Bible, unless people believe that that was an infallible decree by the Church of what books belonged, then they cant say that the Bible is the perfect book and at the same time deny the Church’s infallibility.
Also infallibility doesnt as some peopel think mean that the pope turns into a dictator and seeks to control our thoughts and beliefs, the Church infallibly sets parameters and a Catholic’s views can fall anywhere inside them. In many cases Catholics actually hold more freedom then protestants when it comes to believing in doctrine.

We all make mistakes, and I believe that we were all meant to do so.

But you cant put all “mistakes” on the same level, a pope isnt required to infallibly define anything and a lot have not, at the same time they are perfectly able to err or messup when they dont fill in a crossword puzzle correctly or mix the steps to solve a long division problem.
The Church doesnt infallibly define something every day or even every year or decade, most are pronounced over long spans of time with careful review by assistants. I havnt read anything where they just threw down some stuff and said believe this or else, what I have seen are long drawn out and nicely explained documents.

It is ironic in that there are people who are Catholics but do not believe everything that the Church teaches, but one cannot become Catholic without professing one’s belief in all that the Church teaches. Does that make me a prelapsed Catholic?

In all things there are people who profess, but do not follow the rules, the Church doesnt ask anything difficult of its members, all people are capable of following.

And Im not sure what “prelapsed” means, are you someone who cant be Catholic because they would already be not following a teaching or are you Catholic who is about to lapse?

[quote=neophyte]The WCF says that the task of interpreting Scripture has been entrusted solely to Scripture itself.
[/quote]

No, it does not. It says that Scripture is the infallible rule for interpreting Scripture. That is completely different from what you are saying.

[quote=neophyte]The only authoritative source and infallible interpreter of God’s Word is the original, untranslated Hebrew and Greek texts.
[/quote]

“Authoritative source” can mean a lot of things. It’s vague and hence inaccurate.

The WCF says that in trying to understand the meaning of the text, the individual believer must rely only on his subjective intuition that the Holy Spirit is guiding him.

No, it says nothing of the kind. It says exactly the opposite.

The very councils that codify doctrines are fallible, and thus cannot declare a rule of faith:

Right, but they are a “help.” Hence your claim that only “subjective intuition” is to be relied on is completely inaccurate.

“We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture… yet, notwithstanding, our 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 in our hearts…All synods or councils since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both.” (WCF Chapter 1, Article 5; Chapter 31, Article 4)(cont.)

So far, it seems that you are setting up a straw man.

By the way, I’m not prepared to defend the WCF–I’m Anglican and do not recognize the WCF as an authority. But I think you are very wise to pick the WCF as a middle-of-the-road statement of the classic Protestant understanding of sola scriptura. It’s easy to refute the silly forms sola scriptura takes among many evangelicals/fundamentalists in the U.S. today. But the WCF’s position is thoughtful and well-argued, and it’s a worthy opponent for a Catholic explaining why he abandoned Protestantism.

Edwin

[quote=neophyte]And yet at the same time,the WCF proposes as an article of faith that the unlearned, using ordinary means, may attain a sufficient understanding of scripture. . . . This is in opposition to the clear text of scripture, which warns of the perils of the ignorant trying to understand scripture without guidance.
[/quote]

But guidance is one of the “ordinary means.” So again you aren’t arguing against what the WCF actually says. And it’s not at all clear that what Peter means by “ignorant and unstable” is what the WCF means by “unlearned.” Are you really prepared to claim that people who (for instance) don’t know any language except English (which is one of the main things the WCF authors would have in mind) are “ignorant and unstable” in the sense St. Peter intends? Is he not rather speaking of spiritually immature people who are ignorant in the Faith? St. Peter himself was an “unlearned” person in terms of formal education, so it would be ironic if he were condemning such people as “ignorant and unstable”!

So if we read commentaries and hear sermons given by men who certainly have no direct Apostolic mandate from Jesus, and decide who among these men are most qualified to teach based on our understanding of their education and on how much they make sense to us, we are by definition relying on our own understanding and not relying on scripture.

The Catholic clergy does not have a “direct” mandate either. It has an indirect mandate passed down through apostolic succession. In other words, we can agree (here I am speaking for myself and not the WCF) that the task of interpreting Scripture is given to the Church as a whole. The question is whether this automatically means that only those with apostolic episcopal succession have the authority to interpret Scripture. This may be correct, but it isn’t self-evident, and it is certainly not the only alternative to relying arbitrarily on people who seem educated and sensible.

Furthermore, your dichotomy between our own judgment and Scripture does not make any sense. Ultimately we have to use our own judgment at some point. You have used your own judgment in deciding that Catholicism is more convincing than Orthodoxy, for instance. God works through our judgment as through other things. Rejecting all human judgment is the sort of thing fundamentalists do (and against them you’re quite right to point out that their position deconstructs itself). God works through the collective mind of the Church–and the Church includes all the baptized, not just clergy.

WCF Ch. 1, Art. 5, which leaves the individual believer to rely solely on his subjective sense that the Holy Spirit is working in his heart, contradicts WCF Ch. 1, Art 10, which demands that he rely solely on the Holy Spirit speaking in scripture.

But since Art. 5 says nothing of the sort, you have created an artificial problem.

Thus, either each individual believer is his own arbiter of the faith, or sola scriptura is false: there is no other alternative.

No. You have reached this conclusion by setting up a false dichotomy and ignoring what the WCF actually says.

The list of the Canon is not given in scripture: no scriptural text contains a table of contents for the Bible. . . .
Thus, either the list of the canon is not an article of the faith, or sola scriptura is false: there is no other alternative.

That’s true, and against the WCF this is a powerful argument. This (not interpretation so much) is where the WCF really does have to rely on the self-authentication argument and on the inward testimony of the Spirit. I, like you, find this inadequate.

I do not think that this disproves the proposition that Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith. There is no contradiction in saying that an infallible authority is recognized by a fallible authority (this is exactly what you are doing when you convert to Catholicism). The problem with the WCF is its saying that a fallible authority can’t establish a rule of faith. That is where I think it sets itself up to be knocked down.

My view is that the Church is divinely guided and thus (as a whole) will not err when to err would undermine the essence of the Faith. This doesn’t give us a clear-cut definition of just what is a “rule of faith” and what isn’t. I don’t think we need such a definition. The more unanimous the Church is about something, and the more important the question is, and the more convincing the Church’s arguments are, the more certain we can be that it is correct. We simply don’t need the kind of absolute authority that both the WCF and the Catholic Church think we need.

Edwin

[quote=Catholic Dude]Do you believe that there is one true God and one true Gospel?
[/quote]

Yes, but this is an ontological position: I believe that only one true God and only one true Gospel exist. This is based on the meaning of “Gospel” as the ‘good news’, i.e., the fact that Jesus, as God Incarnate, died and was resurrected for the sins of all.

If you do then doctrine should never change otherwise the truth is always shifting.

This is not actually true, because it presumes that doctrine is a perfect representation of the truth. That claim, while popular, has never yet been substantiated. My disbelief in infallibility is partly due to my epistemological position: I believe that we are all wrong about God. I believe that God, while knowable in the abstract and limited sense, is not knowable in the absolute sense. In fact, I can think of very little that is knowable in the absolute sense, except, perhaps, my personal existence.

Infallibility applies to when a teaching concering faith and/or morals is officially pronounced as binding on all Catholics, infallibility means that when a teaching like that is pronouced it will not be in error,

How can this possible be proven? “To err is human”, as Alexander Pope said. Fallibility is so ubiquitous as to be a fundamental element of humanity. How can anyone demonstrate that, in this one instance, that universal trend deviates?

an example are the books of the Bible, unless people believe that that was an infallible decree by the Church of what books belonged, then they cant say that the Bible is the perfect book and at the same time deny the Church’s infallibility.

They can, and frequently do. The Protestants chose to use the books which they do, thus agreeing that the early Church was right about most of its choices. Their choice largely coincided with the early Church decision, which is not the same as validating the Church’s general ability to make decisions. The fact that I agree with you when you say 2+2=4 does not mean that I will always agree with you about everything.

Having said all of this, I ought to mention that I do not believe that the Bible is perfect.

In many cases Catholics actually hold more freedom then protestants when it comes to believing in doctrine.

How can you have more freedom than someone who has absolute freedom to determine what they believe? On a sola scriptura basis, a Protestant needs only to believe in the text. However, because that Protestant’s understanding of the text is predicated upon his/her reading of the text, and because his/her reading is determined by his/her prejudices, the Protestant believes whatever s/he really wants to believe.

And Im not sure what “prelapsed” means, are you someone who can’t be Catholic because they would already be not following a teaching?

Exactly. I lapsed before I converted. Thus, “pre-lapsed”.

Mystophilus-

Yes, but this is an ontological position: I believe that only one true God and only one true Gospel exist. This is based on the meaning of “Gospel” as the ‘good news’, i.e., the fact that Jesus, as God Incarnate, died and was resurrected for the sins of all.

The Gospel also includes what a person must do to be saved, in the case of protestantism there are many interpretations.

This is not actually true, because it presumes that doctrine is a perfect representation of the truth. That claim, while popular, has never yet been substantiated. My disbelief in infallibility is partly due to my epistemological position: I believe that we are all wrong about God. I believe that God, while knowable in the abstract and limited sense, is not knowable in the absolute sense. In fact, I can think of very little that is knowable in the absolute sense, except, perhaps, my personal existence.

You reminded me of this passage:37 Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”…(Jn18)
I dont know anyone who claims they know or understand God in any absolute sense, in a famous letter to the whole Church by a past Pope the first words of the letter said:God Ineffable—whose ways are mercy and truth, whose will is omnipotence itself, and whose wisdom “reaches from end to end mightily, and orders all things sweetly”—having foreseen from all eternity the lamentable wretchedness of the entire human race which would result from the sin of Adam, decreed, by a plan hidden from the centuries, to complete the first work of his goodness by a mystery yet more wondrously sublime through the Incarnation of the Word.
Here from the first words the Church acknowledges mans limitations in understanding God, but that doesnt mean what man does know is so insignificant or complicated that any attempt at understanding Him will ultimately leave us in the dark. From the first passages of the OT we see God revealing Himself as a good God, loving, very intimate with Adam and Eve, later revealing a series of covenants and even becomes Incarnate. All this is for man’s benefit. All through the wisdom books of the Bible it talks about how empty and incomplete life is without God, and even those who know God stay up at night trying to grasp what they can about Him to satisfy their hunger. As someone once said “If I knew all of the answers, I would be God”, and I agree, our job isnt to become God, its know and participate in what He has revealed specifically for us to know.

How can this possible be proven? “To err is human”, as Alexander Pope said. Fallibility is so ubiquitous as to be a fundamental element of humanity. How can anyone demonstrate that, in this one instance, that universal trend deviates?

Its not something that human nature readily accepts, but nothing is impossible with God. Jesus chose a bunch of fallible average joe middle agers for the job of building up His Church. All through the Gospel accounts they question how this or that is possible, but it always turns out nothing is impossible with God. You talk about error as if men are always wrong on everything, kind of like the way that protestants use the term “Total Depravity” to turn man into a complete hopeless pile of trash not worth saving. Man is a rational being, the very computers we are using demonstrate how even if the computer engineers cant comprehend the size of an atom they still can design the circuit boards and write working programs. In the case of Infallibility it isnt blind teachings, they are well spelled out and take into consideration Scripture, Church Fathers, and Tradition (which includes guidance by the Holy Spirit).

Also I just looked Alexander Pope up and it turns out he was Catholic, so that should say something.

(cont)

They can, and frequently do. The Protestants chose to use the books which they do, thus agreeing that the early Church was right about most of its choices. Their choice largely coincided with the early Church decision, which is not the same as validating the Church’s general ability to make decisions. The fact that I agree with you when you say 2+2=4 does not mean that I will always agree with you about everything.

Just because they “can and frequently do” doesnt instantly mean they know anything, it could just means they hold preconceived notions (which also translates into ignoring Church history to suit their own agenda). Do you think if Church history supported most protestant teachings that that information would not be trumpeted from the roof tops? This isnt a random one in a million “choice” in selecting those books, its ignoring history both consciously and subconsciously. Here is a situation where I dont understand you logic, you have been building up this argument about “what is truth?”, but then seem to believe that somehow Protestants individually just happened to pick the same books as the Church did. (well not exacly the same books, the protestants later removed some books that said things they didnt agree with.)

The second most condemning thing to the protestant side is the very simple fact that the Bible doesnt even say what Books belong in it. Think about it, the same people that say that the Bible holds all their teachings, that same Bible doesnt even say what books are to be included. You have to admit that that is undefendable.

About the 2+2=4 thing, there is more to that than you consider. There are four distinct symbols in there that we both agree with, 2, +, =, and 4. To say that “2+2=4” already takes for granted the fact that we agree on those symbols and usage, which all hold a historical story of origin. How about rotating the “+” symbol 45 degrees to become “x”, guess what 2x2=4, how confusing is that! The fact that you chose to ignore that history and usage of those symbols just opens yourself up to miscalculations later, or in the protestant case those errors become revisionist history and come off sounding something like “This is the truth. The way its always been”.

Having said all of this, I ought to mention that I do not believe that the Bible is perfect.

How come? (or In what way?)
Better yet what book(s) do you consider superior to the Bible?

How can you have more freedom than someone who has absolute freedom to determine what they believe? On a sola scriptura basis, a Protestant needs only to believe in the text. However, because that Protestant’s understanding of the text is predicated upon his/her reading of the text, and because his/her reading is determined by his/her prejudices, the Protestant believes whatever s/he really wants to believe.

I wasnt really thinking in terms of anarchy when I said that, but I would agree with you, thats what happens.
I was thinking along the lines of, in any given denomination there is one set interpretation, if you dont agree with any given interpretation then according to them your in “error” and thus have to either find a denomination that agrees with you or start your own.
What you say is very true, at the same time I would question if anarchy could really be called freedom. Freedom as I see it has boundaries.

Mystophilus and Contarini –

Very interesting, thanks.

[quote=Mystophilus]…This does not mean that all assurance comes from the Holy Spirit: it does not preclude the possibility that we could be assured of something else which is false…it is reasonable to assert that the WCF
[/quote]

establishes the possibility of an accurate understanding of Scripture, but does not assert the proof of it. Thus, each individual believer would be the arbiter of his/her own faith, according to the reading of the text which s/he understands…My point exactly.

[quote=Contarini]No, it does not. It says that Scripture is the infallible
[/quote]

rule for interpreting Scripture. That is completely different from what you are saying… I’m not sure I understand you. If God comissioned a Magesterium with binding authority to define doctrine (which the WCF denies), then he would make sure that it would not do so in error. On the other hand, if God did not comission a Magesterium then the only authorised interpreter must by definition be the only infallible one: scripture itself.

[quote=Contarini] No, it says nothing of the kind. It says exactly the opposite…Since Art. 5 says nothing of the sort, you have created an artificial problem.
[/quote]

”We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture… yet, notwithstanding, our 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 in our hearts”. I’m obviously missing something. Please explain what this is if not subjective intuition, and explain how it substantively differs from the “burning in the breast” that Mormons use to “prove” that the Book of Mormon is God’s revealed truth.

[quote=Contarini] Right, but they are a “help.”…guidance is one of the "ordinary means”… Hence your claim that only “subjective intuition” is to be relied on is completely inaccurate So again you aren’t arguing against what the WCF actually says…
[/quote]

According to the text this help is one on which one cannot rely, so (per Chapter 1, Articles 8 and 10) ultimately one must turn to the only infallible source of guidance: the original Hebrew and Greek texts.

And in reality, one can pick from any number of Protestant councils and denominations that all claim to base their doctrine on the text of scripture alone, and yet come to very different conclusions.

As I see it the WCF sets up a system in which one can’t be sure one really understands the true meaning of the texts aside from the fact that one believes the Holy Spirit is guiding him, which belief one can rely on only if one already knows that the texts that supposedly say this is a valid test actually mean what one thinks they do (and in which case we don’t need any help from councils at all). This is circular reasoning: I know I understand scripture correctly because the Holy Spirit is telling me in my heart, and I know that what is speaking in my heart is the Holy Spirit because I’ve asked Jesus into my heart, and I know that if Jesus is in my heart I’ll understand scipture because that’s what scripture says.

[quote=Contarini] And it’s not at all clear that what Peter means by “ignorant and unstable” is what the WCF means by “unlearned.” Are you really prepared to claim that people who (for instance) don’t know any language except English (which is one of the main things the WCF authors would have in mind) are “ignorant and unstable” in the sense St. Peter intends?..
[/quote]

I don’t think that Peter meant anything like what the WCF says. To me, “ignorant” means “unlearned”, so yes, if (as the WCF says) one must rely only on the untranslated texts, then people who aren’t fluent in ancient Hebrew and Greek (like me) are the “unlearned” that the WCF speaks of. And if not knowing the language means that I end up twisting the meaning of the text, then yes, I’m one of the ignorant that Peter speaks of. I don’t see how this is unreasonable.

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