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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « J. Ligon Duncan III: Contemporary Reformer | Main | Do Humans Have More Freedom Than God AND Does God Have a Libertarian Free Will? by J.W. Hendryx »

    Sola Scriptura (Continued) by Pastor John Samson

    "In the empire of the church, the ruler is God's Word." - Martin Luther - Works, Vol. 41, p. 134.

    "I have learned to ascribe the honor of infallibility only to those books that are accepted as canonical. I am profoundly convinced that none of these writers has erred. All other writers, however they may have distinguished themselves in holiness or in doctrine, I read in this way. I evaluate what they say, not on the basis that they themselves believe that a thing is true, but only insofar as they are able to convince me by the authority of the canonical books or by clear reason." - Martin Luther

    "Since the church is Christ's Kingdom, and he reigns by his Word alone, will it not be clear to any man that those are lying words by which the Kingdom of Christ is imagined to exist apart from his scepter (that is, his most holy Word)?" - John Calvin, Institutes

    "Let the pastors boldly dare all things by the word of God. . . Let them constrain all the power, glory, and excellence of the world to give place to and to obey the divine majesty of this word. Let them enjoin everyone by it, from the highest to the lowest. Let them edify the body of Christ. Let them devastate Satan's reign. Let them pasture the sheep, kill the wolves, instruct and exhort the rebellious. Let them bind and loose thunder and lightning, if necessary, but let them do all according to the word of God." - John Calvin, Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians, p. xii

    THE COUNCIL OF TRENT 1545-1563

    In my first article on this subject here I briefly described how the Protestant movement began. Of course, just because this Reformation swept like wildfire across most of Europe, it did not mean that the Roman Catholic Church gave up the fight and disbanded. Quite the opposite, in fact. Instead, Rome engaged in a rigorous Counter Reformation.

    Rome took seriously the criticism of the moral scandals, and in reality, there was a widespread moral reform in the Church. However an Ecumenical Council, which was the Roman Catholic Church's official theological response to the Protestant Reformation, convened. This was called "The Council of Trent" and took place over an eighteen year period between 1545 and 1563. During this time, many issues were discussed in detail, not the least of which was the issue of sola fide (justification by faith alone). Rome placed its anathema (eternal curse) on the doctrine of sola fide, and on any who preached it - an anathema which has never been revoked.

    SIXTH SESSION, CANONS CONCERNING JUSTIFICATION: "If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ's sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, LET HIM BE ANATHEMA" (Canons Concerning Justification, Canon 12).

    SCRIPTURE AND TRADITION

    But before the Roman Catholic Church even discussed justification (during the 6th session), the issue of authority was addressed in the 4th session. It was made very clear that there are two sources of authority in the world, namely Scripture and Tradition.

    The Roman Catholic Church has always maintained a very high view of Scripture. Rome believes the Bible is the Word of God. However, it affirms that in addition to the Bible there is another infallible source called Tradition.

    The inevitable question then becomes, "what if there appears to be a conflict between what the Scripture teaches and what the Tradition of the Church is?" Luther, for example, saw a huge conflict between the Tradition of the Church and what the Apostle Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Romans concerning justification.

    Rome took seriously the criticism of the moral scandals, and in reality, there was a widespread moral reform in the Church. However an Ecumenical Council, which was the Roman Catholic Church's official theological response to the Protestant Reformation, convened. This was called "The Council of Trent" and took place over an eighteen year period between 1545 and 1563. During this time, many issues were discussed in detail, not the least of which was the issue of sola fide (justification by faith alone). Rome placed its anathema (eternal curse) on the doctrine of sola fide, and on any who preached it - an anathema which has never been revoked.

    SIXTH SESSION, CANONS CONCERNING JUSTIFICATION: "If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ's sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, LET HIM BE ANATHEMA" (Canons Concerning Justification, Canon 12).

    In these brief articles, I've labored the dispute of the Reformers with Rome in the 16th Century for the simple reason that the issues raised then are exactly the same in our day. Today we are faced with the exact same questions: What is the authority? What is the standard? What is the absolute authority?

    BY WHAT STANDARD?

    The word "authority" can be defined as "the right to impose obligation." When legitimate authority speaks, it has every right to say such things as "you must," "you should" or "you ought."

    Of course, when we hear these words, we often respond with the question, "says who?" or "why should I?" In other words, we ask, "by what authority, or by what standard do you try to direct me or hold me responsible?"

    I hope you can see that this is not a vague, abstract and merely theological question. It touches everything relating to the life of the Church. The question of the authority of the Bible is very much related to the question of the authorship of the Bible. Indeed, if we look at the word authority, the first six letters spell the word "author."

    Christians believe the Bible to be the Vox Dei (the voice of God), or the Verbum Dei (the word of God). Yet the Bible did not come down out of heaven on a parachute, and we do not believe that the Bible was actually penned by God. The actual writing was done by human beings. However, the Bible is God's message.

    CONSIDER THE SOURCE

    When I was a teenager, my adult teeth came in crooked. For some time, I was called "Goofy" by my peers at school. My mother's panacea for all such insults was, "Son, consider the source." In other words, my mother was saying that before you get hurt by what someone says, consider who is is saying it.

    In Luke 1:11-25, the angel Gabriel announces to Zacharias that his wife Elizabeth is to have a son (who we will come to know as John the Baptist). Zacharias protests that his wife is too old and that he also is an old man. Note Gabriel's response in verse 19, "I am Gabriel. I come from the Presence of God."

    He was saying in unmistakable terms: Zacharias, consider the Source of this announcement. I am Gabriel, and I've just come from the immediate Presence of the Lord. The message therefore comes with the highest possible authority, so don't think you are too old! My announcement destroys all human limitations. Zacharias probably said something like, "Oh!" and that's about all he would say for nine months! This is the claim Scripture makes for itself - it is the very word of God Almighty.

    But simply making a claim doesn't make it so. Anyone can claim to be speaking for God. But what would happen to our confidence in a claim such as this, if someone claimed to be speaking with the authority of God but we were able to find obvious mistakes, discrepancies and errors? What would happen to our confidence in his claim to be speaking with the authority of God? I think we all know the answer. We would begin to question the fact that he is speaking for God.

    Why? Because although we expect human beings to make mistakes; we don't expect God to make mistakes. If the Bible claims to be the Word of God and it is not the word of God, it could still be generally true, but the claim would be exposed as a fraud.

    I certainly would not devote my life to worshipping and serving a man, about whom all I know comes from a source that has proven to be fraudulent. I'd have to commit intellectual suicide to do that!

    The point then is that when a claim is made that something is the word of God, the stakes are very high. Either it demands our complete attention and obedience or else it is a fraud and would not even be considered a "good book" to read.

    2 Peter 1:20, 21 - It is the origin of Scripture in God and in His care in which is grounded the authority of Scripture.

    2 Peter 3:16 - Peter recognized Paul's letters as Scripture, during Paul's own lifetime.

    2 Tim. 3:13-17 reads, "But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 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.

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

    This passage has much to say regarding our subject. Let's review these verses in order.

    Verse 13 - these people are evil because they deceive. A deception is a distortion of truth.

    Verse 16 is a crucial text in our discussion. All Scripture (Greek: graphe which is refering to the sacred writings). Here is an obvious reference to the Old Testament, though it did not exclude the writings presently being written in Timothy's own day, the New Testament.

    THE GOD-BREATHED SCRIPTURES

    All the graphe (the sacred writings) are theopneustos (God breathed) as in the NIV. Though the Bible is inspired by God, this text says even more than that. It is not merely inspired (which means to breathe into) it is expired (breathed out) by God. This describes the Source of Scripture, and says that all of Scripture is breathed out by God.

    We could not find a text that more clearly affirms the idea that the Scripture is the word of God than this one in 2 Timothy 3:16. The authority of Scripture is rooted and grounded in its Source. That's why, for example, the Old Testament prophets would not start their message with, "I say," or "Thus says Jeremiah," or "Thus says Isaiah," but "Thus says the Lord."

    Verse 16 and 17 also teaches us something else that is very significant for our study of sola scriptura. Notice that all Scripture is breathed out by God and is "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction, for training in righteousness, in order that the man of God might be complete, fully equipped for every good work."

    Paul tells Timothy to continue in what he has been taught, knowing from whom he learnt it. The message he has received is found in the Scriptures themselves. These are enough to make you wise for salvation by faith which is in Christ Jesus. It is the Scriptures, not the writers themselves, that are "God breathed." Because the origin of the Scripture is God Himself, the authority of the Scripture is God's authority. The Church is not left without the voice of God, for when the Church listens to Scripture; she is hearing her Lord speaking to her. The divine authority of the Church, then, in teaching and rebuking and instructing, is derived from Scripture itself. The fact that the Church has God's voice always present with her in God-breathed Scripture, means that the man of God might be complete, fully equipped for every good work.

    The word "complete" means "fitted, able to meet all demands, qualified." Now here's the point - if another source of authority (such as Tradition) was necessary, surely Paul would have directed us to it in order that we might be complete, but he does not! Concerning this, Dr. James White writes, "Paul was not satisfied to merely state that the man of God may be complete. He goes on to define what he means: "fully equipped for every good work." Various lexical sources list as meanings "fit out," "to furnish completely," and equip." Most significantly we find the word sufficient used to describe this term as well." It means to "make someone completely adequate or sufficient for something to make adequate, to furnish completely, to cause to be fully qualified, adequacy." If the Scripture fully equips the man of God for every good work then the Scriptures are sufficient for the task.

    Dr. White goes on to write, "If I am a store owner who can fully equip a hiker to hike the Grand Canyon and if I have the resources and abilities to provide everything he needs in the way of supplies, hiking gear, shoes, maps, food, etc., does it not follow that I am a sufficient source of supply for the hiker? If he has to go next door to another shop for a few more things, and then to a third shop for some things that neither mine nor the other shop had, then none of us are sufficient to equip the hiker. But if that hiker can come to my shop alone and get everything he needs to accomplish his task, then I can rightly call myself a sufficient equipper of a hiker of the Grand Canyon. In the exact same way the Scriptures are able to fully equip the man of God so that he is able to do every good work. No one serving God has to search about for other sources. The inspired Scriptures are the sufficient source for a person's needs in ministry."

    That which is God breathed is able, by its very nature, to give us the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus and to fully equip the man of God for the work of the ministry.

    THE CANON OF SCRIPTURE

    The Bible is a collection of books. It is actually more of a library than a single book. There are 39 books in the Old Testament, 27 in the New, making a total of 66. It took approximately 40 authors to write these, over a period of about 1,500 years. So how is it that all these 66 books ever got together in the Bible?

    LUTHER AND JAMES

    Early on in his ministry, Martin Luther had a problem with the Epistle of James. Luther, standing against the known world with the revelation of sola fide or justification by faith alone, encountered many in the Roman Catholic Church quoting the book of James to dismiss him. Luther, for some time could not reconcile James' words in chapter 2 of his epistle, with Paul's clear words in Romans and Galatians. He concluded that James was merely "an Epistle of straw."

    This has led some to argue that Luther did not believe that the Bible was inspired by God, for, they say, how could he believe the Bible is the Word of God and then say that the book of James was a "strawy Epistle?" Yet these folk confuse a couple of issues that need to be distinguished carefully. If anyone believed in the inspiration and authority of Scripture, is was Luther (remember Worms!!). He said, "The Scriptures never err!"

    But there was a period in his life (though he changed his mind later) when he had real questions about James. But this is the point we need to see Luther's question was not about whether the Bible was inspired, but whether the Epistle of James is supposed to be included in the Bible. Can you see the important difference?

    For Luther, the entire Bible is inspired. However, he was asking a question concerning which are the right books to be included in the Bible, and he had doubts over whether the Epistle of James should have that kind of a status.
    This is the question of the Canon of Scripture, or what we refer to as Canonicity.

    The word canon comes from the Greek word kanon and means "a measuring rod, ruler, norm, or standard by which other things are measured or judged."

    THE APOCRYPHA

    You may have wondered why the Roman Catholic Church includes books in their "canon" that are not in our Protestant Bibles. They include books written in the Intertestamental Period (the 400 years between Malachi and Matthew in our Bibles). These are known as The Apocrypha.

    Protestants have not included the books of the Apocrypha in the canon. These are regarded as Deuterocanonical books or books on a secondary (deutero) level to Scripture.

    It was not until 1546 at the Council of Trent that the Roman Catholic Church officially declared the Apocrypha to be part of the canon (with the exception of 1 and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh). It is significant that the Council of Trent was the response of the Roman Catholic Church to Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation because the books of the Apocrypha contain support for Catholic doctrines such as prayers for the dead and justification by faith plus works.

    It is important to remember four further things about the Apocryphal books: (1) They do not claim for themselves the same kind of authority as the Old Testament writings; (2) they were not regarded as Scripture by the Jewish people (from whom they originated); (3) they were not considered to be Scripture by Jesus or the New Testament authors; (4) they contain teachings that are inconsistent with the rest of the Bible.

    THIRD COUNCIL OF CARTHAGE (397 A.D.)

    In Church history, the first Council that determined which books made up the Biblical canon met in Carthage, approximately 365 years after the death of Christ.

    By way of background, a heretic named Marcion produced the first canon. However, he was heavily influenced by the Gnostics and hated the God of the Old Testament, believing Him to be a different god than the one revealed in the New Testament. In his canon, he only included books that seemed to agree with him. Out would go books like Matthew, because there were far too many quotes from the Old Testament!

    This crisis of a heretic's canon forced the Church to draw up a list of the true books of the New Testament. Even this does not suggest that the Church did not have a Bible up until then.

    There is no doubt that, for example, when the Apostle Paul wrote Romans, and it circulated in the Early Church, it was recognized as the Word of God. As the believers at the end of the First Century (sometimes referred to as the Sub-Apostolic Fathers) quoted from the writings of the Apostles, from the Gospels, from Paul's writings, etc., they quoted them as full biblical authorities. So we know as a matter of historical record that the bulk of the New Testament literature found in our canon functioned as sacred Scripture from the very beginning. That is very important to remember.

    Concerning the vast majority of New Testament books, there was never any question in the mind of the Church as to whether or not they belonged in the canon. But there were a few books about which there were questions: Jude, 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, and Hebrews.

    AROUND 2,000 PRETENDERS

    There were around 2,000 books/letters circulating that were pretenders, yet we have only 27 of them in the New Testament. How do we know that the right books got into our Bible? How do we know that we have the right 27?

    Well, of these 2,000 books, there were only ever 2 (or perhaps 3) that were ever given any serious consideration for inclusion in the canon. The Shepherd of Hermas was one, and First Clement was another.

    These were magnificent literature and contained no false doctrine. The reason these were not included is because the authors themselves indicate a clear difference in the authority with which they were writing and that of the Apostles. In other words, they disqualified themselves from inclusion.

    The other 1998 or so were never given the time of day, so to speak, because they were Gnostic frauds and everybody knew it.

    Is it possible that we have a book in the New Testament that shouldn't be there? Yes, it is possible.

    Is it possible that there were books that were written that didn't get into the canon that should have? Yes, it is possible.

    What is the probability?
    Not 1 in 10,000,000,000,000 chances.

    There was no work of the Church in Council in the history of the Church about which I have more confidence than that the Church made the correct decision as to which books should be in the canon. It was extremely clear and was not a difficult task.

    THREE CRITERIA FOR CANONICITY (basically)

    The Council asked:

    1. Was this book written by an Apostle or endorsed by an Apostle?

    (Mark was not an Apostle, but was Peter's secretary. The Gospel of Mark could be described as Peter's Gospel, if you will. Likewise, Luke, who wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, was not an Apostle, but had the endorsement of Paul. Luke was the companion of Paul on many of his missionary journeys).

    2. Was this book recognized by the Early Church as Scripture from the very beginning?

    3. If a book met these first two criteria (which ruled most out, of course), and there was any question about a book (like Jude or 2nd Peter) the question then was: "Does this book contain anything in it that contradicts the rest of the New Testament (about which there is no question as to canonicity)?" This was the question of conformity to Biblical doctrine.

    Under the Providential hand of God this was a very thorough process, and one I don't believe any Christian needs to be concerned about. I certainly have lost no sleep at all over it! We have every reason to believe with the fullest possible confidence that the right books, by the grace of God, have been delivered safely through the ages, to the Church today.

    Posted by John Samson on February 17, 2006 08:33 PM

    Comments

    Great summary of Sola Scriptura! I'm actually writing a paper for a class in Bibliology that involves the issue of authority, and James White's example of the hiking store intrigues me.

    In a debate against Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid, Dr. White once used a very similar example (a bike store). Madrid's response was (paraphrased), "The bike store may be able to give you everything you need for your bike trip, but you still have to learn how to ride a bike!" His conclusion, of course, was that Tradition is the "other" source that teaches us how to use the equipment we get from Scripture.

    How would you address this response? Who teaches us how to ride, or how to fix our bikes? And where does this instruction fit into the bike store?

    -Bill

    Thanks for the question Bill.

    Of course, we need to learn to ride the bike itself... For Rome, that comes by heeding the great collective body of "oral traditions" that form the basis of Roman Catholic doctrine. Rome checks with its own teaching to determine true doctrine.. it is true because in their view, the church is infallible, which is really sola ecclesia. Only the Church can rightly interpret the Scripture.

    I believe however that we learn to ride the bike by the science of biblical hermeneutics - rightly dividing or interpreting the word of God. The Scripture says, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV)

    The fact is that Rome, in spite of their claims, is not able to produce a single word of Christ not found in the Scripture, nor a single word spoken by Paul. The grandiose claim is made that all their doctrines (not found in Scripture - the R.C. definition of the Mass, the Immaculate Conception, the Bodily Assumption of Mary, Mary had no children except Jesus, penances, indulgences, relics, pilgrimages, etc., etc., ) is supported by tradition, going back to the original apostles. Well, if that is the case.. let Rome show us what they have. But they have nothing.

    There is no place in all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, in which we find an actual non-revelatory, non-inspired, yet infallibly binding, body or source of doctrinal interpretation.

    Rome bases much on 2 Thess. 2:15 and the "oral traditons" they claim to have... but they don't actually have in their possession a single word Paul taught the Thessalonians in this ‘oral tradition.’

    Has Rome infallibly defined a single word Paul taught to the Thessalonians, or to anyone for that matter, that is not found in Scripture?” No. Their bike, is a mirage...

    What White is preaching here is "satis scriptura" - the sufficiency of Scripture - NOT "sola scriptura." In order for White's bicycle shop analogy to be validly an argument for "sola" - then his shop would have to have something no other shop has AND is necessary to hike the Grand Canyon. If I can get the same thing at another shop - his is not the "sola shop."

    Scott
    CathApol Blog

    Scott,

    I think the illustration still stands. If we were to fill in some details such as the only authorized hiking equipment that could be bought at other stores but still having the one supplier, the illustration still stands.

    All the Scripture is referred to as God breathed and as such carries the full weight of divine authority to bind the conscience. The same can never be said about tradition.

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