Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Debate concerning Sola Scriptura

(original site can be found here)

Jones: Scripture Teaches That the Word of God is The Supreme Norm
If the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is true, then, as a system of theology, Roman Catholicism ought to be wholeheartedly rejected. This quick inference is not as simplistic as it may first appear. Sola Scriptura not only negates any form of authoritative tradition in Roman Catholicism, it also eviscerates any Roman Catholic doctrine or practice explicitly drawn from Scripture, since the truth of such doctrines is, according to the Council of Trent, only guaranteed by the "holy mother Church" who has the sole authority to "judge of their [the Scriptures'] true sense and interpretation."[1] Therefore, if Sola Scriptura precludes such ecclesiastical authority, Roman Catholic theology is unjustified and ought to be rejected.
Another reason to debate the issue of Sola Scriptura is that some converts from Evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism have claimed that a primary reason for their shift in theology was the absence of a Biblical case for Sola Scriptura. Such an astounding claim ought to lead the Protestant to query -- How can such a vast case be missed? I should rather think that the Biblical case for Sola Scriptura is similar to Warfield's claim concerning the basis for the infallibility of Scripture; the case overwhelms one like a waterfall.

Though the debate over Sola Scriptura is often discussed in terms of "sources" of revelation or authority, I think the issue will be clearer if we focus on whether Scripture is the sole or supreme norm for all questions of Christian thought and practice.[2] Hence, the thesis for which I will argue is the same as that found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, I:10: "The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined... can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the scripture."

In direct contrast to the Westminster Confession, both the Council of Trent and Vatican II declare that there are two supreme norms for matters of faith and practice. The Council of Trent states: "[The Roman Catholic church] receives and venerates with a feeling of piety and reverence all the books of both of the Old and New Testaments, since one God is the author of both; also the traditions, whether they relate to faith or to morals, as having been dictated orally by Christ or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church in unbroken succession."[3] Vatican II continues the same line of thought: "...both sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same devotion and reverence."[4]

Though one can quite easily demonstrate Sola Scriptura from the Bible, the following brief arguments are not in any sense an exhaustive case for this doctrine. Nevertheless, they ought to be a sufficient start.

Preliminary Distinctions
Though some Roman Catholic apologists assume that Sola Scriptura rules out any appeal to divine oral revelation, no Protestant advocate of this doctrine has ever held that view. Advocates of Sola Scriptura take as obvious that, at some points in the history of redemption, God has revealed His will to His people by means of oral transmissions. For example, this form of revelation was authoritatively used prior to the time of Moses and the inscripturation of the Old Testament Prophets and the New Testament writings. No advocate of Sola Scriptura would claim, for example, that the immediate hearers of Isaiah's pronouncements were free to disregard his prophetic revelations simply because he had not written them down. This would be a silly understanding of Sola Scriptura. Hence, Sola Scriptura incorporates the fact that, as a general pattern, God reveals His Word orally and temporarily through prophets and apostles and then subsequently inscripturates His Word. At all points in this process, God's Word is the supreme norm for Christian thought and practice. Thus, when Protestants speak of "Scriptura" we use it synonymously with such designations as "God's Word" (whether oral or written), a practice readily found in the New Testament (e.g., Rom. 9:17; Gal. 3:8; Matt. 19:4-5; Mk. 7:9-13; Acts 2:16-17; Heb. 1:6-7).
Roman Catholic apologists often appeal to New Testament oral "traditions" (e.g. II Tim. 2:2; II Thess. 2:15) as immediate refutations of Sola Scriptura. Given the distinctions above, this is a naive move on their part. As stated for any point in redemptive history, then, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is the contention that the Word of God (oral or written) is the sole and supreme norm for Biblical faith. The central issue, then, which Protestants affirm and Roman Catholics deny, is the claim that the history of redemption demonstrates that God, at some points, revealed His Word temporarily in prophetic/oral form and then inscripturated this norm permanently in written form, with no subsequent authoritative appeals to oral revelation. Protestants maintain that, following inscripturation, the oral "speaking as a child" is done away with, and our only norm is the "mature," written Word of God; the latter is our current situation and, most notably, was that of the Reformers. In contrast, Roman Catholics maintain that some oral teaching authority continues as a norm on par with Scripture (though they do not claim that this Sacred Tradition is new revelation; it is only explicative).[5]

Protestants reject such a "co-supreme" norm and contend that Scripture itself teaches that the Word of God (now written) is our sole and supreme norm. We wholeheartedly reject the supreme authority of any secondary interpretations, explications, or extra-Biblical pronouncements, whether these are alleged charismatic revelations, Mary Baker Eddy's insights, or Mormon or Roman Catholic "apostolic" authorities.

I. A Biblical Case
A Biblical case for Sola Scriptura can be approached in numerous ways. I will begin by arguing from Biblical practices found in the Old Testament law, wisdom literature, and prophets and then from New Testament theology and practice. I will then rebut several common Roman Catholic objections to Sola Scriptura.
A. Old Testament
Old Testament practice clearly demonstrates that the sole and supreme authority is God's Word. Roman Catholics readily agree with this claim but reject the claim that this practice demonstrates Sola Scriptura, since they deem Sacred Tradition to be the Word of God as well (I will comment on this claim momentarily). Regardless of this assertion, Old Testament practice demonstrates that the sole and supreme norm invoked is God's Word, apart from secondary interpreters, explications, or "infallible" institutions.
1. Law
In very stark terms, the central issue of the Fall was loyalty to God's revelation alone, apart from even a supernatural interpreter. God had expressly forbidden Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but when they were tempted by Satan, they demonstrated their disloyalty to God's Word by considering it just another hypothesis on par with Satan's Word, which they could supposedly evaluate. In effect, Adam and Eve placed themselves as judges over God's revelation in order to reject it. God's revelation was clear; Adam and Eve needed no secondary, infallible interpreter or else their sin would have been excusable. Hence, we find Sola Scriptura at the very beginning of redemptive history.
Similarly, Noah was called upon to heed God's revelation without excuse. God's covenant was established directly with Noah as representative of creation (Gen. 9: 8,9). Subsequently, Ham's rebellion against God's revelation met with condemnation (Gen. 9: 22ff). Throughout, the sole standard was God's unmediated Word.

A most striking example of Sola Scriptura is made plain in the Abrahamic covenant. God again reveals Himself, apart from a divine expositor, and binds Himself to fulfill His covenant (Gen. 15). When Abram seeks confirmation of God's glorious promises, the Lord confirms His divine Word by His divine Word! As Hebrews 6:13 states, "since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself." No Pontiff or magisterium or Sacred Tradition is invoked to verify God's Word; the supreme authority is the Lord's own testimony to His Word. No further appeal is possible. Sola Scriptura reigns.

Later in Abraham's life, God further explicates His own covenant (Gen. 17) directly with Abraham (v. 9ff) and holds up Abraham as an example to his posterity for keeping "My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws" (Gen. 26:5).

As God's revelation is inscripturated in the Mosaic era, Sola Scriptura continues as the practice. The Lord keeps His covenant promises and further reveals Himself to His people. Moses recounts all of God's revelation to the people, and the people respond, "All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do! And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord" (Ex. 24:3,4; cf. 34:27). In these passages, we not only see the general transformation of God's Word from the temporary oral to the written, but we also see a direct "recounting" of God's Word to the people.

To the Levitical priests, the Lord revealed the sole supremacy of His Word over against non-Christian standards: "You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt...nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes;...I am the Lord your God" (Lev. 18:4). Hence, the priests themselves were directed to heed the (now written) Word of God alone. God's law never directs the priests or the people to give equal reverence to some ecclesiastical or priestly tradition; instead, they are repeatedly pointed back to the clear revelation of God's covenant.

In fact, the law itself explicitly prohibits Levitical priests or the people from adding another standard to God's revelation: "You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you" (Deut. 4:2; cf. Deut. 12:32; 13:1-4). Such an unequivocal prohibition clearly precluded minor priestly additions, let alone an entire ecclesiastical body of "living" tradition which would stand on par with God's Word. Moreover, this commandment was given to all of Israel (Deut. 4:1). They were expected to understand and apply God's Word so as not to adulterate it, even if their priests did. God alone has the authority to add to His Word, and, at this point in redemptive history, He directs them to His written Word as their supreme standard alone and not to another Biblical institution or tradition. The law, then, serves as exemplary support for the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, and since the law serves as the standard in the historical revelation that follows Moses, we should expect to see the written Word as the standard of faith and practice there as well, and we do (cf. Josh. 1:7 - "do not turn from it to the right or to the left;" II Chron. 17:7ff.; 29:15ff; II Kings 22 -- Josiah: "Go, inquire of the LORD for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the LORD that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us" (v. 13).

2. Wisdom Literature
Even a cursory glance at the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament will provide further support that Scripture itself directs us to look only to God speaking in Scripture as our supreme norm. Psalm 1 points to the exclusivity and supremacy of God's written Word in that the righteous will meditate on it, "day and night" ([v. 2] figuratively, there is no time to meditate on ecclesiastical traditions!). Psalm 19 declares that God's Word is "perfect," "sure," "enlightening," "enduring forever," and "true" (vv. 7-10). The Psalms nowhere place similar designations on any divine institution or secondary explications. Psalm 37 describes the righteous as one who has the law of God "in his heart"(v.31) and Psalm 119 describes the blessed as those "who walk in the law of the Lord (v. 1). Psalm 119 glorifies God's written revelation as something to delight in (v. 70), love (v. 97), fear (v. 120), understand (v. 130), is everlasting (v. 160), and true (v. 142).
The Book of Proverbs repeats the solemn declaration that "every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him; Do not add to His words. Lest He reprove you, and you be proved a liar" (30: 5,6). This command becomes an enduring restriction on God's revelation. As God's people we are to have no other supreme authorities; no other institution or object is so circumscribed. Finally, after reflecting on the vanity of life, the Preacher of Ecclesiastes summarizes our basic duty as, "fear God and keep His commandments" (Eccl. 12:13).

3. Prophets
Sola Scriptura is the prevailing assumption of all the prophetic discourses in that the prophets conveyed God's Word directly to the people; the hearers were required to understand, interpret, and change their ways without any Mother Church infallibly interpreting the prophetic discourses. Moreover, at various times, the prophets pronounce curses upon the people for their failure to heed God's written Word; they rebelled against His covenant standards.
More particularly, Isaiah rebukes the false diviners in accord with the earlier prohibition from Deuteronomy 13: 1-4 ("you shall not listen to the words of that prophet....You shall follow the Lord...and...keep His commandments"), when he declares "to the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Is. 8:20).

Jeremiah declares that the coming New Covenant will be one, not in which Sacred Tradition reigns, but in which the Lord will place His "law within them" (Jer. 31:31).

Ezekiel gloriously testifies to the coming Christ who will reign over a future people who walk in accord with God's written Word (Ez. 37:24) in an everlasting covenant.

In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego appeal supremely to the first commandment in their defiance of Nebuchadnezzar's wicked directive.

Repeatedly, we see that the Old Testament practice is to revere God's Word, most often in its written form, as the sole and supreme norm for thought and practice. The law, wisdom literature, and prophets direct us only to the Word of God in this manner. The Lord repeatedly speaks His Word directly to His people, who are expected to understand and apply it faithfully. The Old Testament simply has no place for secondary infallible explications or institutions, instead, it is saturated with the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

B. New Testament
The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is not only at the heart of the Old Covenant church; it also continues in the practice of the New Covenant church. At the time of Christ, we see that the Old Testament oral revelation was finally inscripturated in such a manner that Christ can refer to it as a completed whole (Lk. 16:16; 24:44; Matt. 7:12). Given the history of revelation, we should expect that the new oral revelation from Christ and the apostles would be followed by a final written collection of God's Word as well.
1. Assumption of Old Testament Standards
One very basic argument for Sola Scriptura is that New Testament teachings assume Old Testament standards and practices, unless otherwise specified. Christ Himself directs us to obey the teachings of the Old Testament (Matt. 23:2,3; 22:37-40), for "the Scripture cannot be broken" (Jn. 10:35) and its standards are everlasting (Matt. 5:18; Lk. 16:17).
Similarly, the apostles direct us to heed the Old Testament standards. Peter instructs us to heed the teachings of the prophets as "a lamp shining in a dark place" (II Pet. 2:19). Paul teaches that Old Testament practices were "written for our instruction" (I Cor. 10:11; cf. Rom. 15:4), and that all Scripture is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction" (II Tim. 3:16 -- even Roman Catholics will concede this verse at least applies to the Old Testament Scriptures).

Thus, if the New Testament assumes the continuation of Old Testament teachings, and the Old Testament teaches Sola Scriptura (as above), then the New Testament teaches Sola Scriptura as well.

For example, if the Old Testament law, wisdom literature, and prophets direct us only to the Word of God as the supreme norm and not to ecclesiastical or priestly explications, then the New Testament teaches the same. The burden is on opponents of the doctrine to demonstrate that God has rescinded His previous standards.

Similarly, if Deuteronomy 4:2 prohibits adding anything to God's Word, and the New Testament assumes that this sort of teaching continues, then the prohibition also applies to adding anything to God's Word (oral or written) in the New Testament. We see this argument confirmed in the New Testament writings themselves. Paul most emphatically condemns those who would teach contrary to apostolic doctrine (Gal. 1:8,9), and the Holy Spirit speaking through John applies the same prohibition to the words of Revelation: "If anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book..." (Rev. 22:18,19).

Given this general norm, Protestants do not beg-the-question against Roman Catholicism by arguing that Christ's condemnation of Pharisaical traditions (e.g., to Matt. 15:3) also applies to Roman Catholic traditions. The usual Roman Catholic retort to such appeals is to argue that Christ only rejects human traditions and not allegedly divine traditions as provided by the Roman church. But if the normal Biblical practice is to reject any secondary explications or traditions, then the burden is on the Roman Catholic apologist to prove that Christ now approves of secondary traditions. In short, the Roman Catholic apologist has the burden of demonstrating that God has now changed His normal practice and established an infallible and authoritative explicator of His Word. If he does not meet this burden, then Christ's condemnation of the Pharisees applies directly to Roman Catholic traditions.

2. New Testament Practice
Not only does New Testament theology endorse the ancient teaching of Sola Scriptura, but so does the practice of the New Testament church. As in the past, God's people may discern truth by going directly to the Scriptures: "they have Moses and prophets; let them hear them" (Lk. 16:29). Christ even rejects authoritative ecclesiastical opinion as a norm beside God's Word: "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God" (Matt. 22:29; cf. Matt. 23:24).
Though the apostles were the legal witness-bearers of Christ, thus making their words the Word of God (cf. Lk. 10:16; I Cor. 2:13; 7:12; 14:37; II Cor. 13:3; I Thess. 2:13; II Thess. 2:15; II Pet. 3:2), they still in practice regularly appealed to written revelation as supreme norm to confute, persuade, and settle differences (Acts 1:20; 2:17ff.; 7; 13:47; 15:16ff.; Rom. 9,10,11; Gal. 3; Hebrews). Like Christ, they do not direct believers to secondary explications or extra-Scriptural Hebrew traditions (though plentiful) as authoritative norms but to examine the Word of God itself (Rom. 15:4; Eph. 6:17; II Tim. 3:16; II Pet. 1:19; Rev. 1:3). Scripture exalts those who examine the written revelation of God ("noble-minded" Acts 17:11) and assumes that God's people have the ability to rightly judge and interpret it apart from an infallible interpreter (II Tim. 2:15; Acts 17:11). Hence, even this cursory review of the teachings of Christ and the apostles suggest that, just like the Old, the New Testament is saturated with the teaching of Sola Scriptura.

II. Roman Catholic Objections to Sola Scriptura
A. Sola Scriptura is Unbiblical
As noted previously, several Roman Catholic apologists have attempted to offer a Biblical case against the doctrine of Sola Scriptura by arguing that (1) New Testament references to oral "tradition" (II Thess. 2:15; II Tim. 2:2; II Cor. 11:2) demonstrate the unbiblical nature of the doctrine and (2) Scripture nowhere teaches the doctrine.[6] The first argument rests on a naive understanding of Sola Scriptura in that it presupposes the doctrine to imply, as noted earlier, that the teachings of Isaiah or Christ were not the sole and supreme norm when spoken. The real trick would be to find some advocate of Sola Scriptura who has ever held this view. Hence, this argument attacks a straw man. In response to the second argument, I offer the non-exhaustive case presented above. Scripture teaches Sola Scriptura from beginning to end.
B. Sola Scriptura is Unhistorical
Hahn, Kreeft, Matatics, and others contend that the fact that "the first generation of Christians did not have the New Testament, only the Church, to teach them"[7] is a serious blow to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Moreover, Hahn claims that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is improbable, since it had "no single defender for the first thirteen centuries of the church" (i.e., Hahn: "Is it really the case that for fourteen centuries the Holy Spirit could guide no one to see the formal principle of the Reformation?"[8] ).
Though I maintain that such historical claims are false,[9] this is beyond our current question. Nevertheless, this "unhistorical" objection fails for other reasons. First, even if we grant the truth of the historical claim, the objection still assumes a very truncated view of church history. Most of those who present this argument speak of the church as beginning in the first century, and simply ignore church doctrine in the Old Testament. By narrowing the scope of history, the issue, deceptively, appears to be large. As seen above, if we mark church history from the beginning of covenant history as Scripture itself does, and readily find the doctrine of Sola Scriptura from the very beginning of time, then Roman Catholic teaching is aberrant in the history of redemption, and accordingly should be rejected.

Secondly, the "unhistorical" objection suffers from a common malady in church history; the view that the current age is the peak of church history. Again granting the historical claims of the objection for the sake of argument, Sola Scriptura only appears to be unhistorical if we are very near the end of time. If, however, we have another five thousand or so years to go and the Roman Catholic church dissolves and joyously becomes Reformed in the next one hundred years, then its current teaching is clearly unhistorical. Hence, the "unhistorical" objection fails apart from its dubious historical claims due to a very truncated view of history (on both ends).

C. Sola Scriptura is Illogical or Incoherent
Various objections can be grouped under this heading; they all attempt to refute Sola Scriptura by means of an internal logical flaw.[10] Some Roman Catholic opponents argue that Sola Scriptura is unreasonable because (1) it demands a closed canon, but Scripture never specifies what books are actually included in that canon, and/or (2) it requires self-authentication, but as Hahn contends, "no book can authenticate its own inspired status." [11]
Both arguments assume that God cannot or does not authenticate His own Word, apart from some human testimony. This is false as per Hebrews 6:13, but it also belies a very deficient view of God in that, though He is supposedly all sovereign, he requires human testimony to confirm His Word. On a view which better acknowledges the sovereign authority of God, the church did not determine what to include in the canon; it merely recognized the canon inherent in God's Word from the start. By analogy, John the Baptist did not make Jesus the Christ by testifying to Him; he merely recognized Christ's glorious status, and the church later recognized the Shepherd speaking to His people in the Scriptures (John 10:4,16). Moreover, those who raise this objection have yet to demonstrate how their claims for the authority of the church withstand the same objection.[12] Therefore, this general objection does not tell against Sola Scriptura at all.

D. Sola Scriptura is Impractical
A final Roman Catholic objection is the claim that Sola Scriptura is false because it leads to denominational anarchy: "private interpretation leads to denominationalism. Let five hundred people interpret the Bible without Church authority and there will soon be five hundred denominations. But [this] is an intolerable scandal by Scriptural standards (cf. Jn. 17: 20-23 and I Cor. 1:10-17)." [13]
First, this objection assumes, as many Roman Catholic arguments do, that Biblical unity is identical to institutional unity, as opposed to unity in truth. The Roman Catholic assumption about unity implies that we would be in a superior situation even if we had, for example, one corrupt church, and a hundred fruitful denominations agreeing in doctrine. Secondly, it assumes that the mere exercise of "church authority" genuinely resolves doctrinal differences instead of just judiciously obliterating them. Thirdly, and most importantly, it fails simply because it begs-the-question by assuming the falsity of Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura simply precludes the type of institution assumed by the objection. If Sola Scriptura is indeed God's design for His people, then this objection attacks God's plan itself. Hence, this objection should be jettisoned.

In all, then, none of these objections succeeds. They each fall prey to simple fallacies. Though I believe I have met my burden by providing arguments which demonstrate that Sola Scriptura is the teaching and practice of the Old and New Testaments, my next step might be to close out my case by going on to refute Catholic arguments for the claim that God has provided an infallible interpreter to explicate His Word to His people. But such arguments are Mr. Matatics' burden, and so I will await his response for that opportunity.[14]


[1 ] H.J. Schroeder (trans.), Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, English Translation (Rockford, Il: Tan Books and Publishers, 1978), Fourth Session [p.19]. The appeal to Trent is no mistake. Our entire debate simply ignores liberal Roman Catholic theology, since it has largely removed itself from such concerns. Conservative Roman Catholics gladly and actively defend Trent and other such traditions, though many Protestants glibly assume that no modern Catholics defend "old" Catholicism.
[2 ] This manner of framing the question in terms of norm instead of source is also the way Roman Catholic apologist Karl Keating discusses the issue (Catholicism and Fundamentalism, [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988], p. 134), though his remarks are otherwise quite inaccurate (e.g., "Anything extraneous to the Bible is simply wrong...." or "The whole of Christian truth is found within its pages" Ibid.).

[3 ] Schroeder, Council of Trent, p. 17.

[4 ] Vatican II, Dei Verbum, 9.

[5 ] For example, Roman Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft claims, "the Catholic Church does not claim to be divinely inspired to add any new doctrines, only divinely protected to preserve and interpret the old ones, the deposit of faith." (Fundamentals of the Faith (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), p. 275.

[6 ] e.g. Keating, Catholicism, p. 136; Kreeft, Fundamentals, p. 275; Scott Hahn in "The Authority/Justification Debate, Scott Hahn vs. Robert Knudsen" (Catholic Answers, P.O. Box 17181, San Diego, CA 92117). Interestingly, Hahn claims that even after several years of struggle he could not find an answer to the question, `Where does Scripture teach Sola Scriptura?' "I even called two or three of my seminary professors...but I didn't come up with a satisfying answer."

[7 ] Kreeft, Ibid.

[8 ] Hahn, "Authority Debate."

[9 ] cf. Oberman, H., The Harvest of Medieval Theology, (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1963); Turretin, F., The Doctrine of Scripture; Locus II of Institutio of Theologiae Elencticae, Beardslee, J. (ed. & trans.), (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981); Chemnitz, M., Examination of the Council of Trent, Pt. I, Kramer, F. (trans.), (Missouri: Concordia Publ. House, 1971).

[10 ] Some of the objectors appear confused on this point. For example, Kreeft claims that Sola Scriptura is self-contradictory but in fact he only argues that the doctrine is unjustified, not internally contradictory (Kreeft, Fundamentals, p.275). Similarly, Hahn claims that the doctrine is "illogical" but doesn't produce a logical problem inherent in it; instead he raises an epistemological question regarding the formation of the canon. Moreover, some of the objections that could be placed in this category are simply too far from the mark to consider seriously. For example, Marshner ("The Development of Doctrine," Reasons for Hope, [Virginia: Christendom College Press] pp. 177-196) offers a logically detailed argument to refute the alleged Protestant claim that Scripture presents a set of dogmas which have no further implications. Since Protestants, especially in the Westminster Confession tradition, explicitly affirm the very opposite, Marshner's logical detail is all built upon a straw man.

[11 ] Hahn, "Authority Debate."

[12 ] Keating (Catholicism, p. 125ff,) interestingly attempts to offer a non-circular argument to this effect by using a Montgomery/Evidentialist line of reasoning, but he begs-the-question by assuming the truth not only of theism but of Roman Catholicism as well by taking the Scriptures as "purely historical material" and "[f]rom that we conclude an infallible church was founded."

[13 ] Kreeft, Fundamentals, Ibid.

[14 ] My thanks to David Hagopian and Doug Wilson for comments on an earlier version of this essay.

Matatics: The Word of God is the Supreme Norm, but According to Scripture Itslef, God's Word is Not Entirely Contained Within Scripture Alone
When a widower friend remarried shortly after the death of a wife with whom he'd been very unhappy, Samuel Johnson described it as "the triumph of hope over experience."
I can relate. Whenever I've asked evangelicals to defend the notion of Sola Scriptura, my experience has been one of unremitting disappointment. With wearisome predictability the same Protestant pearls are flung before this sacerdotalist swine, the same logically-flawed, historically-uninformed, and exegetically-untenable arguments. Yet hope springs eternal, as Pope would say,[1] and when Doug Jones asked me to debate Sola Scriptura within the pages of Antithesis, hope arose, phoenix-like, from the ashes of my dialogic disillusionment. Now, at last, I'd hear a daunting defense of this doctrine at the hands of an advocate of Reformed theology!

I approached Antithesis with affection, for its point of view was, poignantly, once my own.[2] As a Presbyterian I was particularly fond of the formal principle of the Reformation,[3] and privileged to have as professors and (in some cases) colleagues such stalwarts of Sola Scriptura as J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, Roger Nicole, John Gerstner, James Montgomery Boice, and Gordon Clark. I looked to these men as models; I worshiped the water they walked on. They impressed upon me that Scripture must always be submitted to a priori, however unlooked-for or unsettling the results.

Ironically, this was borne out when I went so far as to weigh in the Biblical balance the "Bible only" doctrine itself, only to find it wanting. While pursuing a Ph.D. in Biblical Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary, I came to the unexpected conclusion that Sola Scriptura was utterly unscriptural. Becoming persuaded other Protestant principles were unbiblical, too, I ultimately embraced the ancient understanding of the Christian faith known as Catholicism.

So I have a firsthand familiarity with Mr. Jones's mindset. I once believed just as he does and advanced the same arguments as he. Debating him is rather like debating my own ghost, from my own Protestant past.

I prefer being positive to being negative. Rather than engage in an elaborate dissection of Mr. Jones's essay, I'll offer instead a Biblical case against Sola Scriptura, in contrast to his Biblical case for the concept, and allow the reader to weigh their relative merits. Mr. Jones has rightly reminded us that "the Word of God" must never be nullified by "the traditions of men" (Mt 15:1-9). That is exactly why the Catholic Church pronounced a pastoral warning against the "tradition of men" known as Sola Scriptura, a tradition found neither in Scripture nor in the first nearly 1400 years of Christian teaching. Sola scriptura contradicts the clear teaching of God's Word that there exists, alongside Sacred Scripture, a divine Tradition and a Teaching Authority (the Magisterium of the Church) which must equally be heeded and without which Scripture is inevitably misinterpreted. To meet Mr. Jones on his own ground, I shall demonstrate these truths from Scripture alone.

The Biblical Case Against Sola Scriptura
1. The Biblical doctrine of Scripture is a subset of the larger doctrine of revelation. Scripture, in other words, is but part of the entire process of divine disclosure.
2. This process was never restricted to writing, but was initially and even primarily one of speaking. Speaking is how the Lord created, and entered into covenant with, the cosmos and communicated his covenant to the pre-Mosaic patriarchs (Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc.). The later development of providing a written document, therefore, while valuable, was no sine qua non of a covenant, no necessary instrument to its implementation or administration.

3. So far as we can tell, the command to write down God's words first came to Moses.[4] Alongside the production of these Scriptures, however, God continued to speak to men and through men (prophets) in an oral fashion. Some of these prophets, like Moses, recorded their oracles in written form;[5] others did not.[6] Even among those prophets who did author inspired books, we're not told they wrote down everything they ever uttered. [7] In every case, however, their unwritten word was as fully inspired, authoritative, and efficacious as the written word.[8]

4. When it came time for God to reveal himself definitively, he did so, not in the written words of a book, but in the spoken words of a person, the incarnate Second Person of the eternal Trinity.[9] Christ, the Word made flesh, the fullest revelation of God,[10] carried out his revelatory mission in an exclusively oral form,[11] without writing a single word.[12]

5. When it came time for Jesus to ensure his Word would continue in the world after his departure, he did so, not by writing a book, but by doing exactly what his Father had done, "because whatever the Father does the Son also does."[13] The Father had selected a Person, endowed him with the Spirit (i.e. inspiration), invested him with full teaching authority, and sent him forth to preach a living, spoken Word in which men would hear God directly speaking to them. Christ therefore did the same, only with twelve persons: the apostles.[14]

6. Notice that Christ commanded them to "go forth and preach" (see previous footnote); there is no explicit command to "go forth and write." The former was necessary to the accomplishment of their mission; the latter was not, which explains the following stumbling blocks to Sola Scriptura:

a) Most of the apostles, like their Lord before them, never wrote a word, so far as we know.

b) Those who did (e.g. John) didn't write down everything they knew and taught.[15]

c) Even the apostle Paul, who wrote more than all the others, preached and taught far more than he ever wrote, as the book of Acts alone makes clear.[16]

d) Even in his writings, Paul wasn't always as explicit as we'd like,[17] because he could presuppose on the part of his readers a familiarity with his previous oral instruction, which spelled things out more fully. The result for us is that "his letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction."[18]

For the vast majority of the apostles' disciples, then, the "Word of God" was largely an oral entity; faith came by hearing it.[19] The apostles were conscious of possessing inspired, infallible, teaching authority not just, or even primarily, when they wrote,[20] but primarily when they preached.[21]

7. Scripture nowhere states that all the oral tradition--or even all the oral tradition God intended to preserve--would eventually become Scripture. The idea that inscripturation is the only way to permanently preserve revealed truth is a Protestant presupposition without the slightest scrap of scriptural warrant.

8. Instead, the Scriptures command us to pass on not only the apostolic Scriptures, but also the equally-inspired apostolic tradition which was not written down.[22] This command wasn't qualified by any indication that the transmission of oral tradition was only temporary until the last Scripture was written or the canon completed. Given the standing command, the burden of proof is clearly on Mr. Jones to show us why this command is no longer in force.[23 ] Unless he can provide this proof, Sola Scriptura (the notion that the Word of God has come down to us today only in the written Scriptures) appears to be not only a gratuitous assumption, but an unbiblical and even antibiblical idea.

9. Note how the apostles ensured their teaching would continue after them: not by feverishly scribbling it all down, under the mistaken impression that only in this way could God preserve the purity of their doctrine. Instead, they did what the Father had done with Christ and what Christ had done with them: they appointed personal successors (the bishops), entrusted to them the apostolic doctrines, and invested them with full authority to teach,[24 ] including a special endowment of the Spirit.[25]

These successors functioned as guardians of the faith, to exclude misunderstanding and heresy and preserve doctrinal purity and unity. Given the difficulty of much of Scripture, people need such a sure guide.[26] As these apostolic successors (collectively known as the Magisterium of the Church) maintain fidelity to the Faith entrusted to them and solidarity with one another, especially with the successor to Peter, who was given special privileges,[27] they provide the Church with its needed character of infallibility. If the Church could officially teach heresy, how could it be the pillar and foundation of the truth, a house built upon a rock which cannot fall, a Church against which the gates of hell cannot prevail?[28]

Having laid out my case, let me briefly suggest a few problems in Mr. Jones's own, beginning with the general principles he propounds in his prolegomenary paragraphs, and then moving on to his specific examples.

The Case of the Begged Question
To the question, "Does Scripture teach Sola Scriptura?" Mr. Jones answers, "Scripture teaches that the Word of God is the supreme norm" [emphasis mine]. This is hardly fair. The Roman Catholic, no less than the Reformed Christian, affirms the Word of God as our supreme norm. For Advocate One to arrogate this assertion to himself, as though Advocate Two denies it, is unfair and prejudicial. What the Catholic denies is that "Scripture alone is the supreme norm." He rejects the Protestant assumption that the concepts "Word of God" and "Scripture" are always interchangeable. Mr. Jones must demonstrate the identity of these terms, not assume it a priori, or he is simply begging the question.
The Case of the Exotic Equivocation
Mr. Jones might defend himself from the charge of question-begging by pointing out that he later stated: "When Protestants speak of `Scriptura' we use it synonymously with such designations as `God's Word' (whether oral or written)...the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is the contention that the Word of God (oral or written) is the sole and supreme norm for Biblical faith" [emphasis mine]. The idea was, I suppose, by this definition to steal the Catholic's thunder.
Unfortunately, neither Latin, English, nor any of his proffered proof texts supports this idiosyncratic sense of the word scriptura, which means something written. Mr. Jones can thus avoid being guilty of one logical fallacy (begging the question) only by becoming guilty of another (equivocation[29] ). Besides, redefining the term is not only unwarranted, but worthless for the purposes of the debate, since it obliterates the distinction between the Catholic and Protestant view. If scriptura includes oral as well as written teaching, then there is nothing left to argue about: Catholics can now affirm Sola Scriptura too!

Return of the Begged Question (Co-Starring Ipse Dixit)
Mr. Jones can avoid the charge of equivocation by claiming that he only means to acknowledge the existence of oral tradition in an earlier stage of redemptive history, prior to the closing of the canon, not as something we still have access to today. He seems to have this in mind when he states, "Sola Scriptura incorporates the fact that, as a general pattern, God reveals His Word orally and temporarily through prophets and apostles and then subsequently inscripturates His Word" [emphasis mine].
Since the burden of proof is always on the one who asserts, Mr. Jones surely cannot expect anyone to accept this ipse dixit without a single scriptural statement in substantiation, especially since this is the very issue in question: Does the Word of God still come down to us apart from Scripture? Unfortunately he produces no prooftext showing that after an oracle was reduced to writing, God prohibited its continued transmission in oral form. No such prooftext, in fact, exists.

Mr. Jones could infer a divine prohibition, or at least a divine disinterest in providentially preserving unwritten tradition, by assuming (which I think is what he does) that no unwritten oral teachings of prophets or apostles have in fact survived. But not only is this another form of begging the question, how would he prove this (as opposed to just assuming it)? To prove a negative such as "No Word of God still survives in only oral form" is notoriously difficult. Some might even say it requires omniscience--either one's own, or God's, supplied in some scriptural prooftext. But again, no such prooftext exists. He does have some terribly inconvenient texts which seem to say that none of God's words would be lost,[30] and they (darn it) don't restrict this to the written words, or even say that all the oral ones will be preserved precisely by being written down.

Revenge of the Son of Begged Question
Still another form in which the begged question returns yet again (you just can't keep a good begged question down!) is in the false antithesis Mr. Jones indulges in at the outset of his section on the Old Testament, in which, he says, "the sole and supreme norm invoked is God's Word, apart from secondary interpreters, explications, or `infallible' institutions."
He assumes, in other words, that anything falling into any of these categories by definition could not be part of God's Word, but must be extrinsic to it. But even if God's Word were understood to mean Scripture alone he couldn't exclude these types of material. The Bible itself is full, in its later books, of secondary interpreters and explications of its earlier materials. And as for an infallible institution, if the office of inspired prophet wasn't, I don't know what was.

The Case of the Missing Waterfall
What, finally, of Mr. Jones's claim that the Biblical case for Sola Scriptura "overwhelms one like a waterfall"? I know no such Niagara, but patiently I permitted Captain Jones to pilot his tour-giving tugboat[31] around the foot of these furtive falls, wondering whether this Calvinistic cataract would come clearly into view.
The first floodgates from which Sola Scriptura streams forth, according to Mr. Jones, are found in the Garden of Eden, where "we find Sola Scriptura at the very beginning of redemptive history." We have already seen, though, that there was no Scripture during the patriarchal period. Adam and Eve, Noah, and Abraham can therefore hardly serve as examples of Sola Scriptura, only of nulla scriptura.

If by Sola Scriptura Mr. Jones means absence of any magisterium, again he's wrong. Adam, who was prophet as well as priest and king, was certainly a "secondary interpreter" of God's Word[32] to his wife (who hadn't heard, for one thing, God's original prohibition of the tree of knowledge[33] ), his children, and subsequent generations.

So was Noah: God communicated with him directly,[34 ] and he in turn functioned as prophet to his contemporaries as well as his descendants.[35] Mr. Jones's verdict on the Noahic period that "throughout, the sole standard was God's unmediated Word," therefore seems a trifle off the mark.

Abraham is also "a most striking example" (Mr. Jones's words)--not of Sola Scriptura, alas, but of the role of covenant head as mediator of the Word to the community. How, for example, did Isaac know he was fulfilling God's will in allowing himself to be bound and laid on the altar? He had neither Scripture to consult nor personal oracle addressed to him. How did he hear God's Word? He asked his father. [36]

Even when we get to Moses and the era of covenant inscripturation, we cannot claim Sola Scriptura, because the written word never entirely supplanted the oral. Mr. Jones says that "the priests themselves were directed to heed the (now written) Word of God alone," but the very book of Leviticus he presumes functioned as their Sola Scriptura is filled with statements devastating to his theory.[37]

He also presents another false antithesis here between "God's law" and "ecclesiastical or priestly tradition." The historical fact is that subsequent generations of priests and Levites learned the requirements of their sacerdotal office from their predecessors by oral instruction, not by each possessing his own personal copy of the Bible and studying it in a Sola Scriptura fashion according to his own private interpretation. "Priestly tradition" in fact mediated the Scriptures, as well as their meaning.[38]

The well-known prohibitions of Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32, and 13:1-4, which Mr. Jones cites next, merely prohibited tampering with the text of Scripture;[39] they neither precluded subsequent revelation (either oral or written),[40] nor forbade the continued transmission of God's Word in oral form. On the contrary, Deuteronomy commanded the Israelites to orally pass on God's laws.[41]

These same accusations of question-begging, equivocation, false antithesis, absence of proof, and basic failure to factor in the Catholic counterargument can be levelled at Mr. Jones's arguments drawn from the wisdom and prophetic literature; there is no need to go ad nauseam through each one. Furthermore, half of his arguments backfire on him (e.g. I could use Jeremiah 31:31 to exclude from the New Covenant not just Sacred Tradition, but Scripture as well)!

The same goes for his NT case, which doesn't deal with the kind of data I explored in depth in my case above. The assertion that the canon was closed at the time of Christ, even if true, is only relevant if you assume that this entailed the extinction of any inspired oral tradition. The assertion that the NT assumes OT standards is fruitless, since we have already seen that those standards don't help the advocate of Sola Scriptura. From NT references to the authority of OT Scripture[42] it's a non sequitur to infer that only the Scripture in question possesses such authority.[43] The assertion that NT and OT "direct us only to the Word of God as the supreme norm" [emphasis mine], is worthless unless we grant him the same old question-begging assumption that "Word of God = Scripture." All the prohibitions against adding to the Word of God, preaching another gospel, "secondary explications or traditions" are equally question-begging, for the reasons already articulated above. Nowhere does he produce a single verse that positively teaches that at any point in redemptive history, oral tradition ceased to be a vehicle for the transmission of revealed truth. Nor does he offer any refutation of the Catholic Church's Biblical case for an infallible magisterium, or an alternative explanation of just what Jesus meant in Matthew 16:17-19, or Paul in the passages from the Pastorals cited above, that would hold water for five minutes in the face of the self-evident fallibility and confessional chaos and relativism endemic to Protestantism.

And so, speaking of water, I at least find no Niagara. A more accurate aquatic analogy for what we do find might be the brook Kerith during the drought (1 Ki 17:1-7), for the torrent of texts promised by Mr. Jones at the outset of his arguments has slowed to a trickle and turned at last to a dried-up, dusty gulch. Perhaps that boat should be rechristened, The Maid of the Missed, since I've yet to see the falls.

There are other arguments I've made in the past against Sola Scriptura--arguments Mr. Jones has heard me make, and has alluded to himself: that it is unreasonable, unhistorical, unworkable, and unreal. I intend to make these arguments in my second piece. But the most damning argument of all, given the doctrine itself, is the fact that Sola Scriptura is unscriptural.


[1 ] Forgive the subliminal advertisement for papal pronouncements.
[2 ] If I might be permitted a Paul-like plugging of my pedigree, I too was circumcised (by the new birth) on the eight day, of the people of Protestantism, of the tribe of Evangelicalism, a Calvinist of Calvinists; in regard to the law, a theonomist; as for zeal, persecuting the [Roman Catholic] Church; as to reconstructionist righteousness and Van Tilian virtue, flawless (Phil. 3:5-6 [New Ironic Version]).

[3 ] The Reformers referred to sola scriptura and sola fide as the formal and material principles of the Reformation, respectively, employing a classic Aristotelian and medieval distinction. They meant sola fide was the "stuff" or "matter" of the Christian message, while sola scriptura provided its parameters, or "form." Catholicism rejects both principles as well-intentioned but misguided misunderstandings of what Scripture teaches on these two topics. In my own experience, when, upon deeper study, Scripture, Samson-like, leaned against these two principal pillars, the palace of Protestantism came crashing down.

[4 ] Ex. 24:4; 34:27; Num. 33:2; Dt. 31:9, 24.

[5 ] Jeremiah, for example (Jer. 30:2; 36:2,4).

[6 ] Elijah and Elisha, for example.

[7 ] Is the one oracle preserved in the brief (21 verses long) book of Obadiah, for example, the only inspired thing he ever uttered in his life? On the contrary, these prophets exercised a far broader ministry than can be gleaned from the brief vignettes and select oracles recorded. This holds true for the OT as a whole; doubtless there were other times God spoke to Adam, the patriarchs, Moses, which were not included in the highly abridged accounts we have. If the NT didn't need to provide a complete record of all that the incarnate Son of God did and taught (Jn. 20:31; 21:25), there's even less reason to require such encyclopedic comprehensiveness of the OT; if "the world couldn't contain the books," had everything been recorded that Christ did and said during the relatively brief span of three years, this would be true a fortiori of the words and deeds of the Lord during the millennia spanned by the OT.

[8 ] Is. 40:8; 55:10-11; Jer. 1:9-10; 5:14; 23:28-29; Hos. 6:5.

[9 ] Heb. 1:1-2.

[10 ] Col. 1:19; 2:3, 9, 10; cf. Jn. 1:14-18.

[11 ] Jn. 3:34; 7:16-18; 8:26, 28, 38; 12: 48-50; 14:10, 24; 17:8, 14; cf. Mt. 7:24, 28-29.

[12 ] Except whatever he wrote on the ground in John 8:6, 8.

[13 ] Jn. 5:19.

[14 ] Consider the following three paradigmatic passages. In Matthew 10 Christ selects and sends forth the apostles to preach (v.7); their words were efficacious in bringing about salvation or damnation (vv. 12-14; cf. 16:19; 18:18) and were in fact inspired (vv. 19-20), so that whoever received the apostles was actually receiving the Christ who had sent them, just as in receiving Christ they were receiving the One who had sent him (v.40; cf. Lk. 10:16).

Mk. 16:15-20 makes the same points: Christ commands them to "go forth and preach;" their preaching would be efficacious to their listeners salvation or damnation (v. 16); their preaching was in fact inspired (v. 20).

Jn. 20:21-23 is similar: Christ sends forth the apostles as the Father had sent him forth (v. 21), and inspires them with the Holy Spirit (v. 22), making their words supernaturally efficacious (v. 23; cf. Jn. 13:20; 14:16-17; 15:26-27; 16:1, 12-15; 17:18).

[15 ] Jn. 20:30; 21:25; II Jn. 12; III Jn. 13-14.

[16 ] For example, Paul spent three years in Ephesus teaching "day and night," with the result that he could leave "innocent of the blood of all men" because he had proclaimed to them "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 2):26-31). His six-page letter to the Ephesians, which we have in the NT, could hardly contain a hundreth of all he had imparted to them in oral form. (Note, too, that in Acts 20:35 Paul quotes a saying of Jesus that was not recorded in the gospels [technically known as an agraphon ]; doubtless he knew of others; cf. Mt. 24:35.)

[17 ] II Thess. 2:5-6 and I Cor. 15:29 come to mind as two tantalizing examples for the modern reader.

[18 ] II Pet. 3:16.

[19 ] Rom. 10:17.

[20 ] Though they were conscious of it there: see, e.g. I Cor. 14:37; Eph. 3:3-5; II Pet. 3:15-16.

[21 ] See, e.g., I Cor. 2:13, 16; Gal. 1:8-12; I Thess. 2:13; 4:2; I Pet. 1:23-25.

[22 ] II Thess. 2:15. Texts (Mt. 15:1-9; Col. 2:8) which condemn mere "human traditions which men devise to contradict God's Word (oral and written) cannot serve as prooftexts for sola scriptura, then. The word "Tradition" (Gk, paradosis ) is also used in a positive sense to refer to God's Word as taught by the apostles and passed on, whether in written or oral form (I Cor. 11:2; II Thess. 2:15; 3:6). The corresponding verb, paradidomi, is used in this sense also (I Cor. 11:23; 15:3; II Pet. 2:21; Jude 3).

[23 ] I find the inconsistency rather amusing that Jones, who argues that even OT commands are still in force unless specifically revoked in the NT, here argues that a NT command (II Thess. 2:15) is no longer in force, though it is nowhere revoked!

[24] The apostles addressed these successors as their "true sons in the faith" (I Tim. 1:2, 18; II Tim. 1:2; 2;1; Tit. 1:4; cf. I Cor. 4:17; Phil. 2:22), since the succession to office was conceived of as dynastic succession and filial inheritance. To these successors the apostles passed on their full teaching in oral form, as a rule of faith (II Tim. 1:13-14; 2:2; cf. the "untrustworthy sayings" listed in I Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; II Tim. 2:11; Tit. 3:8). But they also passed on their teaching authority as well (I Tim. 1:3; 4:6, 11-16). This succession was transacted in an official ceremony (II Tim. 1:6; cf. I Tim. 1:18, 4:14).

[25 ] This endowment was not inspiration, however. This is a significant difference between the apostles and their successors. The apostles (like Christ before them) had been directly inspired and therefore infallible, and their ability to work miracles was God's supernatural yet verifiable attestation to the divine origin and character of their doctrine (Mk. 16:20; II Cor. 12:12; cf. Jn. 3:2; 10:38; 14:10-11; Acts 2:22). Since the apostles passed on to their individual successors their teaching authority but not their gift of inspiration (Catholics agree with Reformed Christians that this gift, and the revelation of new truth it made possible, ceased with the death of the apostles), their successors could not teach new doctrines. There is thus and emphasis upon the successor (indeed, any church officer; I Tim. 3:9-10) being faithful (I Tim. 4:15-16; 5:21; 6:14; II Tim. 1:13-14; 3:14; Tit. 1:9; 2:1) to what the apostle had publicly charged him to hold fast to in the presence of many witnesses (II Tim. 2:2; cf. I Cor. 4:17).

[26 ] Acts 8:30-31; II Pet. 3:16.

[27 ] Matthew 16: 13-19 shows that when there was controversy among Jesus's followers as to who Jesus was, God sovereignly chose Simon to utter the inspired verdict, the authoritative creed, the normative Christological confession. Based on this supernatural revelation made directly to Simon, and through him to the others, Jesus identifies Simon as the Rock, i.e. the eben shetthiyeh (the primal "foundation stone") from which, according to rabbinic tradition, the beam of light burst forth to dispel the darkness. Go then threw this rock over the mouth of the abyss ("the gates of Sheol") though which the waters of chaos were gushing to engulf the world. As the waters abated, upon this rock, the high point of the earth atop the holy mountain, God proceeded to build the Garden of Eden sanctuary in which Adam and Eve would worship him. This foundation stone reappears significantly in Scripture (Gen. 28:11-22), often as a significant threshing floor (e.g. Gen. 50:10; II Sam. 6:6; 24:15-25; I Chron. 21:14-30; cf. Ruth 3:2-14; I Kings 22:10) over which the Solomonic temple is eventually erected (I Chron. 22:1; II Chron. 3:1). In Isaiah 51:1, Abraham is described in terms of this rock, in that the living temple of Israel was built upon him. Jesus thus declares his intention to build this New Covenant Temple upon Simon, as upon a new Abraham, a new patriarch of father figure to the Church.

The language of the keys in Mt. 16:19 show Jesus also has in mind the high office of chief steward of the house of David. Isaiah 22:15-25 (whose language is borrowed from the office's inaugural ceremony), corroborated by other biblical and historical data, demonstrates that the chief steward wore priest-like vestments, had a patriarchal status, oversaw as prime minister the king's other ministers, possessed plenipotentiary power from the king to administer the affairs of the palace and the kingdom as vicar or viceregent, and possessed his office as a see with dynastic succession, just like the king's. Jesus, the Son of David, thus indicates that the Church, as the New Covenant form of Davidic kingdom, still requires a chief steward (Peter and his successors; here the succession, in keeping with the whole tenor of the New Covenant, is spiritual, not physical; cf. Paul's greetings to Timothy and Titus, mentioned above).

Other passages (e.g. Lk. 22:31-32; Jn. 21:15-19; Gal. 1:18) shed further light upon this Petrine primacy, but we cannot go into this issue here -- nor do we need to. The debate is on whether Scripture teaches sola scriptura, and the burden of proof is on Mr. Jones (since he takes the affirmative) to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that it does; if he cannot do so, he loses, whether or not I can make a convincing case for the papacy, or any other aspect of the Catholic alternative to sola scriptura.

[28 ] I Tim. 3:15; Mt. 7:24-25; 16:18.

[29 ] I use the term, of course, in its logical, not moral sense.

[30 ] Is. 40:8; Mt. 24:35, among others.

[31 ] Like The Maid of the Mist, at the real Niagara Falls.

[32 ] And a "supernatural" one before the Fall at least (his intellect being infused with grace).

[33 ] Gen. 2:16-17.

[34 ] e.g., Gen. 6:13; 7:1; 8:16. God apparently does not address Noah's sons directly until after the flood (Gen. 9:1,8).

[35 ] II Pet. 2:5; Gen. 9: 25-27.

[36 ] Gen. 22:7-8. Notice what Gen. 18:19 says, too.

[37 ] "The Lord said to Moses, `Say to Aaron and his sons: `These are the regulations'...Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the Israelites and say to them: `This is what the LORD has commanded'...Say to them...Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them...Say to Aaron...Tell Aaron and his sons...Say to them...Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the Israelites and say to them...'" (Lev. 6:25; 17:2,8; 21:1,16; 22:2-3, 18; cf. 1:1-2; 4:2; 7:23, 29; 11:2; 12:2; 15:2: 19:2; 20:2; 23:2, 34; 25:2, 20; 27:2).

[38 ] See II Chron. 15:3.

[39 ] Cf. Rev. 22:18-19, another oft-cited Protestant "prooftext" which has no more relevance to the issue of oral tradition than do the verses in Deuteronomy.

[40 ] If they did, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, et al, were all false prophets!

[41 ] Dt. 4:10; 6:7.

[42] Mt. 5:18; 22:29; Lk. 16:16-17; Jn. 10:35; II Tim. 3:16-17; II Pet. 2:19.

[43 ] And, as Newman pointed out long ago, if these texts prove the sufficiency of the Scripture in question, and exclude all else as unnecessary and unauthoritative, then they prove the sufficiency of the OT, and exclude as necessary or authoritative, not only Sacred Tradition, but the NT as well. This is the epistemological equivalent of cutting of one's head to cure a nosebleed.

Jones Responds
Experience is a strange animal. Some animals are big and hairy. Big and hairy animals tend to follow habitual patterns of behavior and miss out on the finer points of life. My concern is not with Mr. Matatics' person but his appeal to his experience. As Senator Bentsen might say, "I know big and hairy animals, and Mr. Matatics is no big and hairy animal." My thought is that for all of Mr. Matatics' professed disillusionment with Protestant arguments, we should not necessarily follow his lead and infer that the arguments for Sola Scriptura are unsound or even weak. His experience, like a big and hairy animal, might have trapped him in patterns of thought which only serve to confirm his suspicions against rather obvious matters. Hence, experience, like big and hairy animals, leaves unmanageable messes all over the place.
Nevertheless, since Mr. Matatics has seen fit to rehearse some of his personal experience to buttress his case, he can't complain if I dispute that background. My overriding response to Mr. Matatics' entire essay is that he so misunderstands Sola Scriptura that I find it hard to be persuaded of his "pedigree" that he was "of the people of Protestantism, of the tribe of Evangelicalism, a Calvinist of Calvinists." For example, how could a "Calvinist of Calvinists" genuinely maintain that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura implies that oral revelation was not normative prior to inscripturation? I tried to guard him from this error, but since I misplaced my collection of papal pronouncements, my warnings were apparently of no effect. In my previous essay, I explained that "no advocate of Sola Scriptura would claim, for example, that the immediate hearers of Isaiah's pronouncements were free to disregard his prophetic revelations simply because he had not written them down. This would be a silly understanding of Sola Scriptura." Yet this is the view Mr. Matatics insists on attacking. I can readily join him in that cause, though I think we might better spend our time at the movies, since no Protestant holds that view, except apparently Mr. Matatics prior to his conversion. For his sake, I genuinely hope his misconception of Sola Scriptura was not instrumental in his conversion.

Nine Steps to Maybe Scriptura
In his opening case, Mr. Matatics offers nine steps against Sola Scriptura. Evidently, these steps are not distinct arguments against the doctrine, since some are mere explanations and others are reassertions of aspects of my case for Sola Scriptura (and thus not contrary to my case). In fact, none of Mr. Matatics' "case against" Sola Scriptura contradicts my thesis, though he comes closer in the eighth step, which ironically says that I must fill in some of his argument!
Accordingly, we should take Mr. Matatics' case against Sola Scriptura as evidence of my claim above regarding his basic misconception of the doctrine, since it assumes a bizarre view common to Roman Catholic apologists (though really inexcusable in this case) that Sola Scriptura precludes all forms of oral revelation.

Despite the strange fact that his nine steps don't contradict my case, Mr. Matatics goes on to claim that these steps demonstrate that "Sola Scriptura contradicts the clear teaching of God's Word that there exists, alongside Scripture, a divine Tradition and a Teaching Authority (the Magisterium of the Church) which must be equally heeded and without which Scripture is inevitably misinterpreted." For the sake of easy reference, I'll call this the "Matatics Magisterium" conclusion. Since this conclusion is much bolder than his more amenable nine steps, let's evaluate the steps in turn so that I won't be accused of shirking my duty.

1. Mr. Matatics asserts that the doctrine of Scripture is a subset of the doctrine of revelation. All advocates of Sola Scriptura hold this view as well. It alone obviously doesn't entail the Matatics Magisterium conclusion.

2. Mr. Matatics argues that the process of revelation was initially and primarily one of speaking and from that infers that the development of a written document was not necessary. Again, I argued for the premise (not the inference) in my opening essay; it doesn't count against Sola Scriptura and why should it? His inference, though, is obviously fallacious. God's speaking only makes Scripture unnecessary in the trivial sense that He could have used holograms to record His revelation if He so chose, but Mr. Matatics' inference needs more content than this. God, in His wisdom, deemed inscripturation necessary, and so it becomes so (Ex. 17:14; 24:4; 34:1; Is. 30:8; 34:16; Jer. 25:13; 30:2; 36:1-32). Does Mr. Matatics deny this necessity? Moreover, this step doesn't entail the Matatics Magisterium conclusion.

3. Mr. Matatics again reiterates claims I made in defense of Sola Scriptura regarding oral revelation of the prophets. Yet, a contradiction arises only if we mistakenly take Sola Scriptura to somehow rule out all oral revelation. Moreover, this step doesn't entail the Matatics Magisterium conclusion.

4. Mr. Matatics argues that God definitively revealed Himself in a person, Christ, and not the words of a book. Where is the contradiction with Sola Scriptura? All agree that the incarnation is the glorious event of history, but it doesn't support the false dichotomy Mr. Matatics draws between the words of a book and those of a person. This Saussurean-like denigration of the written word is particularly disturbing for those of us Protestants following Peter's lead (II Pet. 1:20) who teaches that the person of the Holy Spirit speaks in Scripture. And, nevertheless, where is the support for the Matatics Magisterium conclusion?

5. Mr. Matatics maintains that Christ, in accord with John 5:19 ("whatever the Father does the Son also does"), also sends the apostles as a "living, spoken word" so that "men could hear God directly speaking."

First, this alone also doesn't tell against Sola Scriptura, unless one mistakenly assumes Sola Scriptura precludes the work of Christ.

Second, Matatics again assumes that Scripture is a collection of dead symbols, yet every Protestant is familiar with Hebrews 4:10 -- "the word of God [oral or written] is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword." A living person does actively speak to us in Scripture.

Third, in order for Mr. Matatics' argument to carry any weight, we need a very literal understanding of John 5:19, but if we do so, then embarrassments arise. For example, Mr. Matatics would also have to maintain that when Christ walked on water (Jn. 6:19), He was imitating the Father who was walking on water. Similarly, we would have to believe that when Christ allowed Mary to pour ointment on His feet (Lk. 7:38,39) the Father was doing the same thing in heaven.[1] But these are absurd, and hence, Mr. Matatics' interpretation is false.

Fourth, this step doesn't entail the Matatics Magisterium conclusion.

6. In this step, Mr. Matatics claims that Christ commanded the apostles to preach, not to write, and then lists several "stumbling blocks," which point to the fact that not all oral revelation was inscripturated.

First, the initial claim is a fallacious argument from silence.

Second, it is strange for someone who claims that much revelation was left unwritten to make the universal generalization that "there is no explicit command to `go and write.'" How could he know such a statement was not said, given his outlook?

Third, the claim is irrelevant given the Protestant understanding of Sola Scriptura. There are indeed many things that the Lord, in His perfect wisdom, did not choose to inscripturate. So what? Whatever God gave chose to inscripturate is sufficient (II Pet. 1:2f; II Tim. 3:16,17; cf. Heb. 1:1-3; 2:1-4).

Fourth, this step doesn't entail the Matatics Magisterium conclusion.

One final point. Many Roman Catholic apologists use this appeal to the unwritten revelation which "the world itself would not contain the books which were written" (Jn. 21:25) as a stock refutation of Sola Scriptura. Such an appeal not only misconstrues the doctrine, but it can be easily turned on Roman Catholics. Have they collected in oral form all the unwritten revelation uttered by Christ? Do they have the contents of all of Paul's sermons? No, they obviously can't, given John's statements. Hence, the argument should also tell against their woefully "incomplete" collection of oral tradition.

7. Mr. Matatics claims that Scripture nowhere states that all oral tradition would eventually become Scripture and that the preservation of God's Word through inscripturation is a Protestant presupposition "without the slightest scrap of scriptural warrant."

First, even granting the truth of Mr. Matatics' bold assertion, it does not contradict the claim that Scripture is the supreme norm.

Second, even at that, the repeated Biblical precedent of transforming oral revelation into written form has a wide range of Scriptural support which is summarized in my previous essay.

Third, this argument does nothing to support the Matatics Magisterium conclusion, since it would then be an argument from silence.

Fourth,the claim that "inscripturation is the only way to permanently preserve" revelation is a straw man; who would deny that God could, if he so chose, preserve His word on video tape, but He didn't.

Fifth, Mr. Matatics appears ignorant of the fact that God Himself directed inscripturation of His revelation to preserve it for future generations. For example, He directed Isaiah, "Now go, write it on a tablet before them and inscribe it on a scroll, that it may serve in time to come as a witness forever" (Is. 30:8; cf. 8:1; 34:16). Notice how the Lord, in this text, places great emphasis on the permanence of written revelation, with no thought of a permanent oral transmission. Similarly, the Lord directed Jeremiah, "Take a scroll and write on it all the words which I have spoken to you concerning Israel, and Judah, and all the nations....Perhaps the house of Judah will hear all the calamity which I plan to bring on them, in order that every man will turn from his evil way" (Jer. 36:2,3; cf. 25:13; 36:1-32; 51:60). There are plenty of scraps along these lines to rebut Mr. Matatics' claim.

Sixth, this step doesn't entail the Matatics Magisterium conclusion.

8. Mr. Matatics claims that there is a standing command to pass on oral apostolic tradition and that the burden is on Protestants to show that this is repealed.

First, given the burden I bore in my first essay to the end that covenant history in Scripture is one long precedent for the claim that oral revelation regularly ceases and becomes inscripturated, I could simply point out that Mr. Matatics truly bears the burden of demonstrating why this precedent now changes. But because some might deem this legitimate move as a cop-out, I will bear this unnecessary burden anyway.

Mr. Matatics is amused that I argue for the continuation of Old Testament standards unless revoked by God but then apparently abandon that principle. To begin with, Mr. Matatics fails to see that the apparent inconsistency vanishes due to the fact that I and all advocates of Sola Scriptura maintain that II Thessalonians 2:15 is still in force. Paul declares that we are to "hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us." So please, Mr. Matatics, find me an apostle of Christ, and I will heed his oral revelation! What this response brings out is the fact that Mr. Matatics has slipped in the assumption of apostolic succession in order to generate the alleged inconsistency. He can't invoke such a premise without proof, and I reject apostolic succession as a contradiction in terms. The New Testament describes the church as being "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets"(Eph. 2:20), the twelve foundation stones (Rev. 21:14) of the "bride, the wife of the Lamb" (Rev. 21:9). A foundation is a base, non-successive structure. It does not recur at every level of the building as the Roman Catholic mincing of this imagery demands (i.e. on New Testament teaching, "apostolic succession" turns out to be "foundational non-foundation"!)

Hence, as it stands this step neither counts against Sola Scriptura, nor supports the Matatics Magisterium conclusion.

Nevertheless, the same argument can be turned on Mr. Matatics. Even though he imagines that apostolic authority continues, he explains in footnote 25 that the inspired revelation of the original apostles is not reproduced by their alleged successors. So, he does not even practice II Thessalonians 2:15 in the manner Paul teaches.

9. Mr. Matatics closes out his case by arguing that the apostles ensured the permanence of their message by appointing faithful guardians who make up an infallible church. Mr. Matatics supplies the basis for this claim in footnotes 24-27.

First, Mr. Matatics offers Scriptural support for basically uncontroversial claims regarding ordination, preaching and teaching authority, etc., but he fails to do so on the key point, namely, that "succession to office was conceived of as dynastic succession and filial inheritance." Without substantiating this key claim (which he may yet provide), his argument proves nothing that would be denied by the Reformers.

Second, Mr. Matatics' arguments for Papal authority are missing too many premises to be taken seriously in their present mystical, Tyler-like, form.

Third, the one argument for the ninth step that he does complete is the traditional Roman Catholic appeal to the church as the "pillar and support of truth" (I Tim. 3:15) against which the gates of hell cannot prevail (Matt. 16:18). Why does Mr. Matatics think these count against Protestant interpretations? Neither necessarily implies an infallible church, unless you sneak in hidden assumptions about institutional unity.

In response to Mr. Matatics' query whether the church could teach heresy and still be the foundation of truth, we simply need to reflect on the Old Covenant church (Acts 7:38) to realize that even though she was the foundation of truth, the "rich root of the olive tree" (Rom. 11:17), onto which the New Covenant church was grafted (Rom. 11: 18), she was unfaithful to her Lord and "multiplied her harlotries" (Ezek. 16:26). Nevertheless, God did not abandon her but promised to remember His covenant with her, though she permitted false shepherds to teach false doctrines (Ezek. 34ff.).

Fourth, this step doesn't entail the Matatics Magisterium conclusion.

Hence, the problem with Mr. Matatics Biblical case against Sola Scriptura is basically fourfold. One, his case doesn't contradict my thesis at all, except for coming close to doing so in step eight, but, as demonstrated above, his argument only succeeds if he assumes the legitimacy of apostolic succession. Two, he repeatedly assumes the false view that Sola Scriptura precludes oral revelation. Three, none of the steps individually or as a whole comes close to entailing the bold Matatics Magisterium conclusion. And four, most of the steps fail on their own account due to fallacious inferences.

The Invasion of Big and Hairy Experience
After attempting his Biblical case against Sola Scriptura, Matatics turns to suggest other problems in my essay. This falls into two sections. The first section focuses on his objections to how I state my thesis, and the second responds to various Biblical evidence I raised.
Objections to the Statement of the Doctrine
I greatly appreciate the way Mr. Matatics refutes himself by first raising objections and then reiterating how I had already solved the very objections he raises. For instance, after several charges of begging-the-question and equivocation, Matatics demonstrates how the charges simply don't apply to my case.
As noted at the outset of this essay, Mr. Matatics is committed to the false understanding of Sola Scriptura which precludes any oral revelation as normative. Again, no Protestant has ever held this, since it's rather silly. Yet his insistence on this view comes out most clearly in this section. For example, he exclaims, "If scriptura includes oral as well as written teaching, then there is nothing left to argue about: Catholics can affirm sola scriptura too!" Does Mr. Matatics genuinely maintain that Protestants believe that the divine proclamations of the prophets, apostles, and Christ were not absolutely normative for their hearers? If so, say it louder and clearer, so at least we can move onto to other subjects, since no Protestant would defend such a view.[2]

As stated in my previous essay, the central issue which Protestants affirm and Roman Catholics deny is the claim that the history of redemption demonstrates that God at some points revealed His word temporarily in prophetic/oral form and then inscripturated this norm permanently in written form, with no subsequent authoritative appeals to oral revelation. This, based on the record of Biblical history, implies that the sole and supreme norm is God's Word (temporary oral or written), apart from secondary interpreters, explications, or "infallible" institutions. Hence, Protestants maintain that, following inscripturation, the oral "speaking as a child" is done away with, and our only norm is the written word of God.

Mr. Matatics is upset with these claims.

First, he complains that I simply assume that "infallible institutions" are not part of God's written word. In his apparent haste, he failed to note that these statements are not assumed, as he asserts, but, as I previously stated, derived inductively from "the Old Testament practice discussed below."

Secondly, the Old Testament does not contain anything close to a body of authoritative tradition or an infallible institution on par with Scripture. Nowhere in the Old Testament will you find a body of living tradition like that advocated by Roman Catholicism, i.e. a non-revelatory, secondary explication a lá Matatics' footnote 25. This sort of arrangement is unknown in the Old Testament. Nowhere will he find the people of God appealing to non-revelatory interpretations or institutions as a norm on par with Scripture. Now he can deny it was necessary for that time or that it developed after the New Testament, but that sort of admission only supports my case.

Objections to the Scriptural Evidence: Old Testament
This is the fun section, for Mr. Matatics appears to lose his cool and let his rhetoric fly ("Calvinistic cataract," "Captain Jones," "nulla scriptura," "ad nauseam," "confessional chaos," "relativism endemic to Protestantism," "slowed to a trickle," "dried-up dusty gulch," "Maid of the Missed," etc.). Quaint, but I think he doth protest too much. If we ignore the rhetorical pandering, we see that the same mistakes arise as before.
First, his responses to the evidence from Pre-Mosaic and Mosaic revelation generally fail, because they attempt to force Mr. Matatics false view of Sola Scriptura onto the data. Moreover, Mr. Matatics cannot seriously contend that Adam functioned as an infallible Magisterium with the "privilege of infallibility" which "does not admit of appeal to any other tribunal"![3] This, after all, was the heart of Adam's sin, not his virtue.

Second, regarding Noah, Mr. Matatics concedes that Noah and his sons did not need an interpreter of God's Word, but then implies that Noah stood as a standard on par with God's Word. Where is this in the text? Prophets reiterate God's word on pain of judgment for mixing their own messages with God's. There is thus only one standard in Noah's time.

Third, as concerns Abraham, Mr. Matatics chooses to ignore the fact that God self-authenticates His word apart from human institutions. Mr. Matatics' concerns regarding Isaac are irrelevant to my claims given Abraham's prophetic status.

Fourth, regarding Levitical priests, one will look in vain in the passages Mr. Matatics cites for "devastating" evidence against Sola Scriptura. God reveals His commands to His prophet who faithfully conveys God's words, not a secondary body of infallible priestly explications, to Aaron and the priests. Moreover, Mr. Matatics may be using these citations as evidence of oral tradition in the Mosaic era, but, as before, this would be based on his ongoing misconception.

Fifth, Mr. Matatics claims that "priestly tradition" mediated (infallibly interpreted?) the Scriptures, but, in order to prove such a bold-faced claim, he needs to do much better than appealing to a citation which only speaks of the absence of "teaching priests" (II Chron. 15:3). Moreover, where is this body of priestly tradition? Give examples of authoritative appeals to it. Prove that it held a position on par with Scripture.

Sixth, Mr. Matatics incorrectly reads me as invoking Deuteronomy 4:2 as naively prohibiting further revelation. If he would step out of his immediate debate-mode responses to any appeal to these verses, he would see that my argument is not as he contends but rather in support of the narrower conclusion that no one was to add or remove the commandments found in the covenantal document. This does in fact preclude oral additions or deletions to the regulations in this document (Surely Mr. Matatics does not contend that God condones adding oral regulations contrary or in addition to those given even if those persons in question didn't tamper with the physical text!). Moreover, Mr. Matatics chooses to ignore the fact that these commandments were read directly to the people who were expected to understand and apply God's word so as not to adulterate it, even if their priests did. Where is the infallible interpreter in this situation?

Seventh, Mr. Matatics claims that my arguments from the wisdom and prophetic literature fail or backfire, but my suspicion is that he has read them through his misconception of the doctrine.

Objections to the Scriptural Evidence: New Testament
First, Mr. Matatics believes that the close of the Old Testament canon is irrelevant, but he really needs to do better than that. The completion of the Old Testament canon stands as a strong precedent in my case, and it does not assume the extinction of any inspired oral tradition, since it is an inductive conclusion. Instead, he needs to provide opposing inductive evidence that such a body of co-supreme oral traditions existed (embarrassingly, Pharisaical tradition would be a candidate for such evidence). Please describe this authoritative tradition. Point to New Testament appeals to it which set it on par with Scripture.
Second, Mr. Matatics brushes passed my theological argument from the New Testament on the basis of his analysis of the Old Testament passages, but his analyses are now seen to fail, and so my argument holds.

Third, Mr. Matatics misconstrues my use of various New Testament passages which speak of Old Testament Scripture, since I don't use them to demonstrate Sola Scriptura.

Fourth, his remaining misguided concerns about question-begging and oral tradition, I have refuted previously.

Fifth, Mr. Matatics claims that I had not refuted the Catholic church's case for an infallible magisterium, but he now stands corrected, though this is not my burden. Moreover, I have argued that his treatment of Matthew 16 is not developed enough to refute it. He needs more premises to qualify as needing a refutation, though this is not our topic.

In conclusion, much of Mr. Matatics' negative case fails simply because of his earlier misconceptions. He does not want to allow Protestants to define their own doctrines, since that removes many of his objections. Nevertheless, we simply don't hold to the views he imagines we hold. Moreover, he has yet to provide anything in the Old or New Testaments which resembles the body of living tradition and infallible interpretations he so relishes in Roman Catholicism. The arguments against Sola Scriptura are simply not there, but the waterfall of Scripture in support of Sola Scriptura remains. Mr. Matatics simply has to be facing the right direction.


[1 ] In footnote fourteen, Mr. Matatics attempts to prove that the texts he cites support the Roman Catholic understanding of the church, but the very same texts are used by the Reformers and Reformed standards to describe the ordained offices in Protestant churches. Hence, Mr. Matatics does not offer any distinctive proof for the Roman Catholic position.
[2] For those in doubt regarding other claims in this section, I offer the following thoughts so as not to shirk my duties. (1) Matatics claims I am unfair for, in a sense, not stating my thesis in accord with a false notion of Sola Scriptura. My thesis is only unfair if one misconceives the radical break between Protestants and Roman Catholics. (2) I don't assume that the "Word of God" and "Scripture" are always interchangeable, but they often are, and I offered Scriptural proof for this point, though Mr. Matatics responds that I assume it a priori. (3) Strangely, Mr. Matatics wants to refute a technical term for a theological doctrine, Scriptura, by conducting a word study. The doctrine is defined in the manner Protestants have explicated it, regardless of word studies, and I have simply reiterated the doctrine as stated in the Reformers and such standards as The Westminster Confession of Faith. (4) Mr. Matatics complains of my apparently dogmatic statement that "God reveals His word orally and temporarily...andthen subsequently inscripturates" it. Far from not producing "a single scriptural statement in substantiation, I have readily met this genuine burden in my recounting of Biblical history on the matter. The precedent is based squarely on the texts cited. (5) Mr. Matatics wants a prooftext showing "that after an oracle was reduced to writing, God prohibited its continued transmission in oral form." This is not my view, and I don't know why Mr. Matatics imagines that a Protestant would think God prohibits, for example, me from transmitting Paul's letter to the Ephesians by phone to a friend in Africa. Mr. Matatics needs to clarify his objection. (6) My arguments have no need to infer, assume, or prove that "no unwritten oral teachings of prophets or apostles have in fact survived." Mr. Matatics is wasting space.

[3 ] Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, III, 25.

Matatics Responds
I know from my evangelical years that it's possible to thoughtfully and sincerely believe in Sola Scriptura. I see no need, therefore, to question either Mr. Jones's [1] intelligence or his integrity, or to suspect some pathological reason for his position. I only regret Jones does not return the courtesy.
According to Jones, my "disillusionment with Protestant arguments" is only "professed." Rather, my "experience," like a "big and hairy animal" which "tend[s] to follow habitual patterns of behavior and miss out on the finer points of life," may have "trapped [me] in patterns of thought which only serve [to] confirm [my] suspicions against rather obvious matters," thus leaving "unmanageable messes all over the place."

But what "habitual patterns of behavior" made me "miss out on the finer points of life," and what are those finer points of life -- the subtleties of Reformed theology? What "suspicions" does this amateur psychoanalysis suspect? And what does the impenetrable murk of this mumbo-jumbo mean by "matters" which are "rather obvious" (not obvious enough, it seems)? The "big and hairy animal" analogy might more correctly characterize the cryptic code Jones speaks on this speculative safari. His simian simile, like some scatological Sasquatch, has left such an "unmanageable mess" that it has utterly obscured his meaning, at least for me. Being no hermeneutical Hercules, I feel unable to unmuck these Augean stables.

Jones says his ad hominem attacks are appropriate because in my opening paragraphs I "appeal to [my] buttress [my] case." My autobiographical remarks weren't advanced as an argument, though, my conversion to Catholicism no more proves Catholicism is true than Catholics converting to evangelicalism prove evangelicalism true, or Calvinists becoming atheists prove atheism true. I simply wanted readers to know where I was coming from and that I understood Sola Scriptura, having once held it myself.

Jones begs to "dispute that background." Apparently I "so misunderstand Sola Scriptura" that he finds hard to believe that I was ever an evangelical Protestant, let alone a Calvinist: "How could a `Calvinist of Calvinists' genuinely maintain that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura implies that oral revelation was not normative prior to inscripturation?" The reader, though, will search my essay in vain for any evidence that my "case against Sola Scriptura...assumes a bizarre view common to Roman Catholic apologists...that Sola Scriptura precludes all forms of oral revelation," or that I held this view (the only Protestant to do so, mind you) prior to my conversion to Catholicism.

If there's one thing worse than seeing someone flog a dead horse, it's seeing someone repeatedly flog the wrong dead horse. Once and for all, Mr. Jones: There is no dispute between Protestants and Catholics that oral revelation occurred, that it was inspired, that it was normative. Protestants don't deny this, and Catholics don't claim they do. What Protestants do deny is that anyone has access to this oral revelation today apart from Scripture. Catholics disagree with this denial because under both covenants God commanded that revealed truth be passed down in oral as well as written form. If Jones wishes to address the issue rather than waste time attributing to Catholics critiques they do not in fact make, then he needs to produce some prooftext that rescinds these commands.

After contesting the genuineness of my Protestant past, Jones proceeds to critique my nine-step survey of the phenomenon of revelation in redemptive history. Though he initially seems to grasp that "these steps are not distinct arguments against the doctrine [of Sola Scriptura ]" taken individually, he nevertheless insists on ending his assessment of each step with the antiphon, "This step [too] doesn't entail the Matatics Magisterium conclusion." I actually didn't expect him to contest any of the points until we got to the close of the canon (points 7-9). The previous points (1-6) merely laid down the trajectories of revelation to demonstrate that the Catholic conclusion is in line with these trajectories, while the Protestant concept of Sola Scriptura is not.

1. My first point, for example, was simply a reminder that God has revealed himself in ways other than writing. Of course "advocates of Sola Scriptura hold this view as well;" I didn't imply otherwise.

2. If Jones agrees that God's covenants with creation and the patriarchs involved only oral revelation, how can he find "obviously fallacious" my "inference" that "a written document...while valuable, was no sine qua non of a covenant, no necessary instrument to it implementation or administration"? "Holograms" have nothing to do with it, Mr. Jones: Adam, Noah, Abraham, and others possessed no Scripture, yet they possessed and passed on God's covenant Word. That Word can thus be competently conveyed in an oral mode, and any prejudice against that mode is contrary to Scripture.

3. Jones tries yet again the trumped-up charge that my point must "mistakenly take Sola Scriptura to somehow rule out all oral revelation."

4. Jones accuses me of a "Saussurean-like denigration of the written word" by drawing a "false dichotomy...between the words of a book and those of a person." But my fourth point provides no basis whatsoever for these irresponsible accusations.[2[

5. Jones claims that my fifth point works against Sola Scriptura only If I "mistakenly assume Sola Scriptura precludes," not just oral revelation now, but "the work of Christ" himself, but again no evidence is furnished for this, or for the equally spurious charge that "Matatics...assumes that Scripture is a collection of dead symbols."[3[

Nor is it true that "in order for Matatics' argument to carry any weight, we need a very literal understanding of John 5:19." My citation of John 5:19 was illustrative and incidental, not argumentative. Whether or not Jesus was in this instance following the Father's example (and he was), my point was that he provided for the continuation of his word by sending forth speakers, not assigning writers.

Furthermore, in his attempted reductio ad absurdum of what "a very literal understanding of John 5:19" would entail, Jones commits an unfortunate (but very common) logical blunder: The statement "Whatever A does B does also" doesn't yield the reverse conclusion that "Whatever B does, A does," yet this is the form his two "refutations" take.

In addition to these two errors, Jones's examples in fact pose no problem whatsoever to a "very literal understanding of John 5:19." The truth is that Christ walked on water precisely to imitate the Father (Job 9:8; Ps. 77:19) and thus furnish an indication of his divinity, and any standard Protestant commentary will say so. And "when Christ allowed Mary to pour ointment on his feet (Lk 7:38, 39) the Father was doing the same thing in heaven," i.e. allowing Mary to do this to Christ. Nothing happens expect the Father allows (Mt. 10:29; Jn. 19:11). Where is the problem Mr. Jones?[4[

6. Jones makes five points here, all of them invalid. First, not all arguments from silence are fallacious, as Jones himself says elsewhere. He needs to show why this one is.

Second, I nowhere claim that because Scripture doesn't record Christ commanding the apostles to write, he therefore never did. I simply pointed out that Scripture's silence on this point is deafening, which seems odd if Sola Scriptura is the fundamental of the faith Protestants think it is.

Third, Jones once again begs the question by sneaking in as a premise what he needs to demonstrate, namely that "whatever God chose to inscripturate is sufficient." None of his "prooftexts" support the premise: II Peter 1:2f and Hebrews 1:1-3 and 2:1-4 don't even mention Scripture, and II Timothy 3:16-17 fails as a prooftext for Sola Scriptura on several counts.[5[ It is unfortunate that Protestant polemicists go on citing, century after century, texts they've been told prove their point, without stopping to see if they really do or not.

Fourth, Jones's recurring refrain that this point does not single handedly establish my conclusion has already been answered.

Fifth, Jones misconstrues the Catholic's motive for adhering to Tradition as a desire for exhaustive knowledge of all that Christ or the apostles ever said. He misconstrues our appeal to John 21:25, which Catholics cite merely to prove that not everything was written down, not that everything that wasn't written down is contained in Tradition. Catholics "hold fast to tradition" not because Scripture plus Tradition bring all that was ever said, but because Scripture plus Tradition bring us all that we're required to know (II Thess. 2:15). Scripture alone does not.

7. Jones misquotes my seventh point. I never said "the preservation of God's word through inscripturation is a Protestant presupposition "without the slightest scrap of scriptural warrant" What I said was "The idea that inscripturation is the only way to permanently preserve revealed truth is a Protestant is a Protestant presupposition without the slightest scrap of scriptural warrant" [emphasis added]. There's a big difference.

Jones says I appear "ignorant of the fact that God Himself directed inscripturation of His revelation to preserve it for future generation," but he can't really believe I'm ignorant of the Bible verses he cites -- especially since I cite some of them myself in my first essay. In any case, his appeal to "the repeated Biblical precedent of transforming oral revelation into written form" is inadequate to prove his point. That God commanded inscripturation no one disputes. What Catholics dispute is the Protestant presumption that everything God wanted preserved was inscripturated and that such inscripturation was intended to replace oral tradition rather than be passed on alongside it as II Thessalonians 2:15 commands. Where are the prooftexts for these presumptions? Answer: nowhere.

What's more, when I attack the view that inscripturation is the only way to preserve revelation, I'm attacking a "straw man," says Jones, because "God could, if he so chose, preserve His Word on videotape, but He didn't." Jones often mentions "silly understandings of Sola Scriptura;" is this an example of a silly understanding of the Catholic case against Sola Scriptura? Does any Catholic deny that writing is the sole mode of preservation of God's Word on the grounds that videotape would do the trick? The issue is not what other recording mediums God could have used, but whether in addition to recorded materials of any sort God provided for ongoing oral tradition. Rebutting this is Jones's real task, not the multiplication of false dichotomies (writing versus videotape), all the more false for one of the terms not even being an option until the twentieth century.

8. On my eighth point, that "there is a standing command to pass on oral apostolic tradition and that the burden is on Protestants to show that this is repealed," Jones states, "Given the burden I bore in my first essay to the end that covenant history in Scripture is one long precedent for the claim that oral revelation regularly ceases and becomes inscripturated, I could simply point out that Mr. Matatics truly bears the burden of demonstrating why this precedent now changes." Sorry, Mr. Jones: I can't allow you to get away with such a burden-of-proof-shifting. The fact of the matter is that you have yet to produce one prooftext for your presumption that inscripturation ipso facto retires oral revelation. Until you do, the burden of proof rests squarely on your shoulders.

To show that even Protestants can perform works of supererogation, Jones gallantly volunteers to "bear this unnecessary burden" anyway, but does not better job of delivering it that he did in his first essay. He claims that he "and all advocates of Sola Scriptura maintain that II Thessalonians 2:15 is still in force," then turns around and says that there is no way to obey the command to hold fast to the oral tradition because there aren't any apostles around!

Jones plea, "Please, Mr. Matatics, find me an apostle of Christ, and I will heed his oral revelation!" is a glib way to sidestep the force of this command. Suppose some skeptic were to say to Jones, "Find the autographs written by an apostle of Christ, and I will heed his written revelation!" What would Jones say? He'd say, "We can still obey God's command to heed the written word, without the autographs, because we believe, on good evidence, that the copies of copies of copies that we possess faithfully preserve the wording of the original." Exactly, Mr. Jones! And I can equally respond, "We can still obey God's command to heed oral apostolic teaching, without the apostle himself present, because we believe, on good evidence, that we have in Sacred Tradition a faithful transmission of the original."

The problem is thus not that "Mr. Matatics has slipped in the assumption of apostolic succession in order to generate the alleged inconsistency;" on the contrary, I did not assume, but argued for, apostolic succession on the basis of Scripture (see my first essay, point 9). The problem is rather that Jones has slipped in the assumption that we somehow have grounds for believing in the reliable transmission of the Biblical text that are separable from any grounds for believing in the reliable transmission of oral tradition. What such grounds are there, Mr. Jones? Scripture nowhere states that there would be a providential preservation of the written text to function in subsequent ages as a trustworthy link to apostolic doctrine. (Statements to the effect that the Word of God abides forever or that Christ's words won't pass away don't restrict this to a written word, so quoting these only engages in the same unhelpful question-begging as before, since this assumes what the Protestant needs to prove: that God promises to preserve only Scripture.)

The fact is that the only ground anyone -- Protestant or Catholic -- has for confidence in the trustworthiness of our Biblical manuscripts is the general ground that Christ would preserve the faith in his Church. But this ground not only does not exclude oral tradition, it undermines the Protestant presumption that the Church fell into serious doctrinal error in the post-apostolic era. If the Church was incompetent to preserve the faith, on what ground can one hope (other than positing it in a purely fideistic fashion, which is all Protestants can do) that the Church was competent to preserve a reliable text of Scripture? Jones surely won't appeal to the science of textual criticism, since that science is not infallible, nor is it successful in filling in all the gaps. The earliest manuscripts we have are still copies of copies of copies. And if the science of textual criticism is admissible into the epistemological equation, why not the science of patrology, which established the Catholic understanding of the Christian faith as enjoying as much antiquity and consensus in the early Church as our text of Scripture? Jones, like all Protestants, hasn't yet grasped the lesson of the last five hundred years of history: that the reliability of the Church cannot be undermined without ultimately and inevitably undermining the reliability of Scripture.

What's more, Jones shows by his stout rejection of apostolic succession as "a contradiction in terms" that he has not taken adequate trouble to even understand the doctrine he claims to reject. The Catholic church has never taught that the successors to the apostles were apostles themselves. A successor to a founder is not a founder too, so the foundational uniqueness of the apostles remains intact.

Jones's befuddlement on this elementary point is all the more puzzling given my pains in my first essay (footnote 25) to explain the difference between the apostles and their successors. Jones counters the distinction by arguing that, since I deny the inspiration of the apostle's successors, I cannot "practice II Thessalonians 2:15 in the manner Paul teaches" any more than he can. This is a non-sequitur. The inspiration of the successors is no more necessary to my having reliable access to the original apostolic teaching than is the equally-absent inspiration of the manuscript copies we presently possess necessary to my having reliable access to the original Biblical autographs. In both cases, though the originals were inspired, the subsequent stages in transmission are not.

9. On my ninth point Jones charges me with failing to offer scriptural support for my "key point" (good choice of words, Mr. Jones) that "succession to office was conceived of as dynastic succession and filial inheritance." He needs to go back and re-read my essay, where ample evidence is cited. What else does Paul mean by referring to Timothy and Titus, the two bishops he personally appointed as successors, as his "true sons in the faith"? And what of the fact, in the particular case of Peter, that the office of chief steward of the royal house was one of dynastic succession (cf. e.g. Is. 22:24)? The fact is, that is how everybody (except the Gnostics) understood apostolic succession in the early church; nobody spiritualized it away in the (not un-Gnostic) way the sixteenth-century Protestant "Reformers" did. In any case, the burden is not on me in this debate to provide a full-blown defense of apostolic succession or any other aspect of Catholic ecclesiology (including magisterial infallibility or institutional unity). Rather, the debate is on whether Scripture teaches Sola Scriptura, and the burden of proof is on Jones to provide at least one prooftext that Scripture is, after passing of the apostles, the only God-intended infallible source of apostolic doctrine -- something Jones has yet to do.

What of Jones's summation, then, that my Biblical case fails on four counts? First, it's not the case that "[my] argument only succeeds if [I] assume the legitimacy of apostolic succession." My argument is not that apostolic succession is taught, but that Sola Scriptura isn't. Second, it is just not true that I "repeatedly assume the false view that Sola Scriptura precludes oral revelation." Third, my nine steps were never intended to entail my conclusion individually, though the last three, taken together and in line with the preceding ones, do. And fourth, Jones has yet to show that any of the steps "fail on their own account due to fallacious inferences."

Jones claims that in the next section of my essay after raising several charges of question-begging and equivocation against him I actually "refute myself" by somehow demonstrating that the charges don't apply to him after all. He offers no proof this in fact happens. Here you see the desperate ploy of a desperate man. Jones can't extricate himself from my charges, so he argues I've done it for him! He further diverts attention from his predicament by dredging up, for the umpteenth time, the counter-charge that "Mr. Matatics is committed to the false understanding of Sola Scriptura which precludes any oral revelation as normative." I leave the reader to draw his own conclusion.

Jones's second footnote is filled with the following further confusions:

1. For me to insist that "scriptura" means "writing" bespeaks "false notion of Sola Scriptura." No, that's the accepted meaning of the term.

2. To conclude that since "Scripture" and "the Word of God" are often interchangeable, and "the Word of God" is often oral, therefore "Scripture" can mean "oral Word of God" is embarrassingly bad logic.

3. I have no problem allowing Protestants to define their own doctrines. My point is that neither the Reformers nor the WCF define "Scripture" as an oral entity. If all that Jones means is that much in Scripture has oral antecedents, then there is no distinctively Protestant doctrine, and thus not what we are arguing about.

4. Jones has still not produced any prooftext that oral revelation is by God's design utterly superseded by written revelation.

5. Jones muddies the waters with the unhelpful example of "transmitting Paul's letter to the Ephesians by phone to a friend in Africa." What is your point, Mr. Jones -- that Protestants thus do not find oral transmission of God's Word objectionable? Given this not what you and I know the Catholic Church claims to do by magisterially passing down Sacred Tradition, why waste time attacking this silly straw man?

6. If Sola Scriptura does not contend that Scripture alone brings us the teaching of prophets and apostles in normative form, what does it teach? I'm not sure even Jones knows what he wants to attack and what he wants to defend.

When Jones says " the Old Testament does not contain anything close to a body of authoritative tradition or an infallible institution on par with Scripture," he still sidesteps the inspired, infallible institution of the office of prophet, and the fact that oracles not written down but passed down functioned as authoritative Tradition. He erroneously assumes when Jesus rejected uninspired "traditions of men" which conflicted with God's Word (oral or written)as Jones would say) he was rejecting all Old Covenant Tradition (Mt. 15:1-9). If so, why didn't Jesus reject the tradition, nowhere taught in the Old Testament, of "Moses' seat," an institution he said possessed morally binding authority (Mt. 23:2)? Why didn't Paul reject the extrabiblical tradition of the rolling rock in the wilderness, rather than derive a major Christological type and covenantal continuity from it (I Cor. 10:4), or the extrabiblical tradition of Jannes and Jambres opposing Moses, instead of using them as types of the false teachers plaguing his ministry (II Tim. 3:8)? Why didn't Jude reject the extrabiblical traditions of the archangel's dispute with Satan over Moses' body and the patriarch Enoch's prophecy of coming judgment, rather than derive doctrines from and support moral principles with them (Jude 9, 14f)? These examples prove that neither our Lord nor the apostles practiced Sola Scriptura, contrary to what a more superficial reading of the New Testament might conclude.

There's little space left to deal with Jones's remaining points, and little need: they've already been answered, again and again.[6] His second offering, in sum, has two major flaws, and both of them bring us round full circle to his opening concerns about big, hairy animals. First, he repeatedly charges me with misunderstanding Sola Scriptura both before and after my conversion to Catholicism, a misunderstanding mediated by my supposedly-skewing experience. Well, any stick is good enough to beat a dog with, and any stigma is good enough to beat a dogma with. The dogma in this case is the Catholic contention that Scripture is neither sole nor sufficient but supplemented by Tradition and Magisterium; the stigma is the supposition that evangelicals who surrender Sola Scriptura and become Catholics do so from some experiential or psychological defect. This is the constant canard of commentators on conversions to Catholicism. The idea that such conversions are not theologically-driven and the converts in question reject something they really don't understand, is an understandably attractive one, but not an accurate one in my case or the case of any evangelical convert I know. The stigma doesn't stick, and the dogma doggedly stands.

If Jones's first flaw is a faulty psychoanalysis, his second is a faulty scriptural analysis. To switch the canine simile, Jones, in search of scriptural supports for Sola Scriptura, ambles through the two testaments like an amiable retriever who has buried a bone and can't quite remember where. However, much he ambles, he comes up empty. His bark, though noticeably louder than in his opening essay, is still much worse than his bite. Given his failure in his first and second efforts to produce prooftexts for the cessation of oral Tradition, he'll have to have a lot more teeth in his next and final attempt if he's to vindicate Sola Scriptura as a notion Bible-believing Christians ought to support.

I want to reemphasize my recognition of Mr. Jones and all evangelicals as fellow Christians; I wish him, and them, well. And I pray that we all my be willing to submit our most-cherished notions to the authoritative sentence of Scripture. For the clear teaching of Scripture, and the constant teaching of Christian Tradition and the Church's Magisterium, is that Scripture must ever be interpreted in harmony with that Tradition and Magisterium, and not in isolation from them. This is the conclusion to which I came, and the conclusion I crave for all my brothers and sisters who seek after scriptural truth.


[1 ] Hereafter, "Jones," not to be disrespectful but to save space.
2 ] By the way, Protestants are not alone in "following Peter's lead." Catholics do so, too -- a fortiori.

[3 ] Is Mr. Jones's [hyperbolic] remark that "every Protestant is familiar with Hebrews 4:10" [it's actually verse 12] intended to imply that Catholics aren't?

[4 ] Perhaps Mr. Jones was thinking that a "very literal interpretation of John 5:19" would entail the Father allowing Mary to anoint the Father's feet, or, alternatively, the Father anointing Christ's feet. If so, he is (yet again) reading Scripture in a sloppy fashion: John 5:19 doesn't say that whatever people do to Christ they do to the Father, nor that whatever people do to Christ, the Father does to Christ. Jones was right in stating that when it comes to John 5:19, "embarrassments arise," but the embarrassments are all his.

[5 ] Protestants like to point out that Paul says the Scriptures can make Timothy "perfect" (KJV) or "complete" (RSV). But the Scriptures Timothy was to "continue in" to become a "complete" man of God were those he had known "from infancy," namely the Old Testament. If Paul was excluding anything else as necessary to achieving this "perfection," he was therefore excluding not only oral tradition but subsequent Scripture (i.e. the New Testament) as well. If Timothy could become "complete" without having to read, say, the Gospel of John or the Book of Revelation, then so could someone today. Secondly, James says that the virtue of "steadfastness" makes one "perfect and complete" (James 1:4, RSV). Which is necessary: Scripture or steadfastness? Clearly both of them, as well as such other things as faith, hope, and love. While II Timothy 3:17, James 1:4, and a host of similar statements says that "X" brings about perfection, none of them says that "X alone" brings about perfection. The same goes for the other attributes of Scripture listed in II Timothy 3:15-17: Paul nowhere says that Scripture alone inculcates salvific wisdom, is inspired, trains us in righteousness, and so forth -- as if these things wouldn't be true of preaching, for example. Protestants subconsciously add the word "sola" to Paul's description of "scriptura," but it's as exegetically illicit as was Luther's addition of "sola" to "fide" in Romans 3:28.

[6 ] Except his accusation that in my final section I "lose [my] cool and let [my] rhetoric fly" (with occasional pit-stops for "pandering"), but he's all wet if he concludes from a few aquatic analogies ("Calvinistic cataract"), maritime metaphors ("Captain Jones"), alliterative phrases ("tour-giving tugboat") or pointed puns ("Maid of the Missed") that I lost my composure, though I appreciate his pastoral solicitude.

Jones' Closing Statement
If we step back from the details of the debate for a moment, we can see that one prevailing issue on both sides is now very clear: 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 explications. Please do not confuse this statement with previous disputes about oral revelation. There is a marked distinction between inspired oral revelation and uninspired, though infallible, oral explications (Mr. Matatics has himself provided this distinction). We both agree that Scripture speaks of inspired oral revelation. We both (now at least) claim to agree that Sola Scriptura does not preclude inspired oral revelation. The basic dispute, then, is not the irrelevant claim of whether Scripture speaks of inspired oral revelation alongside itself as a norm, but whether Scripture endorses uninspired, though infallible, oral explications as a supreme norm equal to its authority.
This latter question is now easily answered: No. This answer is drawn from Mr. Matatics' own case, in that, much if not all of his Biblical arguments against Sola Scriptura are made up of claims to the effect that Scripture speaks of inspired oral revelation. He has repeatedly attempted to rebut the Biblical case for Sola Scriptura by appealing in diverse ways to the oral revelation of the pre-Mosaic patriarchs, Moses, subsequent OT prophets, Christ, and the apostles. Since Sola Scriptura includes such inspired oral revelation, and Mr. Matatics now claims to agree, then none of these instances count against Sola Scriptura -- Progress!

With that set of claims out of the way, we can then see that Mr. Matatics nowhere even attempts to find in Scripture a body or norm of uninspired, though infallible, oral explications parallel to Rome's Sacred Tradition. Such a normative tradition (note, not inspired oral revelation) is completely foreign to the pages of Scripture, and, therefore, has no Biblical precedent, parallel, or place (except, of course, Pharisaical traditions).

His most basic response to my ongoing request for a Scriptural basis for uninspired, though infallible, oral explications is found in his latest reply where he argues: "Jones says `the OT does not contain anything close to a body of authoritative tradition or an infallible institution on par with Scripture,' he [Jones] still sidesteps the inspired, infallible institution of the office of prophet...." Precisely wrong. Inspired prophets and apostles, as Mr. Matatics himself has told us, are not parallel to non-revelatory, uninspired Roman Catholic explications. The two are in different categories, and, hence, as noted above, all of Mr. Matatics appeals to inspired oral revelation are completely irrelevant as evidence against Sola Scriptura. In my last essay, I appealed to Mr. Matatics: "Where is this body of priestly tradition? Give examples of authoritative appeals to it.... Point to...appeals to it which set it on par with Scripture." In return, we received silence.[1]

As I've argued since my opening essay, the dispute between Protestants and Roman Catholics regarding Sola Scriptura is not a dispute between evidence for oral vs. written revelation but rather a dispute between the supremacy of oral/written revelation (the inspired Word of God) vs. non-revelatory, infallible explications. Given this latter distinction, we can easily see why Mr. Matatics' perennial accusations of Protestant question-begging fail.[2] He's simply in the wrong debate.[3] In order for Mr. Matatics to make his case against Sola Scriptura he needs to demonstrate that Scripture speaks of God's Word, not as oral and/or written, but as uninspired, non-revelatory, and yet infallible. Furthermore, the Biblical case for Sola Scriptura is easily sealed by providing Scriptures which demonstrate God's Word (temporary oral or written) is a Christian's sole and supreme norm, to the exclusion of texts endorsing uninspired, yet infallible explications. This has been an easy task, buttressed both by the evidence of redemptive history and a waterfall of prooftexts (at least three dozen for Mr. Matatics' request for one).[4]

Given the absence of non-revelatory, yet infallible explications on par with Scripture, Roman Catholicism rests its claims on a very late and novel, let alone Scripturally unprecedented, foundation. We are supposed to believe that in all of redemptive history, from creation to the apostles, God's Word alone is supreme, but that as soon as the apostles pass away, then uninspired, non-revelatory, yet infallible explications immediately stand on par with Scripture. Yet, as we've seen, Scripture itself clearly forbids such a novel change in doctrine.[5]

In conclusion, then, the Roman Catholic Biblical case against Sola Scriptura has pointed out many of the texts speaking of inspired oral revelation but those, we now agree, are irrelevant. Mr. Matatics also agrees that inspired oral revelation ceased with the passing of the apostolic era, hence, there is no need to prove that oral revelation has ceased. What the Scriptural evidence does show, and Mr. Matatics has never disputed, is my original point that the sole and supreme norm invoked by persons in both Old and New Testaments is God's Word (oral and/or written), in opposition to non-revelatory, uninspired, yet infallible explications. As we've seen, the evidence for this claim is abundant, like a waterfall, and, hence, once we clear away all the debris, we see that Scripture very clearly teaches the very ancient truth of Sola Scriptura. We are now able to draw the inference from my very first statement: since Sola Scriptura is Scriptural, and it precludes Roman Catholicism as a system of theology, we ought to wholeheartedly reject Roman Catholicism.[6]


[1 ] Mr. Matatics also attempts to appeal to various allegedly extra-biblical traditions found incorporated into the New Testament but these don't fulfill the conditions of "uninspired, thought infallible explications" because they are either (i) not even authoritative works as Mr. Matatics himself agrees, for instance in regard to Jude 9, 14f., or (ii) not necessarily received apart from divine inspiration, or (iii) simply stand as summary doctrinal locutions. Whatever the case, they do not fit the category in question.
[2 ] In the previous essay Mr. Matatics strangely denies that he refutes several of his own charges against me, and so I direct the reader to page 52 to read his own statements where he twice claims that I can avoid a certain charge, and then he goes on to cite my own case in rebuttal.

[3 ] I gladly receive Mr. Matatics latest claim that he doesn't believe that Sola Scriptura precludes oral revelation, since it removes many of his previous objections, but he is quite wrong to suggest his arguments never assumed that view. In both essays he makes such blatant claims as, "If scriptura includes oral as well as written teaching, then there is nothing left to argue about: Catholics now affirm Sola Scriptura too!"(p. 52). Similarly, his claim that "there was no scripture during the patriarchal period...therefore...[these] hardly serve as examples of Sola Scriptura." (p.52). Thus, my charges weren't "trumped up," as he says; instead, he has apparently back-pedalled on the issue.

[4 ] Several other points are worth noting: (1) Mr. Matatics still has yet to make his case against Sola Scriptura actually contradict my case, though now we are told that points 1-6 were not intended to contradict it but only to demonstrate that the "trajectories" conflict with Sola Scriptura. Well, at least we finally have a contradiction. (2) Mr. Matatics claims that his appeal to John 5:19 is irrelevant to his basic claim and then goes on to defend this irrelevance in four more paragraphs. His basic rebuttal of my point rests upon mistaken logical formulation of the claim. I direct the reader to John 5:19 to compare. (3) In all honesty, his critique of my previous essay's second footnote, his points 1-6, doesn't even come close to restating my arguments accurately. (4) Given my discussion in this response, my citations of II Tim. 3;16; II Pet. 1:2, etc. are not question-begging. (5) Mr. Matatics regularly cites James 1:4 in order to refute the Protestant appeal to II Tim. 3:16, but this is a category mistake in which he conflates the ethical and the epistemological.

[5 ] Nevertheless, Mr. Matatics may grant the novelty of Roman doctrine but argue that the post-apostolic church was given this new standard beside God's Word. Yet his earliest footnotes in support of this point still do not uniquely support a Roman Catholic understanding of ordination, teaching authority, Peter's position, etc. Nor does Paul's references to Timothy and Titus in filial terms uniquely support Mr. Matatics' claim, given the wide use of such language for persons not holding church office. He has failed to supply even a foundation for Rome's novel view of revelation.

Moreover, Mr. Matatics attempts to salvage his case from II Thess. 2:15 by arguing that the central issue is infallible transmission not apostolic succession. First, by his own appeal to an infallible church, he explicitly continues his question-begging use of this passage. Second, his claim that our "only ground" for trusting Biblical manuscripts is the Roman Catholic church, belies his own concession that God promises to preserve His Word, which at least includes written revelation. Who needs fideism or textual criticism when God Himself makes a promise? Has Roman Catholicism now led Mr. Matatics to reject the sovereign providence of God as well? Third, my argument against apostolic succession doesn't in fact assume succeeding apostles but only their teaching authority. Hence, Mr. Matatics is still stuck with a non-foundational foundation.

[6 ] Mr. Matatics spills plenty of ink in an attempt to take personally my comments about the complexities of human experience. Everyone can see that his opening appeal to his past is intended to gain a special hearing and buttress his case. A sentence can explain background, but his four paragraphs with rather heavy-handed condescensions are obviously supposed to make the reader support his case. My point was explicitly logical in aim, namely, that such appeals have no place in a serious debate and to point out that experience is messy in that its complexities give us no clear cut directions. If Mr. Matatics doesn't want people to challenge all parts of his case, then he shouldn't invoke his past experience. Nevertheless, given this, I can't help be amused when he opens his latest essay by claiming that he will not question my integrity or intelligence and then proceeds to describe me as speaking mumbo-jumbo, too dull to grasp issues, superficial, irresponsible, sloppy, too simple to check texts, silly, unable to grasp basic lessons, befuddled, desperate, and a slow-witted retriever. I would hate to see him insult me.


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