Three Understandings of Sola Scriptura

October 29, 2007 § 48 Comments

Recent discussions with respect to textual positivism and postmodernism, while less productive in themselves than one might have hoped, have led me to the realization that there are really three quite distinct attitudes toward sola scriptura among various Christians. For the purposes of this post I’ll take sola scriptura as a very general doctrine about the Biblical text: a doctrine which asserts that for the purpose of working out one’s salvation everything which is necessary can be deduced fairly straightforwardly from the text of the closed Canon alone.

The first understanding is of course acceptance of sola scriptura in some form. For Catholics this is, I think fairly straightforwardly, not an available option; not even if one doesn’t particularly understand the intellectual reasons why it is not an option. (That one’s salvation does not implicitly depend upon philosophical reasoning from first principles is I think a wonderful feature of non-sola-scriptura Christianity. Heaven is open even to the illiterate.)

The second understanding is one of rejection of sola scriptura as something specifically problemmatic when it comes to religious revelation and only religious revelation. The idea here seems to be that sola scriptura is not an instance of some general intellectual error about meaning in general, but rather is a particular problem only because the class of truth we are dealing with is Divine revelation. Religious revelation isn’t true in the way that other things are true, so sola scriptura (the doctrine that for certain generalized purposes every necessary truth is straightforwardly deducable from some closed written canonical text alone) is perfectly fine in (some) other disciplines even though those disciplines, and indeed all disciplines, also necessarily make – and require the making of – true or false assertions about their objects.

The third understanding is that sola scriptura represents a fundamental error about the basic nature of truth and more specifically the nature of the relationship between written text and meaning. Sola scriptura with respect to the Bible isn’t really a unique case, it is just a particular case of a very general kind of error.

It won’t surprise anyone who reads this blog that this third understanding is the one that I think is correct.

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§ 48 Responses to Three Understandings of Sola Scriptura

  • Rodak says:

    Zippy–Okay, I’ll bite. I would propose, just for the sake of argument you understand, that what you define as sola scriptura Christianity is founded upon the principle that the Gospels contain the most accurate record that we possess of the teachings of Jesus Christ. It further proposes that all that is necessary to one’s salvation is Jesus Christ.Non-sola scriptura Christianity, by contrast, proposes that the words of Jesus Christ are not effective until glossed over by the accreted subjective musings of generations of self-serving professionals, whose task and agenda it is to promote the soi-disant essential nature of their profession itself and the institution which nurtures it.I.e., it is not possible for a Christian to understand, obey, and imitate Jesus Christ until Jesus Christ has been dressed up and made presentable by a professional priesthood, whose own self-identified supernatural powers are a necessary condition to salvation, over *and above* simple faith in the Person and the ministry of Christ.

  • Silly Interloper says:

    Rob,If we follow your approach, you would deny the valets that Jesus established for His service, and relegate the task of providing him clothing to every little girl who has spare Barbie clothing.But your approach is flawed, because we don’t “dress up” the language of the Bible. We interpret it. And there is no possible way to interpret it without bringing extra-Biblical knowledge and understanding. The Catholic Church brings with it the Apostolic knowledge necessary to understand Scripture correctly, while the Sola Scriptura Christian brings his or her own personal ideas and preferences (or Barbie clothing) to interpret Scripture, while simultaineously claiming the personal *command* over the Holy Spirit to be sure they get it right.(It is worth noting here that the Catholic Church generally speaks in terms of *understanding* Scripture – not some absolute interpretive power for all and every line in the Bible, while Sola Scriptura Protestants tend to dictate absolutely what a given passage means. They claim *more* infallibility over Scripture than the Pope does.)They simultaineously ignore what is obvious in Scripture — though it is useless to pick them apart because they will parse the language until the obvious is no longer visible, while claiming their way of interpretation is the only possible way–which is preposterous.Just an example of what I mean is this notion that Jesus meant Peter’s “confession” when He named Simon “Rock.” (Or Petros, or Cepha). Anyone can see that Simon-Peter carried that name with him for the rest of his life, and it is mentioned many times both as Peter/Petros and Cepha. But that understanding gets lost when you instead pick apart the sentence that named him to mean something other than naming him. (In isolation–either interpretation might be reasonable. But we Catholics don’t isolate interpretation from the greater Truths of our knowledge set.)John 6 is another. Any Joe can see that Jesus insists they take him seriously about eating His flesh when he persists in the assertion to the point that many disciples deserted Him. But the Sola Scriptura Christian slices the text apart to change the meaning to what they want. (Again — claiming *dominion* over the Holy Spirit to assure them they are right.)Sola Scriptura does not honor “accuracy.” It does violence to meaning.

  • Rodak says:

    “The Catholic Church brings with it the Apostolic knowledge necessary to understand Scripture correctly”That is completely circular reasoning: the Church is correct because the Church says it’s correct; you can confirm this by asking the Church. Are you completely unaware that there have been, and are, Protestant theologians who instruct and influence the thought of so-called *sola scriptura* Christians? Do you think, also, that no Protestant ever takes Catholic doctrine into consideration, and knows nothing of it?

  • Silly Interloper says:

    <>That is completely circular reasoning: the Church is correct because the Church says it’s correct; you can confirm this by asking the Church.<>Wow, Rob. You might actually have a point if I had actually said anything close to what you said I said. (And it does nothing to address the contradictions and problems of <>sola scriptura<>.)The only thing I’ve said about it, so far, is that the Catholic Church brings with it (and is subject to) the Apostolic knowledge to interpret Scripture, while the <>sola scriptura,<> Protestants do not – they bring their preferences according to their extra-Biblical experiences. Having Apostolic knowledge is clearly far superior than not having it.<>Are you completely unaware that there have been, and are, Protestant theologians who instruct and influence the thought of so-called *sola scriptura* Christians?<>Of course. It is one of the many contradictions of <>sola scriptura<>. I fail to see the point of the question.<>Do you think, also, that no Protestant ever takes Catholic doctrine into consideration, and knows nothing of it?<>I know for a fact that they do — even the <>sola scriptura<> Protestants do. That is a contradiction of <>sola scriptura<>, not anything I need to be concerned about.

  • zippy says:

    <>That is completely circular reasoning: the Church is correct because the Church says it’s correct; you can confirm this by asking the Church. <>“My interpretation of the Bible is right because my interpretation of the Bible is that my interpretation of the Bible is right” is also circular, and unlike what you attributed to Silly it actually <>is<> entailed by your view.(Silly: you will I expect find debating this subject with Rodak unproductive, though it is up to you of course).But my post wasn’t really directed at Protestants at all Rodak; it was directed at my fellow Catholics, and specifically was a criticism of fellow Catholics adopting the second as opposed to third understanding.

  • Rodak says:

    “My interpretation of the Bible is right because my interpretation of the Bible is that my interpretation of the Bible is right”Sure. But nobody with half a brain says that. Certainly not I. Some wild-haired, snake-handling, lay preacher out in the swamps may say it. But no thoughtful, educated, prayerful Protestant says it.

  • Silly Interloper says:

    Thanks, Zippy. Rob and I have bumped heads over it before, but my intention wasn’t to debate the merits of <>sola scriptura<>. It was primarily to put this…<>by contrast, proposes that the words of Jesus Christ are not effective until glossed over by the accreted subjective musings of generations of self-serving professionals, whose task and agenda it is to promote the soi-disant essential nature of their profession itself and the institution which nurtures it.<>…in its proper place. Rob conveniently characterized the Church with some pretty severe ad hominem there, instead of facing the problems with the <>sola scriptura<> beam in his eye.

  • Rodak says:

    “Rob conveniently characterized the Church with some pretty severe ad hominem there”For the sake of argument, as I said, I was attempting to state the other side of the argument according to what I see as the fundamental (but usually, due to PC considerations, unspoken) point of contention.

  • brandon field says:

    <>Sure. But nobody with half a brain says that. Certainly not I. Some wild-haired, snake-handling, lay preacher out in the swamps may say it. But no thoughtful, educated, prayerful Protestant says it.<>Rob, no one ever said that you say this (well, since you set us straight that you’re not a <>sola scriptura<> Protestant over ta Tom’s a while back), but I have experienced Protestants who <>do<> say this. The question “Where is <>that<> in the Bible?”, followed by the rejoinder: “That’s not how <>I<> interpret that verse of the Bible” is proof of that mentality. (Even better is the response: “That’s not what my pastor says that verse means!” but I have yet to meet a Protestant who fully understands the irony of thoe words when debating a Catholic about the Authority of the Church). I’ve heard this mentality first hand more than once, in various forms. You even did it recently in the discussion on the Eucharist, when you pit St. Paul against himself with regard to “This is my Body”.

  • brandon field says:

    Okay, I guess by the end of my comment, I did accuse you of saying that. I retract my original statement that no one has ever accused you of saying that.

  • Rodak says:

    I never pitted St. Paul against himself with regard to “this is my body.” The point I was making in that discussion was that St. Paul was not talking about “this is my body” in those verses, at all.He was talking about 1) behaving oneself soberly and charitably at the Love Feasts, and 2) not taking communion if one was also in the practice of eating foods connected with pagan rites. That point was directed towards the argument that those verses do not speak to the issue of “receiving Catholic communion while Protestant.”

  • brandon field says:

    My only point was that: “St. Paul was not talking about ‘this is my body’ in those verses, at all.” ≡ “That’s not how <>I<> interpret those verses.”

  • Rodak says:

    “That’s not how I interpret that verse of the Bible” is proof of that mentality. (Even better is the response: “That’s not what my pastor says that verse means!” Well, clearly a Protestant does not accept the authority of the Church; that is, after all, what it means to be a Protestant. So “irony” is not really a proper usuage here. There is nothing “ironic” about a Protestant citing what his pastor says a verse means. There would very likely be something grandiose about a Protestant lay person claiming to have a unique personal interpretation of a verse. But I think that this rarely happens. Most people who are involved enough in theological thought and discussion to even have an opinion on the true meaning of a verse of scripture, know better than to believe that they have come up with something original on their own. The true irony in this immediate exchange between you and I is that you should expect a Protestant to see irony in his not accepting the authority of the Catholic Church.

  • brandon field says:

    <>The true irony in this immediate exchange between you and I is that you should expect a Protestant to see irony in his not accepting the authority of the Catholic Church.<>The TRUE irony of this exchange might be that I might not know how to recognize “irony” any better than Alanis Morissette.

  • Rodak says:

    We’d better ask Uncle Zippy to tell us whether ANY of the above is irony. I fear that it’s, perhaps, just farce.

  • William Luse says:

    Zippy, I can’t accept #2 because it is restricted to religious revelation. But neither could I accept #3 as universal, i.e., as applying to <>all<> texts. Maybe you could give me an example or two from some area outside of religious revelation where sola scriptura is wrongly employed. And please don’t use Harry Potter. I’d like to have at least a passing acquaintance with the source material for your example.

  • Rodak says:

    Ars Poetica A poem should be palpable and muteAs a globed fruitDumbAs old medallions to the thumbSilent as the sleeve-worn stoneOf casement ledges where the moss has grown –A poem should be wordlessAs the flight of birdsA poem should be motionless in timeAs the moon climbsLeaving, as the moon releasesTwig by twig the night-entangled trees,Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,Memory by memory the mind –A poem should be motionless in timeAs the moon climbsA poem should be equal to:Not trueFor all the history of griefAn empty doorway and a maple leafFor loveThe leaning grasses and two lights above the sea –A poem should not meanBut be — Archibald MacLeish

  • brandon field says:

    Bill, I think Zippy has said elsewhere that a certain type of positivist American applys the <>sola scriptura<> mentality to the laws of the country, up to and including the US Constitution.The most recent discussion I recall was what FL law did or didn’t allow Gov. Bush to do in the case of Terri.

  • Rodak says:

    “…sola scriptura represents a fundamental error about the basic nature of truth and more specifically the nature of the relationship between written text and meaning.”Zippy–Can you elaborate on that statement a bit? It seems to me that any such fundamental error about the relationship between a written text and meaning, especially with reference to objective truth, is descriptive of the limited nature of language. As such, it would apply equally to anything communicated by words in any format. (Which is why I posted “Ars Poetica” which treats of the breach separating meaning from being.)

  • zippy says:

    <>But neither could I accept #3 as universal, i.e., as applying to all texts.<>I understand the resistance, being in possession of a fair amount of it myself, but I think at the end of the day that the rabbit hole really does go down that far: that any sufficiently complex intensional text (text which is <>about something<>) is inherently incapable of completely – literally completely – making explicit the thing it is about.A better (or at least different) way to say it is that the text itself is modal rather than being an object in itself: it quite literally isn’t anything <>in itself<>, and when we act as though it is we are really presuming some never-completely-explicit underlying hermeneutic or theory of meaning: some metaphysic of meaning. Text is (can be) the face or outer skin of meaning, but it can’t be meaning all by itself. Word (Logos, word spoken by an agent) is more than a string of regular patterns. To understand language one must understand the concretely mediated author-ity behind the language, and the author-ity behind the language can never be reduced to <>nothing but<> a closed canon.<>I’d like to have at least a passing acquaintance with the source material for your example.<>Hard to say offhand what texts we might know in common well enough to discuss at the level needed to explore the idea. Fiction (or verbal art more generally) is the ultimate test case of the idea I think, since it is something we are all inherently capable of generating, where we participate in creation-out-of-nothing to a greater degree than in any other endeavor. At the end of the day my view of fiction is that it is like a child of the author, whereas a positivistic view might see fiction as a form of meaning-creation ex-nihilo. In my understanding the connectedness of all truth can never be fully banished, whereas in the positivistic view the text can be utterly disconnected from the immanent author-ity from which it comes. A mother can tell us more about her child than anyone else can (even with a very mature child she knows things that others do not), but that doesn’t mean that her child is just whatever she decides to say he is. Knowing private things about a child’s mother and childhood can tell us things we otherwise would not know about the child, can help us understand the child more completely (though never completely completely, heh), but that doesn’t mean that her child is just whatever she decides to say he is. It is a very imperfect analogy, but there is a level of both intimacy and independence between an author and his work which simply cannot be completely eliminated: it is <>his<> work in a way that it is not the reader’s work.We can talk about texts in a positivistic way, as if they were truncated from the author-ity from which they come, under two conditions:1) We share enough common ground (as pertains to meaning) already; and2) We don’t take ourselves too seriously: that is, we know we are using shorthand and that there is always more to the story.This implies that this kind of “gentleman’s sola scriptura” can be useful as shorthand in those cases where we are already mostly in agreement and where we know we aren’t explicating the whole story: in other words, where disagreements are merely superficial, or with respect to some particular detail. Even mathematical notation though doesn’t mean anything <>in itself<> absent an understanding of <>what the author meant when he wrote it<>, what conventions he has voluntarily adopted and incorporated into what he wrote, etc.But that kind of “gentlemen’s positivism” is a bit of a dodge, because the whole point to <>sola scriptura<> is as a prop for fundamental disagreements: an appeal to text-disconnected-from-author-ity in order to halt discussion, since nonexplicit metaphysical authority isn’t the kind of thing which can be settled to the satisfaction of a positivist (and indeed the positivist will usually not even recognize the existence of or need of metaphysical authority, since the point to the positivist project is to settle things once and for all without relying on putatively unscientific metaphysics). It is one thing to appeal to the text to make a point; it is another to take possession of the text in such a way that all possible points are covered: not “the text” but “the text <>alone<>“. The whole purpose of positivism is to <>not<> be a gentleman when it comes to communicable meaning. But communication between the implacably opposed isn’t possible: to receive meaning is always a form of passive acceptance of meaning, meaning which comes from outside the autonomous free and equal ego of the superman and his own autonomous authority to pass judgement for himself. When we try to become God we find that we cannot even talk to each other.

  • zippy says:

    <>It seems to me that any such fundamental error about the relationship between a written text and meaning, especially with reference to objective truth, is descriptive of the limited nature of language. As such, it would apply equally to anything communicated by words in any format.<>Yes, exactly.Unlike many who followed him Wycliffe understood this, which is why he developed (or attempted to develop) his own bizarre ‘logic’ of Scripture independent of the logic which applies to other texts, and ultimately treated Scripture as itself the Real Presence of Christ, rather conveniently a Real Presence which did not require the mediating presence of an ordained priest to confect. Wycliffe’s textual positivism was ironically motivated (as many positivisms are) by a metaphysical realism: by the desire not to make textually expressed truth depend on the presumably fallible and contingent authority of men. My concern (again not with you Rodak, since our differences run deeper than this) is with my fellow Catholics rather ironically adhering to a Wyclffite view of all texts <>other than<> the Bible: position (2) in the post.

  • Rodak says:

    “…rather conveniently a Real Presence which did not require the mediating presence of an ordained priest to confect.”I guess what I don’t understand is how the mediating ordained priest acquired the ability to mediate, other than through language. That is, today’s mediating ordained priest simply learned by rote what any given verse of Scripture means. This rote learning he presents to his flock and they must accept it. But how did the *first priest* who made that interpretation come by the absolute knowledge of the meaning of this word, or that, which established the doctrine?

  • zippy says:

    <>I guess what I don’t understand is how the mediating ordained priest acquired the ability to mediate, other than through language.<>Only an ordained priest can (I intentionally use the word “can” rather than “may”) consecrate the Host. I’m not merely talking about interpreting Scripture here: Wycliffe literally substituted a “Real Presence” in Scripture, equally available to everyone without mediation through the visible Church, for the Real Presence in the Sacrament available only through the mediation of the visible apostolic Church. And the priest’s ordination is itself a sacrament not a text. That isn’t to say that sacraments don’t involve the use of words, but Wycliffe’s theology truncates sacramental reality into a text alone.(I’ve mentioned before that I think Wycliffe probably drew upon Islamic sources, perhaps specifically Averroes among others, in developing his philosophy/theology of textual interpretation and Scriptural logic.)

  • brandon field says:

    <>But how did the *first priest* who made that interpretation come by the absolute knowledge of the meaning of this word, or that, which established the doctrine?<>The *First Priest*, shared Divine Knowledge with the Father, so He did not “come to” knowledge. He did, however, < HREF="http://www.nccbuscc.org/nab/bible/luke/luke24.htm#v27" REL="nofollow">shrare that knowledge<> with the subsequent priests, and promised to continue to guide them in the future.

  • brandon field says:

    <>(I’ve mentioned before that I think Wycliffe probably drew upon Islamic sources, perhaps specifically Averroes among others, in developing his philosophy/theology of textual interpretation and Scriptural logic.)<>If that’s the case, I wonder where the Islamic scholars came up with that idea. (If this is the root of modern positivism. Or is it just the result of modern positivism?)

  • zippy says:

    <>If that’s the case, I wonder where the Islamic scholars came up with that idea.<>From the Koran itself. Unlike the Bible, the Koran quite explicitly makes positivist claims about itself. For example one of the Suras explicitly says “we did not leave anything out of this book”. (This is one of the Koranic quotations used within Islam in their internal argument which mirrors the internal Christian argument over <>sola scriptura<>. Such an argument is inevitable even within textually centric antisacramental Islam, because <>sola scriptura<> isn’t just a theological error about the Christian Scriptures but rather is a more general error about the relation between text and meaning).I do think that modern intellectual attitudes such as positivism and postmodernism have their roots all the way back in the middle ages and before. We tend to be pretty egotistical about how wise we are compared to them. We certainly know a lot more about instrumentally manipulating the natural world than they did, but it is a mistake to think that we are equally further along in theology and philosophy. If anything our technological success has made us arrogant to the point of making us more ignorant than they in many respects. One of the most direct paths to actual stupidity is hubristic intelligence.

  • brandon field says:

    Hm. Was that a developing line of thought at the time that Mohammad adopted, or was that a new contribution by him? (“divinely” inspired)

  • zippy says:

    <>Was that a developing line of thought at the time that Mohammad adopted, or was that a new contribution by him?<>That I do not know, nor do I even have a particular strong inclination. If Mohammed’s worries were right when he contemplated suicide out of a concern that his visions were demon-inspired then that might supply an answer, at least for those who believe in demons.

  • Rodak says:

    Zippy–So, if Wycliffe said “Reading Scripture = Receiving Host” and was wrong, how does this make the priestly ability to consecrate the Host equivalent to correctly interpreting Scripture? It would almost seem as though the opposite would need to be the case.

  • zippy says:

    <>…how does this make the priestly ability to consecrate the Host equivalent to correctly interpreting Scripture?<>It doesn’t. Wycliffe made an apples-to-oranges substitution of egalitarian textual Scripture for the ecclesiastically mediated Sacrament. That is why, along with his theory of dominion, he is most known for “freeing” the Bible and denying transubstantiation.

  • Rodak says:

    Zippy–Yes, I was about to say “scratch that last one” because I could see what you were going to reply. Never mind.

  • brandon field says:

    <>If Mohammed’s worries were right when he contemplated suicide out of a concern that his visions were demon-inspired then that might supply an answer<>That was what I was thinking…. But I don’t think that a demon could introduce a whole new way of thinking to the human race (at least not from what I understand of demon-human relations), so the positivist mentality must have existed in his time in some way or another.

  • brendon says:

    Zippy,Would it be correct to say that your understanding of the interpretation of texts can be considered a development of the Thomistic epistemological principle of “whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver?” That is, just as human knowledge in general depends on human nature and our particular knowledge depends on, among other things, the particular way we each instantiate this human nature, so to does our interpretation of texts depend on the historical, cultural, literary and linguistic traditions in which we have been formed and which we automatically bring to bear on that which we read?

  • zippy says:

    That all sounds pretty reasonable Brendon, though I’m not entirely sure that it reflects my central thesis rather than a corollary or something, and it is a bit of a mouthful (yeah, I know, pot-kettle or more like speck-plank) so I reserve the right to modify my assent. :^]One of the points is that the meaning of a given human language is itself at least in part a tradition which must be received with some passivity in order to make sense of any given text. A hermeneutic of suspician or even indifference can (as the postmoderns have shown us) deconstruct the meaning of any text. Fiction is an interesting case because many people think of fiction as just this inherently instrumental thing that can be used any way the reader wants to use it. That may be true – that is, it may be true that a fictional story <>can<> be as plastic as the reader wills it to be for the arbitrary purposes of the reader – but it would be false to claim that a story which has been mutilated in the manner implied, producing a new story, is still <>the<> (definite) story given by the author. And mutilation of a fictional story doesn’t start or stop with merely changing particular words. (If it did then every translation of a story into another language would be a mutilation of the story. It seems to me that some are, and some aren’t).

  • zippy says:

    Just to be clear, though I think it is very obvious, the “plank” which I refer to above is my own verbosity on the question and the “speck” is Brendon’s comment :-0.

  • William Luse says:

    Thanks for the long answer. I don’t have time to respond as fully as I’d like, but I think I see what you’re getting at. My concern with number three was connected to my background in fiction, so I was glad you brought that up as an example. I don’t like having to go outside the story to figure out what the author was intending to say. This is not positivist, as it might first appear. There is a critical method, for example, that would have you believe that you can’t understand what a particular story means unless you happen to know that, say, the author is a homosexual. Hogwash. If I <>must<> know that, what we have is a very bad story. Another approach is captured in your characterization of the “positivistic view” which “might see fiction as a form of meaning-creation ex-nihilo,” which is equally hogwash (more arrogantly so); and a third sees the text as having no objective reality at all, except via the interpretation given it by reader. This last is solipsistic nihilism, but a sort of nirvana for the critic, who thinks that what he says about the text is more important than the text itself. But by saying that I do not want to go outside the text is <>not<> to say that all possible meaning to be gleaned from it is literally contained in the words on the page, for when I re-read a good story, I see something new in it every time, a new level on which it operates, or, in O’Connors’s words, another way in which it “hangs on and expands in the mind.” (I’m sure you and your readers have experienced this on occasion when re-reading Christ’s parables.) And for this to happen, I don’t need to know that O’Connor was Catholic or a crippled spinster or anything else. The words are like a seed from a which a tree grows. An analogy I have used in the past is that a good story, like a human being, is “embodied meaning,” with its form and substance, wherein your body, nor even the words coming out of your mouth, or all the pages you’ve ever written, can tell me the <>whole<> story. And yet we get the sense of a very huge story based on the scantest of evidence. Since the author of such a story is merely a creature in God’s image, I would think that discussions of the ways in which the meaning of Scripture “hangs on and expands in the mind” are more treacherous in virtue of its author’s sovereignty, a quality not inherent in any merely human author, and thus an authority that would have to be delegated if any interpretations are to retain validity. <>Sola scriptura<> strikes me as analogous to those critical methods mentioned above, all of which involve the critic being elevated to a place of privilege, not by some vested authority, but by his own, for he cannot find the grounds for it in the text itself.

  • Rodak says:

    William–I was with you at this point:“I don’t like having to go outside the story to figure out what the author was intending to say.”But when you got to the following, at the end of your comment, the whole thing became incoherent for me: “Sola scriptura strikes me as analogous to those critical methods mentioned above, all of which involve the critic being elevated to a place of privilege”Sola scriptura, as I understand it, is an instance of the first excerpt above. It places the power of interpretation with the individual reading the text, rather than with an outside “authority” (or “critic”).That is the whole Catholic objection to it, is it not?The second excerpt that I quoted from your comment does not describe sola scriptura, but the position of the Catholic Church, which is that only an ordained priest possesses the ability to interpret Scripture, just as only the priest has the power to consecrate the Host. The analogy to ordinary literature is priest = critic. But sola scriptura does not try to make a case for Scripture being the same as ordinary literature. Sola scriptura claims that Scripture has the power to interpret itself to the reader. It does, indeed, plants seeds of meaning in the soul of the reader which prepare him ever more to receive the Spirit.

  • zippy says:

    <>There is a critical method, for example, that would have you believe that you can’t understand what a particular story means unless you happen to know that, say, the author is a homosexual. Hogwash.<>Agreed. It has never been my contention that facts <>external to the story<> are pertinent to the story; but with any text the amount of content which is implicit (the entire world-setting in which it takes place, among other things) far exceeds the amount that is explicit. The genesis of this whole debate was when the author of the story made public something implicit about <>one of the characters in her story<>. Quite a few people seem to think that the homosexual “crush” in question makes the character’s behavior more explicable, but the positivists would have it that the homosexual crush is not part of the story because it is not explicitly revealed in the canonical text.As for the <>quality<> of the story, well, that is another matter entirely.In fiction the stakes are not high: rather than receiving the story as given by its author a reader can rewrite the story in a way better to his liking in an act of literary masturbation if he likes; but it isn’t clear to me why, if he is willing to do so, he would stop short of modifying the explicit text itself. It seems rather arbitrary until you realize that what is at work is textual positivism, a.k.a. <>sola scriptura<>.

  • Silly Interloper says:

    <>…but the position of the Catholic Church, which is that only an ordained priest possesses the ability to interpret Scripture, just as only the priest has the power to consecrate the Host. The analogy to ordinary literature is priest = critic.<>That is not a correct understanding of Catholic interpretation. When a priest or bishop interprets Scripture, all of the same caveats about interpretation still apply. A priest or bishop cannot claim their personal ability for <>sola scriptura<> interpretation, nor are they infallible in their interpretations. For that matter, the Pope uses the Bible for instruction and understanding, but I don’t think the Pope even interprets Scripture infallibly. (Which is different from stating doctrine infallibly–though doctrine and Scripture are always in agreement.)The Catholic Church preserves the Truth and Tradition of Jesus Christ, and within that context, the Bible can be understood and can be very valuable for instruction. The Traditional knowledge of Christ and Apostles constrain those interpretations within a proper understanding of Christ and his Church–preventing them from being corrupted with false teaching and evil influence. Within that context the Bible is a powerful thing.Outside that context–with no Tradition within which it can be understood and constrained–there is no end to how it can be interpreted.Inside that context, there can be an ongoing discussion among priests and lay people about the meaning within the texts. The priests lead that process, but they don’t hold exclusive power of interpretation.

  • Rodak says:

    “Outside that context–with no Tradition within which it can be understood and constrained–there is no end to how it can be interpreted.”Right. And what is it that provides the context of that Tradition and renders that Tradition the context within which the Scripture must be interpreted?

  • Silly Interloper says:

    <>Right. And what is it that provides the context of that Tradition and renders that Tradition the context within which the Scripture must be interpreted?<>I’m not sure I understand the question, because the answer seems obvious. The Church that Jesus Himself established with the Apostles through exhaustive teaching and that has assiduously been preserved through Apostolic succession is the context of that Tradition.

  • Rodak says:

    “The Church that Jesus Himself established with the Apostles through exhaustive teaching and that has assiduously been preserved through Apostolic succession is the context of that Tradition.”But I thought that it was Scripture, plus Tradition, that defines precisely what the Church is, or has become, since its founding by Jesus?

  • zippy says:

    <>…defines precisely what the Church is …<>That strikes me as a very odd phrase. The Church wasn’t instituted by a document or a set of propositions, and it isn’t reduceable to a document or a set of propositions.

  • Rodak says:

    “The Church wasn’t instituted by a document or a set of propositions, and it isn’t reduceable to a document or a set of propositions.”Zippy–To the contrary, one can say that the Church wasn’t *founded* by a set of propositions, but it certainly has been *instituted* that way. Primarily, in the formative years, by the various councils, such as those at Nicea, the first of which formulated a coupld of dozen canons, I believe. And after that, once power had been centralized and stabilized, by the hierarchy.

  • zippy says:

    <>…but it certainly has been *instituted* that way.<>That (again) strikes me as a strange – even ludicrous – thing to say. A person is not reduceable to some finite list of things he has said, and neither is the Church.

  • Silly Interloper says:

    Indeed, it is odd and ludicrous. When the Logos walked the earth, there was far more happening within His Church already than can be reduced to some finite list of things.<>But there are also many other things which Jesus did; which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written.<> John 21:25

  • c matt says:

    It seems that last citation makes relying on Scripture alone for all instruction specifically repudiated by Scripture itself.

  • c matt says:

    I do think Rodak makes a good point – it really does come down to a question of Authority – either you accept the RCC as the authority, or you accept something/someone else (yourself, or a different tradition – Methodist, Lutheran, church of Kent, whatever).And it seems, accepting that authority is a question of faith. So, for me anyway, I accept by faith that Christ built His Church on Peter, giving him the keys to the Kingdom because He said so. I don’t know that one can fully and completely and definitively reach this position by pure reason and argument alone.

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