Why sola scriptura is positivist

July 3, 2014 § 95 Comments

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

Positivism can be understood in any number of equivalent ways.  One way is to understand it as the assertion of a positive, rigorous demarcation between one kind of knowledge and another: as the belief that there is a straightforward mechanical verification procedure which can be used to determine whether any given proposition is (say) scientific or unscientific.  “Mechanical” here means roughly “a neutral procedure that doesn’t rely on any particular metaphysical assumptions.”  (Ahem).

In the discussion at Free Northerner, a commenter and I were haggling over the protestant doctrine of sola scriptura (a kind of Scriptural verificationism).  He cites the sixth Article of Religion of the Church of England as an expression of the doctrine:

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

Frustrated at my contention that infallible doctrine is underdetermined by the formal text of Scripture he asked:

Question: Do you believe all infallible doctrine is rooted in the teaching of the Prophets and Apostles?

Certainly infallible doctrine is “rooted in” the teaching of the Prophets, the Apostles, and of Christ Himself. Scripture itself is rooted in the teaching of the Prophets and the Apostles, and tells us explicitly that many things were not written down.

It doesn’t follow that scripture is complete (indeed it seems to assert its own incompleteness). It doesn’t follow that the idea of it being complete – providing a rigorous demarcation criteria between infallible doctrines and other propositions, that the text alone can verify which doctrines are necessary or infallible – is even rationally coherent.

Even the rigorous mathematical formalisms of quantum mechanics underdetermine the choice of theories (Bohm vs Copenhagen). It isn’t that every theory is compatible with every formalism (the extreme end of the postmodern error, roughly); but there are multiple compatible theories for any formalism.

Put somewhat roughly into more everyday concepts, any sufficiently interesting text admits of multiple mutually incompatible interpretations which, although inconsistent with each other, are all consistent with the text. The text alone cannot determine which of these interpretations is the correct one.

Scripture likewise underdetermines theory choice about any number of important doctrinal questions: e.g. the issues raised by novatianism and donatism  – and some would even argue, with some merit, the Holy Trinity.  After all arianism and nestorianism would never have been ‘things’ if Scripture alone could decide the question.

§ 95 Responses to Why sola scriptura is positivist

  • jf12 says:

    The food demarcation problem is the exact same as the science demarcation problem. I.e. trivial at best, silly at worst. Bad food, e.g. inedible crud, is the same as nonfood.

    The Bible supports Sola Scriptura for those who already have been enlightened though faith and the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 3:15 etc).

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:

    The Bible supports Sola Scriptura for those who already have been enlightened though faith and the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 3:15 etc).

    Sola scriptura is a changeling flitting between positivism and gnosticism.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    And because from thy infancy thou hast known the holy scriptures, which can instruct thee to salvation, by the faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.

    2 Timothy 3:15-17

    Yes, the Bible is an excellent tool box for reproving, correcting, and instructing. But if you try to use those tools to build a church without the direction of a foreman, the building is condemned before it’s even finished.

  • jf12 says:

    Acts 8:31 undermines the ability of non-Sola-Scripturists to pretend it means something other than what it means.

  • Zippy says:

    A passage where a new believer asks one of the Magisterium to explain to him what scripture means is an argument in favor of sola scriptura?

  • jf12 says:

    Yes. Because you’re trying to pretend to think Sola Scriptura is only to be understood in a positivist sense.

  • nathanjevans says:

    Thanks for responding over here. I was already feeling like I was cluttering Free Northerner’s Combox.

    Frustrated at my contention that infallible doctrine is underdetermined by the formal text of Scripture he asked:

    I am more frustrated by your inability to see how this would apply equally to mounds of Papal documents as it does to the Scriptures themselves. All you are doing is burying a perceived problem under mounds of nice and official looking documents.

    “Rooted in”, sure. Scripture itself is rooted in the teaching of the Prophets and the Apostles, and tells us explicitly that many things were not written down (e.g. John 21:25).

    Protestants never claimed that the Scriptures contained exhaustive knowledge, particularly on every detail of Jesus’ life, which is what John is actually talking about.

    It doesn’t follow that scripture is complete (indeed it seems to assert its own incompleteness). It doesn’t follow that the idea of it being complete is even coherent.

    You are equivocating on completeness. You seem to be using it to mean both sufficiency and exhaustiveness. Of course, Protestants never claimed that Scripture is exhaustive, even of theology (otherwise, we’d never write anything about theology). Rather, Scripture is sufficient (with the use of right reason guided by the light of tradition) for understanding faith and morals. It is often up to us to systematize and explicate the Word, but that process must be tethered ultimately to the Word.

    This means you cannot come up with some doctrine that has no basis in the inscripturated word and demand people adhere to it as a formal dogma, like the Assumption of Mary. However, there is plenty of evidence to come up with the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity in Scripture when systematizing the Scriptural Witness. There is no other way to explain multiple points in Scripture without resort to the Triune God.

    Look, even the rigorous mathematical formalisms of quantum mechanics underdetermine the choice of theories (Bohm vs Copenhagen). It isn’t that every theory is compatible with every formalism (the extreme end of the postmodern error, roughly); but there are multiple compatible theories for any formalism.

    This might be all well and good, but once again, all you have done is relocate the problems with interpreting the 66 Books of the Bible to interpreting those books, plus the Deuterocanon, plus the creeds, plus the catechisms, plus God only knows how many other obscure magisterial documents to the list of necessarily “incomplete” texts. All you have done is bury your “positivism” under mounds of paper with Papal seals. Now, positivism feels more official.

    Translated somewhat roughly into more everyday concepts, any sufficiently interesting text admits of multiple mutually incompatible interpretations which are all consistent with the text. The text alone cannot determine which of these interpretations is the correct one.

    You neglect that the Scriptures are a collection of multiple texts from a multitude of authors that elucidate each other. If the multiple witnesses in Scripture cannot do it, how can we expect someone 2,000 years removed to do so? Not saying it will not be difficult sometimes to pin down meaning, but that is not a reason to believe there is an infallible interpreter.

    You also neglect that the Scriptures are of a fundamentally different nature than any other group of texts known to man. The simple Protestant position is: There is nothing besides the Holy Scriptures which was given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Only things given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit can be infallible (i.e., by their very nature cannot err). Ergo, the Holy Scriptures are the sole infallible authority. Unlike other texts, from math textbooks to Papal Encyclicals, the Scriptures are given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and thus it is much more than mere words combined to create propositional knowledge that may be interpreted whichever way is convenient, but it should not be surprising that man treats it that way.

    Scripture likewise underdetermines theory choice about any number of important doctrinal questions: e.g. the Donatist question – and some would even argue, with some merit, the Holy Trinity. After all arianism and nestorianism would never have been ‘things’ if Scripture alone could decide the question.

    Never underestimate the powers of sin, pride, ignorance, and plain stupidity to misunderstand even relatively basic concepts, let alone the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Furthermore, once again, all you have done is relocate a problem. Why did the Arians get anywhere if everyone knew that all you had to do was appeal to the Bishop of Rome? Answer: Because few, if any, thought that. This is a problem that applies both ways.

    Yes, the Bible is an excellent tool box for reproving, correcting, and instructing. But if you try to use those tools to build a church without the direction of a foreman, the building is condemned before it’s even finished.

    Of course, this is not the Magisterial Protestant position, especially the multiple Churches that retained the Episcopate. I am a High Church Anglican. I even hold a borderline esse view of the Episcopate. We are just saying the foreman does not hold infallibility, nor is it necessary for him to do so. Furthermore, the teaching authority of the foreman is tethered to the final authority Scripture.

  • Zippy says:

    nathanjevans:

    I am more frustrated by your inability to see how this would apply equally to mounds of Papal documents as it does to the Scriptures themselves. All you are doing is burying a perceived problem under mounds of nice and official looking documents.

    The basic difference is that scripture alone is a fixed text, whereas the voice of the living Church is not a fixed text. The very fact that it is added to on a regular basis is the difference in the text.

    But beyond that it is a mistake to see the authority of revelation as located within formal text at all.

    FWIW, I am more interested in this as a vehicle to explain positivism to Catholics than I am in arguing with protestants about sola scriptura.

    …all you have done is relocate the problems with interpreting…

    The inherent ambiguity of interpretation and the mystery of meaning don’t go away, sure. (As I mentioned in the other thread, rejecting sola scriptura doesn’t imply papism).

    But that isn’t the problem I am addressing. The problem is positivism: the assertion that an appeal to the fixed text of Scripture alone provides a demarcation or verification procedure between doctrines which must be believed and those which do not need to be believed.

    Ergo, the Holy Scriptures are the sole infallible authority.

    That statement though is (perhaps counterintuitively) nonsensical, precisely because it is a statement about a text not an authority.

    Unlike other texts, from math textbooks to Papal Encyclicals, the Scriptures are given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and thus it is much more than mere words combined to create propositional knowledge that may be interpreted whichever way is convenient, but it should not be surprising that man treats it that way.

    As I mentioned to jf12, that is why sola scriptura protestantism tends toward gnosticism: you’ll get the right interpretation if you are personally inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the thousands of other interpretations in conflict with yours are just a sign that those other people are not inspired by the Holy Spirit.

    Why did the Arians get anywhere if everyone knew that all you had to do was appeal to the Bishop of Rome? Answer: Because few, if any, thought that. This is a problem that applies both ways.

    I suppose that might count in favor of Eastern Orthodoxy or other non-sola-scriptura forms of Christianity. On the other hand those questions were in fact resolved by councils in union with the Pope.

  • Zippy says:

    It is literally impossible for a text alone (or any fixed formalization alone) to serve as the final (infallible) authority in an intensional sense about any sufficiently interesting subject.

  • Novaseeker says:

    The basic difference is that scripture alone is a fixed text, whereas the voice of the living Church is not a fixed text. The very fact that it is added to on a regular basis is the difference in the text.

    But beyond that it is a mistake to see the authority of revelation as located within formal text at all.

    Even further, that authority existed before there even *was* an NT text, and was the same authority which canonized the “definitive spirit-inspired text” which is the basis of SS — that is, the “canonical authoritativeness” of what is accepted to be scripture by SS protestants derives its position as scripture from a source of authority outside of itself, as text.

    There is both a chicken and egg problem (actually, with an obvious solution here in that the Church chicken birthed the NT scriptural egg), and a problem of very selective belief in inspiration of the HS apart from the text of the Bible (which had to be the case for the issue of what texts were canonical scripture and what were not — that authority came from outside the text itself, and was not dependent on it).

    It’s an incoherent doctrine, full stop.

  • jf12 says:

    re: “scripture alone is a fixed text”

    It’s a *living* text.

  • jf12 says:

    re: “it is much more than mere words”

    Amen.

  • Zippy says:

    Novaseeker:

    It’s an incoherent doctrine, full stop.

    Agreed, and the problem of canonical authority is probably a better (in the sense of ‘more persuasive to everyman’) argument against SS than my argument that it is incoherent because positivistic. But it makes a passable vehicle for beating one of my favorite hobby horses to death — especially if my reader already rejects SS.

  • Catholic Economist says:

    Ergo, the Holy Scriptures are the sole infallible authority.

    Except, apparently, when it comes to issues like contraception.

    From the Church of England herself: http://www.churchofengland.org/our-views/medical-ethics-health-social-care-policy/contraception.aspx

    The contrast between the Anglican position and the Roman Catholic position (reiterated on many occasions by Pope John Paul II in the years following Humanae Vitae) illustrates, in part, different ways of approaching questions of moral theology. Roman Catholics have tended to look to the Pope as the source of authority on moral, as in doctrinal, questions. Anglicans have tended to call on ‘Scripture, Tradition and Reason’. Increasingly these approaches are being supplemented by appeals to ‘human experience’. It is clear, for example, that the experience of Christian married people in relation to contraception explains some of the change in Anglican thinking between 1930 and 1958.

    Setting aside the mischaracterization of the Catholic position on the Pope, I’m not sure how anyone can read that and not conclude that Anglicanism is not a homocentric religion.

  • Novaseeker says:

    it is incoherent because positivistic.

    Of course that’s correct. It is really unbelievable that anyone who lives in the United States could, for example, believe that the text of anything is ex sese definitive as an authority in a final sense without a final interpreter. Maybe I think that way because I am a lawyer, and we are keenly aware that everything is interpretation of text, and there is ultimately one interpreter whose interpretation will trump (the one we write things for). I don’t personally understand how people see texts as self-operatively authoritative in a definitive sense — it is an impossibility, due to the limits of text.

  • nathanjevans says:

    But beyond that it is a mistake to see the authority of revelation as located within formal text at all.

    But I didn’t. I specifically linked it to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The text’s authority is derived from its inspiration by the Holy Spirit.

    That statement though is (perhaps counterintuitively) nonsensical, precisely because it is a statement about a text not an authority.

    It is a statement about the authority of the Holy Spirit and His inspiration. The way He communicates with us is through the inscripturated Word.

    As I mentioned to jf12, that is why sola scriptura protestantism tends toward gnosticism: you’ll get the right interpretation if you are personally inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the thousands of other interpretations in conflict with yours are just a sign that those other people are not inspired by the Holy Spirit.

    Of course, this could also explain why gnosticism arose in the first place: Because the Church taught something that sort of sounded like it, but the Gnostics perverted and abused it. You are confusing Radical Reformation tendencies with Magisterial positions. The Holy Spirit works to transform the text from a letter to the living, breathing Word of God, but that does not mean that when you are reading whatever interpretation feels right at the moment is the one that is correct.

    I suppose that might count in favor of Eastern Orthodoxy or other non-sola-scriptura forms of Christianity. On the other hand those questions were in fact resolved by councils in union with the Pope.

    But the Bishop of Rome had little to do with them. They were called by the Emperor and the vast majority of the Bishops were from Eastern jurisdictions.

    It is literally impossible for a text alone (or any fixed formalization alone) to serve as the final (infallible) authority in an intensional sense about any sufficiently interesting subject.

    We are talking about the lively oracles of God here, not some math textbook filled with formalist statements. They are unique, and should be treated as a unique set of texts.

  • nathanjevans says:

    Setting aside the mischaracterization of the Catholic position on the Pope, I’m not sure how anyone can read that and not conclude that Anglicanism is not a homocentric religion.

    The difference is our Church authorities were never thought to be infallible. The fact many Bishops in the Communion have begun teaching nonsense is not a strike against the original Elizabethan Settlement of Religion.

  • Zippy says:

    nathanjevans:

    We are talking about the lively oracles of God here, not some math textbook filled with formalist statements. They are unique, and should be treated as a unique set of texts.

    The text is the final authority, except when people of good will disagree about what the text means, in which case the text is the final authority because it is a lively oracle of God.

  • jf12 says:

    re: “my argument that it is incoherent because positivistic”

    Your argument is that a straw man is positivistic.

  • jf12 says:

    Here is your argument, as far as I can tell, correct me if wrong. “Sola Scriptura is stupid because it’s positivistic if taken literally, but this argument is not stupid even though it is in fact a positivistic argument based on nothing except taking Sola hyperliterally.”

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:
    Here is my interpretation of your reframe: sola scriptura is a perfectly coherent doctrine as long as we don’t take it seriously.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    …The text’s authority…

    I rest my case.

    The way He communicates with us is through the inscripturated Word.

    A way, sure.

    But not the only way.

    It’s contralogical to think it is the only way.

    The Holy Spirit works to transform the text from a letter to the living, breathing Word of God, but that does not mean that when you are reading whatever interpretation feels right at the moment is the one that is correct.

    Then how can you know anything about interpreting scripture without an authority?

    We are talking about the lively oracles of God here, not some math textbook filled with formalist statements. They are unique, and should be treated as a unique set of texts.

    nathan: “Reality doesn’t apply to this particular text. God created an irrational world.”

  • Zippy says:

    The arguments for sola scriptura are a good example of weaponized nihilism: when SS is used to attack the Church it is hard as diamond; but when it comes under criticism itself it fades into intangibility.

  • jf12 says:

    re: “when SS is used to attack”

    That’s really all it ever was for: to attack illegitimate authority and the paranoia that that illegitimacy had induced in *everyone*.

  • jf12 says:

    The visual should be the bitter old abusive coot screaming frothily at the leaving young man: “Ya got Nothing! There’s Nothing without me, ya hear? You’ll starve, you’ll die, etc etc etc.”

  • Catholic Economist says:

    The difference is our Church authorities were never thought to be infallible. The fact many Bishops in the Communion have begun teaching nonsense is not a strike against the original Elizabethan Settlement of Religion.

    A new slogan for the CoE? “Sure, the doctrines we teach you may send you to Hell, but that’s OK, nobody’s perfect!”

    Kind of hard to take a religion like that seriously. How can you claim any authority on moral teaching if you can’t even claim to be right?

  • Catholic Economist says:

    The visual should be the bitter old abusive coot screaming frothily at the leaving young man: “Ya got Nothing! There’s Nothing without me, ya hear? You’ll starve, you’ll die, etc etc etc.”

    And the old man was correct. Since leaving, the young man has had multiple psychotic breaks and now has dissociative identity disorder with about 30,000 different personalities (give or take) screaming in his mind.

  • Zippy says:

    I give my word that to the best of my knowledge jf12 is not a sock puppet engaged in a false flag.

  • jf12 says:

    and so, continuing the parable since the Holy Spirit had long ago abandoned the bitter old coot and since faith in Scripture left with the young man, it turned out that who actually was left with nothing but faith in himself was the bitter old man. The end.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    since the Holy Spirit had long ago abandoned the bitter old coot

    Except He hasn’t.

  • William Luse says:

    It is a statement about the authority of the Holy Spirit and His inspiration. The way He communicates with us is through the inscripturated Word.

    The Holy Spirit works to transform the text from a letter to the living, breathing Word of God, but that does not mean that when you are reading whatever interpretation feels right at the moment is the one that is correct.

    These two sentences seem to contradict one another. Anyway, I have read the living, breathing Word of God, whose authority via the Holy Spirit told me to head straight for Rome and sign up. It may not have been the right interpretation “at the moment,” but I’m still waiting for it to offer a correction. It says the same thing every time I read it.

  • Silly Interloper says:

    nathanjevans:

    Only things given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit can be infallible (i.e., by their very nature cannot err). Ergo, the Holy Scriptures are the sole infallible authority.

    It seems to me, piecing together some of your scattered comments, that what you are saying is that scripture is “infallible” independent of any interpretation whatsoever. In other words, its intended meaning, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, is without error, but there is no authoritative interpretation. Is that a fair representation of your view?

    If so, that seems to say the same thing we Catholics mean when we say the biblical canon is inerrant. That it contains truth without error as intended by the inspired authors. It confuses the issue when you say it is “infallible,” because we have always used the word “infallible” to refer to authorities that settle disputes of (in this case) doctrinal meaning. In order to do that, authorities can draw from the Bible and demonstrate how the scriptures support the doctrine, but the interpretation they use is only one possible underdetermination (to use Zippy’s term) of the text. The Bible can be drawn from as an inerrant source, but the interpretation is not (perhaps never*) infallible. Therefore, in spite of its inerrancy, the Bible alone cannot serve as an authority (as we Catholics use the term)—ever—because the interpretation without proper authority to verify it cannot be trusted.

    But if I am correct in my assessment of you above, you are using the term “authority” in a defective way—in such a way that an authority can never serve as an actual authority that administers clarifications and resolutions to disputes. It’s like having a mute and paralyzed king sitting on his throne while his judges are forced to guess what his laws are and how he intends to prosecute them. Whenever there are disputes among the judges, they cannot appeal to the authority because he does not have the capacity to instruct them with any degree of certainty.

    There are a few things you said that might be illustrative in this context, but I will let you digest this before overburdening the discussion.

    *I am not extremely well read regarding Catholic authority, so better informed readers may correct me; but I don’t believe any authoritative body of the Catholic Church (magisterium, pope, encyclical, council, or whatever) has made a claim for infallible interpretation of scripture. The infallible authority is always regarding the doctrine itself, and scripture is then drawn upon to show how it supports the doctrine.

  • jf12 says:

    Yeah “mute and paralyzed” accurately characterize the Catholic view of Scripture.

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:

    Yeah “mute and paralyzed” accurately characterize the Catholic view of Scripture.

    That is nice and snarky and all, but what precisely should be done when there are different views on what Scripture means and requires? How precisely do we resolve who is correct when Arius’ interpretation differs from Athanasius’ interpretation?

  • Silly Interloper says:

    No, jf12, “mute and paralyzed,” as the astute reader will have discerned*, is what proceeds from a defective understanding of authority. When accepted in its full context of Christ’s church as the Holy Spirit intended, instead of completely amputated from the body of Christ as you would have it, it is very much alive.

    *Yes, I’m channeling Dorothy Sayers.

  • jf12 says:

    @Zippy, re: “How precisely do we resolve who is correct when Arius’ interpretation differs from Athanasius’ interpretation?”

    Whatever exalts Jesus the most. That wasn’t so hard, was it? Any alternative answer such as “Whatever exalts the place which sits on seven hills the most” is the wrong answer.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Whatever exalts Jesus the most.

    And who are you to decide what that is? Are you the rock upon which Jesus built his church? Is whatever you bind on earth bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth loosed in heaven? Have you been given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, jf12?

  • Zippy says:

    JSG:
    It means whatever jf12 says it means; nothing more, nothing less.

    Perceptive readers will notice a pattern.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Even if sola scriptura were true, the Protestants would still have a problem. The Third Council of Carthage teaches that the canon includes the deuterocanon, the seven Old Testament books that most Protestant Bibles omit. I say “most Protestant Bibles” because the 1611 edition of the KJV includes them, in an appendix, I believe.

    http://www.bible-researcher.com/carthage.html

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Oh, I’ve just remembered two more problems. The New International Version is missing some passages that other Protestant Bibles include. You’ll also find mistranslations in some Bibles. In the KJV, Matthew 24:24 is even in ungrammatical English that says something like, “If it were possible, they shall deceive even the elect.” To correct the grammar, “would” needs to replace “shall.”

    http://www.jesus-is-lord.com/nivdelet.htm

    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+24%3A24&version=KJV

  • nathanjevans says:

    The text is the final authority, except when people of good will disagree about what the text means, in which case the text is the final authority because it is a lively oracle of God.

    The arguments for sola scriptura are a good example of weaponized nihilism: when SS is used to attack the Church it is hard as diamond; but when it comes under criticism itself it fades into intangibility.

    Translation: I would like to continue to use my strawman argument despite the fact it bears little resemblance to the actual position I’m opposing. Scripture is always viewed as authoritative because it is the Voice of God. Scripture is a unique text, in that it is inspired by God, unlike any other text. That makes it both a final word and a living text.

    These two sentences seem to contradict one another.

    They are in two different contexts. From the nature of Scripture itself, it is the inspired, infallible Word of God. However, people do not always recognize it that way, and the Holy Spirit brings the text alive to the previously spiritually dead. Theoretically, a pagan should be able to understand what Scripture is communicating through their ordinary faculties. However, without spiritual enlightenment a pagan is likely to abuse it. Hence their discovery of “contradictions” in Scripture even when there are rather obvious alternative interpretations that are more in line with the context.

    It seems to me, piecing together some of your scattered comments, that what you are saying is that scripture is “infallible” independent of any interpretation whatsoever. In other words, its intended meaning, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, is without error, but there is no authoritative interpretation. Is that a fair representation of your view?

    Scripture itself provides its own interpretation. This is especially the case of the New Testament interpreting the Old, and it is especially obvious in that case. There are quite a number of cases in the Bible where it explicitly interprets itself, not to mention numerous ways that are less explicit.

    It’s like having a mute and paralyzed king sitting on his throne while his judges are forced to guess what his laws are and how he intends to prosecute them.

    This kind of ridiculous argument is why Roman Catholics do not really convince all that many Protestants, especially of the serious variety, to make the paddle across the Tiber. Zippy and your argument essentially says that God cannot, by definition, issue a final word, and Zippy poisons the well by idiosyncratically calling a view that He can “positivism,” which is associated with virulently anti-Christian legal and epistemological movements.

    No, our very much living King of Kings has issued a final word that is sufficient. That doesn’t mean all His subjects always obey it. Notably, that sounds a lot more like the earl Church of the New Testament and beyond than the Roman Catholic one, and that’s with the infallible Apostles right there to answer controversial questions.

    Not to mention, where does this kind of half-cocked reasoning end? Is it “irrational” (as justsomeguy put it) for God to issue a final judgment on Judgment Day? Will Jesus have to continually clarify His damnation of sinners, since, as we all know, we need someone there to infallibly interpret it?

    All any position that asserts that there needs to be an “infallible” interpreter does is create an infinite regress. Who interprets the infallible interpreter? It really creates obfuscation and skepticism, and yet I’m supposed to not notice this and pretend like it solves obfuscation and skepticism.

    Even if sola scriptura were true, the Protestants would still have a problem. The Third Council of Carthage teaches that the canon includes the deuterocanon, the seven Old Testament books that most Protestant Bibles omit. I say “most Protestant Bibles” because the 1611 edition of the KJV includes them, in an appendix, I believe.

    Most Magisterial Protestants viewed the Apocrypha as interesting Inter-testamental documents. It is a glimpse into the milieu of the Jewish Church pre-Christ, but not an infallible source of dogma since it does not come from a prophetic voice (by its self-testimony, no less).

    Oh, I’ve just remembered two more problems. The New International Version is missing some passages that other Protestant Bibles include. You’ll also find mistranslations in some Bibles. In the KJV, Matthew 24:24 is even in ungrammatical English that says something like, “If it were possible, they shall deceive even the elect.” To correct the grammar, “would” needs to replace “shall.”

    The supposed grammatical problem is really grasping at straws here, not to mention has nothing to do with the Scriptures in the original languages, which is the actual Protestant claim. Be that as it may, that would have been grammatically correct when it was translated. You really think Oxbridge Dons would have repeatedly published over several editions an easily correctable grammatical error?

    As far as the substantive observation concerning the textual variances, I’m just about 100% behind the Textus Receptus and King James Version on those issues.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Scripture itself provides its own interpretation.

    That statement is just false. No text can interpret itself. Language is a tool to point to meaning. Words are not meaningful in and of themselves.

    No, our very much living King of Kings has issued a final word that is sufficient.

    And there’s your positivism. It is contralogical to believe that a finite text can be the sufficient, final word.

    All any position that asserts that there needs to be an “infallible” interpreter does is create an infinite regress.

    Just because truth is infinite doesn’t mean we can’t know true things. One of the roots of positivism is the belief that truth can be reduced to a set of formal, basic axioms (like the Bible) from which all other things true can be deduced.

    Believing that the Bible is the set of formal, basic axioms (granted, a rather large set) from which all doctrinal knowledge can be deduced is positivism, and contrary to logic.

  • William Luse says:

    From the nature of Scripture itself, it is the inspired, infallible Word of God. However, people do not always recognize it that way, and the Holy Spirit brings the text alive to the previously spiritually dead. Theoretically, a pagan should be able to understand what Scripture is communicating through their ordinary faculties. However, without spiritual enlightenment a pagan is likely to abuse it.

    Pagans? Christians abuse it, from Jehovah’s Witnesses to the earliest heresies. You still haven’t answered Zippy’s question: when “the Holy Spirit brings the text alive” to two different Christians who interpret that text in two different ways, how is the issue to be resolved?

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Please read the Historical Introduction to the Third Council of Ephesus that met in 431. It’ll tell you that its Council Fathers thought their council taught infallible, and that St. Peter taught through Pope Celestine, i.e., with St. Peter’s authority. They clearly didn’t believe sola scriptura.

    http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/ephesus.asp

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    A Protestant acquaintance of mine explained other Protestants mean when they say that the Bible interprets itself. They don’t mean that it can reason, imagine, and talk. My Bible won’t tell me, “Bill, that’s not what I mean. I mean that . . .” They’re saying that with context, other passages, and so forth, a reader can interpret a passage accurately.

    That makes some sense when I remember that God inspired the Bible to tell us a coherent, logically consistent, set of logically interrelated truths as though Sacred Scripture consisted of a huge sentence strung together with lots of “ands.” Some truths are implied ones because you need to deduce them from others. For example, you won’t find any verse that says, “The Catholic Church can teach infallibly.” But you can deduce that infallibility from some things that Our Blessed Lord tells us in the Bible when you know, for example, that in it keys represent authority and that the verbs “to bind” and “to loose” mean “to forbid” and “to allow.” When Christ tells St. Peter, the only Apostle to whom He gave the keys, “What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven, too,” He means that the Holy Trinity will ratify some judgments St. Peter makes. Since the divine Persons are all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing, they’ll never ratify a falsehood.

    As I pointed out in another post the Fathers at the Third Council of Ephesus believed that their council taught infallibly and that Pope Celestine taught with St. Peter’s authority. Sorta implies that Celestine succeeded St. Peter, eh? The Historical Introduction also suggests that Pope Celestine or a delegate of his needed to ratify what that council intended to teach.

    Strangely, although the Eastern Orthodox accept that council and six others, the reject papal infallibility, papal primacy of jurisdiction, and the belief that the Catholic Church can teach infallibly. How can they accept that council and each thing it taught when they reject its teaching(?) about infallibility?

    Ah, the reminds me of a logical problem with sola scriptura. Supposedly, even in Our Lord’s day Christians believed in it. But back then, the Old Testament was their only Bible, since the New Testament still needed to be added to it to form the Bible we read today.. The OT can’t have been both the only scripture Christ’s contemporaries needed and not the only scripture they needed. Sola scriptura is a Protestant invention.

  • Zippy says:

    Bill McEnaney:

    They’re saying that with context, other passages, and so forth, a reader can interpret a passage accurately.

    Right. That is positivist.

  • Zippy says:

    It is positivist because it asserts that no informed good-faith conflicts of interpretation can occur; when in fact, because of the nature of finite texts and their relation to knowledge, informed good faith conflicts in interpretation necessarily exist.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    One thing I’d like to point out:

    Any argument for Sola Scriptura which is based in scripture is begging the question. “Sola Scriptura asserts Sola Scriptura. Therefore, Sola Scriptura.”

    Of course, this type of argument is invalid at an even earlier stage than the question begging nonsense because scripture doesn’t actually support Sola Scriptura.

    We can know that because we have the authoritative interpreter that Jesus left behind to guide us.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    You’re right. the self-interpreting-Bible theory is positivist, but Bible readers may still draw the correct conclusions sometimes when they they interpret passages in context. Too many, however, still prooftext with passages taken out of context when meaning depends heavily on it.

    There’s a passage where Our Lord says something like, “You replace the word of God with the traditions of men.” Since many readers ignore context, they think He’s condemning Sacred Tradition when He’s actually scolding people who give money to the temple when they should spend it to support their parents instead. “Honor thy father and they mother” means partly that we should take care of them in their old age.

    To secular people and other non-Christians, sola seems to undermine the Bible’s credibility because too many Christians disagree about what the same passages mean. Sola scriptura’s fans say that the Bible is their final authority. But they become their final authority when they replace the Catholic Church’s authority with their private judgment. Protestantism is rationalistic because even if Protestants don’t intend to do it, they treat human reason as the supreme judge when they interpret their Bibles.

    Disagreement splinters them, too. Many congregations hire their own pastors and replace them or join other congregations when they don’t like what some minister or other teaches them. Or they’ll even found new “nondenominational denominations.” As Orestes Brownson says in an article, people need their religion to govern them. But Protestants act as though God entrusted their religion to them to let them govern it. Many will tell you, though they can’t say when it happened, someone or something corrupted what Christ taught, and that the Catholic Church teaches the corrupted doctrines. Unfortunately, that sounds like a way to hint, perhaps unintentional that the gates of hell have prevailed against the Church, though Christ promised that they wouldn’t do that.

    In a few minutes, I’ll post a link to Brownson’s excellent article called “Catholicity Necessary for Popular Liberty,” the article I’ve alluded to just now.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Oops. I misremembered the title of Brownson’s article. But here’s the link.

    http://www.orestesbrownson.com/108.html

  • Zippy says:

    Bill McEnaney:

    Bible readers may still draw the correct conclusions sometimes …

    Yes, of course. The postmodern concludes that because completeness is impossible, definite meaning is impossible. But that is because the postmodern has failed to break free from his positivist understanding of text and meaning. He sees the contradiction and sees that it destroys the very possibility of meaning, that it unmoors the intellect from any anchor in reality; but he doesn’t understand why. He doesn’t understand how to recover from the postmodern catastrophe, which is to not go down the blind alley of positivism in the first place.

    Or if he does understand he recoils in horror at the fact that the foo-foo classical philosophers and theologians he holds in such contempt were right all along, knew something(s) about the nature of reality that he failed to grasp: that he has played the fool and should have stayed silent and listened to his betters.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    You’re right about postmodernists. But maybe they’re assuming unknowingly that there’s still absolute true, the non-positivist meaning about which you write, or both. To discover that two propositions contradict each other is to know that they’re unable to be true together. Anytime you find a proposition and its contradictory, you know that one is true and that the other is false, even when you need to add other premises to derive that contradiction.

    It seems to me, my friend, that positivists run into the liar’s paradox by treating truth as a merely semantic property that belongs to, say, declarative sentences. Aristotle, however, defines the law of non-contradiction in a way that avoids that paradox. He teaches me that nothing can both have and not have the same property at the same time. A boulder, for example, can’t both weigh and not weigh 500 pounds at the same time. That’s just how boulders are by their natures.

    Maybe the law of noncontradiction is a metaphysical principle about how things are in the world rather than a merely semantic one that dialetheists and believers in fuzzy logic, and quantum physicists can replace with their theories about truth. Dialetheists believe, by the way, that some true propositions have true denials. Put differently, think that some contradictions are true. Still, even a postmodernist needs to agree with my point about the boulder.

    Now let me throw in a good point to defend Bishop Berkeley against an ignorant thinker’s criticism of His Excellency’s metaphysical idealism. Berkeley believes that every material object consists of a collection of ideas in the perceiver’s mind. For the bishop, to be is to be perceived. The material object exists if and only if the perceiver is perceiving it. If he stops doing that, then it stops existing. Or if it lasts even after he stops perceiving it, that’s only because God keeps perceiving it.

    Berkeley’s ignorant critic may say smugly, “Oh yeah? Get the the barefoot bishop to kick a stone or a cactus. Then he’ll know that material objects are real.” Berkley agrees that they’re real. He disagrees with metaphysical realists on the nature of reality. I’m a Thomistic realist, though, partly because the contents of our dreams can differ from the perceptions we have while we’re awake.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Or if it lasts even after he stops perceiving it, that’s only because God keeps perceiving it.

    I was going to have a metaphysical conniption until I read this sentence. Now I say, “Well said, sir.”

    Something is only a possible thing if God knows it. Things exist when God holds something that He knows in existence. So while any existent thing exists independent of any human’s perception of that thing, it does not exist independent of God’s perception of that thing.

  • Silly Interloper says:

    Scripture itself provides its own interpretation.

    You seem to be avoiding my question. Even if this were possible and true, it would require a man to identify certain passages and interpret them in such a way to correlate with other interpretations of other passages. By making the statement above you are simply begging the question regarding those interpretations, and avoiding my question—do you or do you not believe that it is possible for anyone to interpret scripture infallibly?

    This is especially the case of the New Testament interpreting the Old, and it is especially obvious in that case. There are quite a number of cases in the Bible where it explicitly interprets itself, . . .

    You can’t expect anyone to accept that every passage in the Bible has another passage in the Bible interpreting it, and that it is sufficient to clear up all of the doctrinal disagreements that anyone has. That’s just blatant assertion of wishful thinking that is completely detached from reality. And to what authority do you appeal when there is good faith disagreement in what these interpretations are?

    I wrote: It’s like having a mute and paralyzed king sitting on his throne while his judges are forced to guess what his laws are and how he intends to prosecute them.

    nathanjevans replied: This kind of ridiculous argument is why Roman Catholics do not really convince all that many Protestants, especially of the serious variety, to make the paddle across the Tiber.

    That is not an argument at all. It is an analogy or comparison I made to illustrate just how far detached your method is if it matches my assessment. (The assessment you seem to be avoiding rather than addressing.)

    Zippy and your argument essentially says that God cannot, by definition, issue a final word,

    Our argument says nothing of the sort. God’s word undoubtedly has a divine substance that communicates fully and perfectly, and he can wield that word whenever and however he wants. The Bible is obviously not of that same nature or we would receive perfect and full communication from it leaving us no room for doubt or need for clarity. It obviously does not do that, and the text of the Bible doesn’t have some magical property that makes it different from all other text in its earthly limitations. What is happening here is not entirely clear because you haven’t clarified my inquiries to you, but it seems that you are making claims about having command over scripture that you cannot possibly have.

    No, our very much living King of Kings has issued a final word that is sufficient.

    If you in fact admit (still waiting) that no one can infallibly interpret the text, then it isn’t sufficient for us to receive the “final word” at all. Even if we recognize it as being the “final word,” we have no assurance that we understand it sufficiently at all—in fact, we can be certain that we don’t understand it.

    Also—by what authority can you claim that this is Jesus Christ’s final word?

    That doesn’t mean all His subjects always obey it.

    We are not discussing obedience. We are discussing interpretation and doctrine.

    Not to mention, where does this kind of half-cocked reasoning end? Is it “irrational” (as justsomeguy put it) for God to issue a final judgment on Judgment Day?

    I haven’t a clue what you are trying to say here. Who’s saying anything about God not being able to issue a final judgment on Judgement Day?

    Will Jesus have to continually clarify His damnation of sinners, since, as we all know, we need someone there to infallibly interpret it?

    As I said above, Jesus can communicate fully and perfectly without need for interpretation whenever he chooses, so he will not need “infallible” interpreters when he does it. (For all we know such communication does not even use words to point to the meaning.)

    All any position that asserts that there needs to be an “infallible” interpreter does is create an infinite regress. Who interprets the infallible interpreter? It really creates obfuscation and skepticism, and yet I’m supposed to not notice this and pretend like it solves obfuscation and skepticism.

    You simply have not grasped the first thing about how to use text and how the Catholic Church uses text to teach. And infallible clarification does not mean that further dispute and further clarification will not be needed. It is never complete and perfect because we are imperfect and we will never equal to God—therefore we will never be absolutely and completely done with our understanding. However, we know the infallible clarification is without error, and it can be useful to put an end to errors and condemn heresies. This is part of God’s gift to our Church, but it does not promise to make you equal to God in knowledge and clarity about anything.

  • Zippy says:

    The “who interprets the infallible interpreter” question exhibits a similar kind of bafflement as that involved in the question “what caused the first cause.” It can only be asked by someone who doesn’t understand what is being said.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Silly Interloper, when you say that the need for an infallible interpreter creates an infinite regress, I assume you mean the need for a merely human one does that. Since Our Lord is God the Son, the divine Person who took a human nature, He’s a human being who can interpret the Bible infallibly. In my opinion, He can enable a mere human being to interpret it that way, too. You seem to believe that, if a merely human interpreter interprets infallibly, he does that without special help from God. But if God enables mere human beings to interpret Scripture infallibly, He prevents the infinite regress, too. Otherwise, we need someone else to enable Him to interpret infallibly, then another person to enable the one who enabled God, and so forth. You believe God’s human coauthors wrote infallibly, that He protected them from writing falsehoods when they wrote, don’t you? If He helped them do that, He can’t help anyone interpret that way?

    R.C. Sproul says something strange. He tells his viewers that the Bible is a fallibly compiled collection of infallible books. Hmm, I wonder what convinced him that those books were infallible. Maybe the ones who compiled them fallibly needed to interpret them fallibly to discover that they were infallible. If they were compiling fallibly, maybe the collection includes some non-infallible books. So please tell us how we can know that those books are infallible if infallibility didn’t protect the compilers.

    The Church and infallibility existed before the Bible did, since God’s human coauthors wrote infallibly. How much can their infallibility help us when no one here on earth can interpret the same way? Some seem to think that, since there have been some bad popes, there’s no papal infallibility. But a pope’s faults, his vices, and his sinfulness help explain why we need papal infallibility. We need God to prevent the bad ones from teaching falsehoods as though they’re divinely revealed truths.

  • Silly Interloper says:

    @Bill McEnaney

    I did not write the statement regarding infinite regress. I was quoting nathanjevans.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Thanks, Silly Interloper. I’m sorry about my mistake.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    In his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius explains that during his life scholars debated what books belonged in the Bible. He says that what ones got into it depended partly on what gospels, epistles, and so forth clergy were reading from during the liturgies. How could Christians in that historian’s day have believed sola scriptura if clergy were already preaching from canonical scriptures when they still wondered whether they were canonical? I seem to remember that the first list of canonical New Testament books came out in the fourth century. Oops. It was the fifth century.

    http://www.bible-researcher.com/carthage.html

    As I may have written in another post, in Christ’s day, the Old Testament was the only Bible anyone read. Had His contemporaries believed in SC, they would have thought that testament was only one they needed. Am I right in thinking that the NT books were written after Christ ascended to Heaven?

  • Dave G. says:

    I once sat in a doctoral seminar on the Providence of God. During the course, an argument broke out between the Reformed theologians and those of more Arminian persuasion. Being me, I sat back an listened. Back and forth they went. Citing this scriptural passage, citing that one. Turning to Romans 9, firing back with John 3:16. Turning to Ephesians 1, responding with 1 Timothy 2. It was quite the show. Toward the end I raised my hand as asked if someone could get me the instruction manual that tells which scriptures trump which scriptures. It was part frustration at what I was already beginning to conclude: If the Bible alone, then it should be clearer than it is, since opposing sides are using the same scriptures interpreted correctly (like Perchik). And at that point, it dawned on me that it was the ‘interpreted correctly’ that was the authority in the debate, not the Bible. And that didn’t sound very close to the ideal of sola scriptura.

  • Scott W. says:

    And at that point, it dawned on me that it was the ‘interpreted correctly’ that was the authority in the debate, not the Bible.

    A rather well-known convert that I won’t name to avoid distraction told of a significant moment key to his conversion when he listened to a Scriptural argument over the Trinity. After the Trinity-denier countered every Scripture in favor of the Trinity with Scripture, the frustrated pro-Trinity guy blurted out, “God is a Trinity because 2000 years of constant Christian teaching says He is!”

  • Zippy says:

    Dave G:

    And at that point, it dawned on me that it was the ‘interpreted correctly’ that was the authority in the debate, not the Bible. And that didn’t sound very close to the ideal of sola scriptura.

    Yes, and that includes all texts (e.g. the Constitution); because text communicates meaning from one person to another, but almost all of the meaning in a text comes from outside the text.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Right, Zippy. Most meaning in a text comes from outside it. That’s partly why fans of SC need to pay attention to ancient Hebrew culture, the Bible’s literary genres, Scripture’s figures of speech . . ., or at least to reliable commentaries when they can. Without the background information, they probably will read it as though it’s a 21st-century book.

    Joel Osteen became much like a motivational speaker. Kenneth Copeland and others still preach the prosperity gospel. I’ve even heard Dr. Robert Schuller say something like, “We don’t need a Christian revival. We need revived self-esteem because nobody really knows what the Bible means.” How helpful is sola scriptura if it promotes theologically shallow sermons, skepticism, and advice on how to make money? I still can’t tell what Schuller advocated, Christianized psychology, or psychologized Christianity.

  • […] few days back Zippy had a good post up about how Sola Scriptura is Positivist. I think all my Christian readers, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant alike, would find it […]

  • mdavid says:

    Zippy, Perceptive readers will notice a pattern

    Sheese, one sure doesn’t need to be perceptive to notice that!

    I know your post is about Postitivism relating to Sola Scriptura, but I can’t help but say that I’m truly baffled reasonable people can ever believe Sola Scriptura. Too many contradictions:

    1) Where is the table of contents? Without that, Sola Scriptura is automatically false.
    2) Nowhere in Scripture does it claim to be Sola (how could it anyway without a TOC?). Again, automatically SS must be false.
    3) What about before the books were written? We have a long time before the bible was complete, agreed upon, and passed around. What did Christians do in the meantime?
    4) Wouldn’t Jesus have mentioned this very important fact (and had is end up in Scripture) rather than giving Peter and the Apostles the power the bind and loose?
    5) Look how the doctrine of SS has turned out for her followers. Are they unified and in good agreement about doctrine over the ages?

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    @mdavid:

    You forgot the fact that it was the Catholic Church that assembled the books of the bible and declared them to be sacred scripture in the first place. Around 400 A.D. if my memory is serving me correctly.

    When Luther had his hissy fit, threw out the Deuterocanonicals (which had been accepted by all Christians as inspired for more than a thousand years), and proclaimed Sola Scriptura, he forgot that that Scriptura only existed in the first place because of the magisterium.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    “Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”

    – Martin Luther

    When Luther outright declared that his heresies were contrary to reason, I wish people had taken him seriously.

  • mdavid says:

    JustSomeguy, You forgot the fact that it was the Catholic Church that assembled the books of the bible

    Aww, that’s merely a coincidence!
    Even better: the RCC merely copied what free-loving Christians had already done :-). Through the Holy Spirit, natch…

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Zippy has often (correctly) characterized positivism as “nothing-buttery”. Any attempt to limit a sufficiently interesting topic to “nothing but” x is positivism. A good example is in this thread’s combox when vishmehr24 attempts to limit physics to “nothing but” the computable aspects of things. Any sufficiently interesting topic is going to come with a heap of metaphysical baggage. As Kurt Godel put it, any consistent formal theory will assume things it cannot prove. This is why Sola Scriptura is positivism. It asserts that Scripture is the metaphysical-baggage-free formal theory that can completely and consistently prove all doctrinal knowledge.

    When a Sola Scriptura advocate cries “Straw man! We believe the bible contains all knowledge about faith and morals, not all doctrinal knowledge!” He hasn’t accomplished anything. Trying to limit the concept of faith and morals to “nothing but” the bible is just as positivist as trying to limit the concept of doctrinal knowledge to “nothing but” the bible.

    Attempting to characterize the argument against Sola Scriptura as a straw man because it hasn’t picked out which topic precisely Sola Scriptura is positivist about is a load if I’ve ever seen one.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    There may be some nothing-buttery here, too. For years, I’ve heard two or more definitions of “sola scriptura,” and we’ve been talking about only one meaning of it.

  • mdavid says:

    Bill, For years, I’ve heard two or more definitions of “sola scriptura,

    Are both (or all) positivist? I’m curious if there are any nuanced and/or semi-intelligent attempts at making SS logical. I can’t find anything online.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Mdavid, yes, I think they are positivist definitions of “sola scripura.” One definition says that the Bible is the only infallible final authority on faith, morality, and divinely revealed truth. Another says the Bible teaches everything anyone needs to know to go to Heaven.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    My point exactly. Every conception of Sola Scriptura is positivist about something. That’s what the Sola part means. The only question is which concept in particular they believe can be “nothing-butted” by the bible.

  • irishgirl says:

    mdavid: You might try a Google search of “Douglas Wilson sola scriptura” if you want a semi-intelligent, nuanced treatment of SS. I have no idea if he’s correct or if his arguments are positivist, but he at least seems to understand what he’s talking about in this regard.

  • Zippy says:

    Intuitively we tend to think that inconsistency in a doctrine or ideology would make that doctrine or ideology less resilient. But in fact the opposite is frequently the case, with liberalism and sola scriptura as just two examples. An inconsistent ideology can, by the principle of explosion, prove anything or its opposite. So subtly inconsistent ideologies tend to confirm what people expect or want to hear: they transfer (if only in an ultimately illusory way) meaning from the domain of reality, over which we have no control, to the domain of the will. Liberalism therefore is an (again illusory, but resilient enough to prove satisfying to most people) mechanism for making politics and morality conform to expectation: to make them what we want them to be, as opposed to discovering them as objective aspects of reality that we have to live with. Sola Scriptura and scientistic positivism (scientism) are two ways of doing the same thing with respect to religious truth (doctrine): of making them conform to our expectations.

    The reason I discuss positivism and liberalism and the like is because they are subtle errors that hold almost all modern people in thrall: much more subtle, and indeed underlying, the really obvious “emperor with no clothes” errors like feminism and racial equality. As I’ve mentioned before I still pull little remnants of these weeds from the garden of my own mind.

    The words “nothing but” (“sola” in Latin) should automatically raise suspicion. As with most of these terms in the context of weaponized nihilism, they aren’t always and necessarily used in a self contradictory way. Sometimes they just mean something banal and obvious. But until you’ve got some grasp of positivism it will be easy to be taken in by equivocation between positivist assertions and banal assertions. That is one of the surgical tools that modernity uses against your mind in the modern asylum.

  • […] or ideology less resilient. But in fact the opposite is frequently the case, with liberalism and sola scriptura as just two […]

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Zippy, is this kind of positivism postmodern, too? Years ago, when I emailed with postmodernists, a philosopher warned me, “You should know that they’re not going to define anything when they want to reinterpret everything they write.” Those postmodernists expected me to apply the philosophical principle of charity, but they wouldn’t clarify anything, even when I tried to apply it.

  • Zippy says:

    Bill McEnaney:
    “Charity for me but not for thee” is a species of weaponized nihilism: a compensating rhetorical strategy common among positivists/postmoderns.

    Notice too that the anecdote reflects precisely what I’ve said about postmodernism in relation to positivism: having perceived the impossibility of completeness, postmodernism insists that consistency must go out the window too.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Zippy’s point about about jettisoned consistency reminds me of when I had read something where Richard Rorty said that he didn’t know why anyone believed in truth anymore. Since he made a truth claim then, I assume he was talking about truths that are true always an everywhere.

  • Dystopia Max says:

    Sola Scriptura is an understandable reaction to temporal corruption. Reading Scripture yourself and attempting to understand the stories within their own historical context is likely to be an excellent exercise for all Christians, for the Bible contains useful correctives for the spirits of the age and the eternal temptations to…what was it…optimize and direct one’s present life and parishoners around any temporal goal.

    This does not mean that Scripture is the only thing that will save someone, since God himself is not limited to Scripture in His communications with His people. But it does mean that people are more likely to cry “Sola Scriptura fallacy! Positivism! Self-serving interpretations!” instead of, say, taking the passages quoted against them in context, and countering them with a better understanding, as priests generally should be doing if they’re actually tending their flocks and not simply growing fat off of them. I will not reject out of hand a priest’s suggestion that isn’t in the Bible, but I will judge it much more closely.

    Especially when you don’t do the honest thing, and say “Sola Scriptura is a passable operating envelope for people of certain intelligence and culture and a terrible one for people of another, as these fruits of history have shown us…”

    For a reasoned position like that, I most definitely WILL accept non-scriptural examples 🙂

  • jf12 says:

    re: “Sola Scriptura is an understandable reaction to temporal corruption.”

    Correct. The attempt here to recast it “but … but … is says Sola …” is nothing more than positivism.

  • Zippy says:

    Dystopia Max:

    Sola Scriptura is an understandable reaction to temporal corruption.

    It may be understandable psychologically, but it is still, you know, wrong.

  • […] – perhaps the beginning of an understanding that positivism is modernist nonsense and that sola scriptura is positivist – then, in the words of the Prophet Morpheus, welcome to the real […]

  • Bruce says:

    Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Nevertheless, one would expect that essential, ubiquitous doctrines and practices, particularly those that are divisive for Christians would be present in God’s word for many reasons not the least of which is that God could foresee resulting confusion and division.
    A few examples. The Eucharist is central to Catholicism. REALLY central. It receives very little mention in the Acts and Epistles. 1 Corinthians 10-11 of course where there are problems to correct. It doesn’t appear in the “summarizing” verses of Hebrews 6:1-2.
    Likewise Mary, despite her essential role in an frequent invocation in Catholicism, seems to receive little mention after the Gospels. Maybe because she was still alive when the Epistles were written?
    Same for sacramental confession & absolution through a priest. One of the general Epistles (1 Peter ?) instructs Christians to confess their sins to each other.
    And the Papacy. I’m hesitant to say that God should have added this or that to scripture. But almost all divisions in Christianity could have been avoided (assuming Catholicism is true), if Matthew had simply added “and your successor” or “and those who follow you.”
    So I understand why Protestants think as they do: prove it in scripture.
    I’m open to correction and instruction, of course.

  • Zippy says:

    Bruce:

    So I understand why Protestants think as they do: prove it in scripture.

    Unlike the Mohammedans with their ‘scripture’ the Alcoran, there is ironically less explicit support in the Christian Scriptures for this Protestant doctrine than there is for the doctrines they reject, some of which you just enumerated.

  • Zippy says:

    (Again, though, my main purpose in the OP was to help Catholics who reject Sola Scriptura to understand positivism through SS as an example moreso than to argue that SS is positivist and thus false; even though the latter is true).

  • Bruce says:

    2 Timothy 3:15-17 “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

    Presumably this means the OT since that’s what Timothy would have had but this could mean NT scripture received to date. Even if it means OT, OT is a foreshadowing of the New and, granted through its symbolic meaning, is seen as a complete (albeit hidden) description of the New.
    So I think like the doctrines I enumerated it has some scriptural support that Christians of good faith can cite.

  • Zippy says:

    Bruce:

    So I think like the doctrines I enumerated it has some scriptural support that Christians of good faith can cite.

    Not even slightly.

    That tremendous profit can be gained from reading Scripture does not even slightly in the tiniest little bit imply that every true doctrine of the faith can be demonstrated from scripture alone.

  • Bruce says:

    Zippy, I used to argue the same thing. Then when I was reading one of Dave Armstrong’s Catholicism in the Bible books I noticed these parts of the verses: “able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ” and “That the man of God may be perfect (sometimes translated as “complete”)”
    I don’t know whether this suggests “every true doctrine of the faith” is there but if I am reading it right it says that what’s necessary is there.

  • Zippy says:

    Bruce:

    “able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ”

    Which, again, doesn’t even slightly in the tiniest little bit imply ‘Scripture alone’.

    “That the man of God may be perfect (sometimes translated as “complete”)”

    … and again.

    Folks reading into it what is not even slightly implied in the least by the text itself is the very definition of irony.

  • Bruce says:

    FWIW, I am definitely not consciously trying to read into scripture since I noticed this when I was spending time trying to prove Catholicism to myself.
    If scripture alone means that scripture contains what is necessary then I think those verses can be interpreted that way. I am not good with scripture and could have this all wrong. The idea of a man being complete or perfect sound like what’s necessary.
    If scripture alone means everything that can legitimately be practiced or everything that is profitable then I agree with you.

  • Zippy says:

    Bruce:

    I’m not convinced that ‘scripture alone’ means or can possibly mean anything coherent at all, at least if we take the usual meanings of the words ‘scripture’ and ‘alone’ seriously; so just to have the conversation at all I have to allow my interlocutors to beg the question against my views to at least some degree.

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