The following text is a reply to a critique of an essay that I wrote on the Subject of Sola Scriptura. This was sent to me by a Protestant scholar who wrote this critique for a Protestant discussion forum, and then forwarded it to me for a response. He asked that I not include his name, since his response was not a polished essay, but one written for a discussion forum. I will refer to him simply as “Mark”. Responding to his critique posed some practical problems, because his reply was essentially a running commentary on my essay, and thus included extensive portions of my essay. I have tried as much as possible to delete my original text wherever his response clearly indicated what my original point. Mark’s words are in blue. When it was necessary to include portions of my original essay, the text is in orange. I have also added subject headings, to make this reply a little easier to follow, and have grouped points on the same topic together as much as possible. Of Mark’s critique, I tried to limit quoting his response to his primary points. Of course, if he feels I have neglected some important point of his, he is free to point that out in a rebuttal, and I will address it then – but I have not intentionally passed over any non-repetitious point of importance.
- Essentials vs. Non-essentials
I would suggest this writer review the NT’s view of what all Christians must and should agree on. He seeks uniformity in areas that are not commanded to be uniform. For example, the differences between Methodists and Baptists historically have centered on freewill/predestination. This writer ignores the massive amount of agreement that historically otherwise exists among the major Protestant denominations in areas of soteriology, the doctrine of God (Trinitarian), the authority of the Bible, and the person and work of Christ. These are presented in the NT as core beliefs to which all Christians must ascribe. There is MUCH room in the NT for freedom in practices such as worship styles, etc. His argument sounds so appealing, but it is in fact inherently legalistic, imposing a condemnation on groups for disagreements in areas in which the NT allows for disagreements among brothers and sisters in Christ. See Rom. 12 for the principle of allowing people freedom to use their gifts differently and freedom of conscience in these kinds of debatable areas.
Mark finds unanimity among the “Major Protestant Denominations” on the Doctrine of the Trinity and the Person and work of Christ because he defines that category by these very doctrines. He of course excludes by his starting premise such sizable denominations as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and the United Pentecostal Church. So what does this assertion really prove? Nothing. Mark is only begging the question of how he derived his definition of mainstream Protestantism from Sola Scriptura. Obviously, Jehovah’s Witnesses and United Pentecostals do not find his definition in their reading of Scripture Alone, and so we must ask why we should accept Mark’s definition?
Also, to take the example he cites here of the question of freewill – on the basis of what scripture does Mark find this issue to be a non-essential of the Faith? One finds quite divergent views of God when one compares a Methodist and an Orthodox Presbyterian. I once heard a Wesleyan Philosophy teacher say of the Calvinist view that God determined who would be damned before the foundations of the world: “If that is your God, then your God is my Devil.” He obviously did not agree that this was a non-essential question of Faith.
- Sola Scriptura Proof Texts
Re: My discussion of the Protestant use of 2nd Timothy 3:15-17 to prove the doctrine of Sola Scriptura:
He shows a very narrow understanding of how the Bible supports Sola Scriptura. This passage would be at best a secondary passage for the doctrine, not a primary one.
I must note that Mark does not provide us with any of the “primary” texts of Scripture that prove this doctrine. If he has any that are better than 2nd Timothy 3:15-17, I would love to hear which ones they are.
I would venture to guess that I have spent more time debating Protestants on the question of Sola Scriptura than Mark has, and this has without a doubt been the most commonly cited text. I also have before me a book titled “Sola Scriptura! The Protestant Position on the Bible (Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995). Among the contributors to this book are such Evangelical notables as R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, and James White. On the very cover of this text, one sees a picture of an open Bible with a magnifying glass over three verses of Scripture. Which verses? 2nd Timothy 3:15-17. In the very first article, entitled “What Do We Mean by Sola Scriptura?” we find this passage quoted in full starting on page 5, followed by an extended discussion of that same passage which continues on through page 10. We also hear John MacArthur making use of this text:
“…Scripture clearly claims for itself this sufficiency – and nowhere more clearly than 2 Timothy 3:15-17” (pages 167-168, emphasis added).
I don’t know what books Mark has been reading on this subject, but I would like to hear which ones do not use this passage as a key argument in favor of Sola Scriptura.
Re: Which Scriptures St. Paul is referring to in that passage:
He’s made a major error here. Paul wrote this statement to Timothy probably in the 60s, when Timothy was a young minister in Ephesus. When Paul wrote this, his own writings had already been treated as Scripture by the early Church. Peter referred to Paul’s writings as “Holy Scripture” possibly during the 60s (2 Pet. 3:16). Paul is writing in the PRESENT tense in 2 Tim. 3:16, saying that NOW those writings that are Holy Scripture are adequate to develop the godly person for every good work. Of course, Paul also has shaped Timothy’s own interpretive skills and methods, so the Sola Scriptura concept Paul is advocating is an informed, Christ-centered, concept in which Scripture is interpreted through Apostles themselves. The NT therefore provides an interpretive scheme and method for using Scripture alone.
Mark needs to re-read the passage in question. St. Paul states “from childhood thou hast known the Holy Scriptures…” Since Timothy was not a child at the time St. Paul made this statement, the Scriptures that St. Timothy would have known from childhood could only have been the Old Testament Scriptures. Also, Mark should know that St. Paul never spoke of his own writings as Scripture (see, for example 1st Corinthians 7:12, 40). Also, as you should know, the authorship and date of 2nd Peter is one that is debated by Protestant Biblical scholars – but even conservative scholars assign it a late date, near the end of St. Peter’s life. Liberal scholars would assign a second century date. As a matter of fact, 2nd Peter was not included in the early canonical lists and was not fully accepted throughout the Church until the 4th Century. And so if Mark doubts the tradition of the Church, and is going to set up arguments that hinge on the idea that the Church fell into error after the 1st Century (as he does in the following arguments), one must wonder how he really know which books should be in the Bible to begin with.
- Jannesand Jambres
Re: My reference to St. Paul’s use of the Oral Tradition of Jannes and Jambres:
He’s mistaken here. The stories of Jannes and Jambres were not oral traditions, but written ones, that research is showing developed during the intertestamental period. Fragments of a book called JANNES AND JAMBRES have been found and are being studied. Go here to learn more: http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~pietersm/jandj.html But the real issue here is whether this story is being used by Paul as if it is Scripture. Do not preachers often use illustrations from fiction, knowing they are fictitious, but using them to make a point? I think that is precisely how Paul uses Jannes and Jambres, with whom Timothy was apparently aware due to his reading of this book. Paul knows much about the writings of non-Christian authors. He quotes pagan Greek philosophers when those philosophers have something to contribute to his point. But to quote is not to endorse the whole as if it is Holy Scripture. Paul is first and foremost a preacher. As such he cites non-biblical authors when those authors help him make his point by offering an illustration or example. James [sic.] does the same thing with the Assumption of Moses and the Book of Enoch.
First of all, mention of Jannes and Jambres is not limited to the book Mark mentions. If he had taken a look at the reference that I provided, he would have found that they are referenced in a lot of Jewish literature, and are even referenced by some Pagan writers. The referenced article speaks specifically of two ancient books on Jannes and Jambres, but concludes that it is “improbable” that St. Paul was alluding to a specific book, but was rather making mention of these names which were “in common use.” See The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, vol. 2 (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1980), “Jannes and Jambres,” by A. F. Walls, 733 –734.
In any case, St. Paul does not seem to believe that they were fictional characters, because he mentions them in the same breath as Moses. That being the case, there clearly would have had to have been an oral tradition that would have preserved their memory prior to the documents that have recorded this tradition. There are many books in Scripture that record events that occurred long before the text was written, and so the idea of oral tradition accurately preserving information should not be too difficult to accept. If you watched Roots, you might recall Alex Haley’s family maintaining an oral tradition of their family’s history that accurately recalled the name of their ancestor Kunta Kente, which was verified when Alex Haley return to his family’s ancestral village in Africa, where the village historian also accurately recited the tribal history which included mention of the same Kunta Kente.
As for St. Jude’s reference to the Assumption of Moses and the Book of Enoch, in neither case does one get the impression that he is citing from literature he considers to be merely illustrative, but of a fictional nature. When he cites the book of Enoch he is clearly quoting it as an inspired prophecy of Enoch. When he speaks of the dispute over Moses’ body, he cites as a true and instructive fact from Jewish sacred tradition. The whole idea of fiction as we know it today is a concept that was not operative in Ancient times, and it is an anachronism to attempt to impose that concept on the New Testament writers.
See Oral Tradition in the New Testament, by David Palm, for more examples of the use of oral Tradition and extra-biblical tradition in the New Testament.
The point here is that 2nd Timothy 3:15-17 does not state that only scripture is profitable for instruction or authoritative, and this is evident in the use the Apostles made of instructive oral Traditions which they cited as authoritative Traditions.
This is even more clear in St. Paul’s references to Tradition which I discussed in some detail in my article – 2nd Thessalonians 2:15, and 1st Corinthians 11 in particular.
You see, Jesus appointed Apostles to write and represent him. As such, they have authority to use whatever illustrations or examples they want to use. By doing so, they are not endorsing the whole source’s truthfulness. But they are providing us with a beautiful example of freedom of method. They endorse our use of sources that can help us communicate with our audiences. When preachers cite Shakespeare, Twain, or any other word-crafter, that preacher is following a method employed by Paul wherein the preacher draws from usesful sources to connect with his audience, especially useful if the audience knows about that non-biblical source’s content. (See Douglas Moo’s COMMENTARY ON JAMES to see that my intperpretation is supported.)
Since James is not a book that was under discussion in the context, I fail to see how his commentary would be of interest here. Furthermore, the fact that you can find Protestant scholars who attempt to explain away the use of extra-biblical Tradition doesn’t prove much.
- The Authority of Tradition
Here he raises the “Holy Tradition” concept, but he’s not really explained it. He seems to assume “Holy Tradition” is valid, but gives no reasons for the reader to believe its valid. As I mentioned above, neither Paul nor any Apostle suggests or appeals to anything extra-biblical as an authority equal to Scripture. And the writings of those very Apostles were immediately considered Scripture.
My guess, from the style of this critique, is that Mark responded as he read, rather than read the entire article and then respond. I certainly do explain what Tradition is, and how it is understood in the Orthodox Church. It should be understood that this article was originally written for an Orthodox audience. In fact, when I wrote, my target audience was Russians – which is why this article was translated into Russian. The text that is online was originally published in an Orthodox journal, and was later expanded and edited to better address Protestant readers, and was subsequently published by Conciliar Press. The Conciliar Press version spends more time explaining what Tradition is, but unfortunately due to copyright issues, that version is only available in print.
It is also difficult to imagine how he could have read the entire article, and then stated that I give no reason to believe that Tradition is valid.
Finally, if one reads on a bit, I spent quite a bit of time discussing how St. Paul explicitly states that the Tradition that he passed on was equally authoritative, whether it was in his epistles or only transmitted orally (2nd Thessalonians 2:15).
He also fails to define “Church” here.
Again, if one reads the entire article, I do. For more on the nature of the Church, see the articles on this subject on the Orthodox Information Center’s Website.
If he means the spiritually-regenerated by Christ, then I would probably agree with him. But if he means the institution of the infant-baptized people, I’d disagree. Of course, he imposes on his interpretation of Scripture that HIS Church is the repository of an authoritative oral tradition. But there are multiple problems with this view. First, there is an absence of texts from the first few centuries of Christian history that support his contention that a uniform extra-biblical apostolic tradition existed (for example, during the 100s to 600s).
This is truly an incredible statement, which can only indicate that Mark is unfamiliar with the writings of the Church in this period. Time would fail me to list the texts that empirically prove that this is untrue, but here are just a few:
- St. Cyprian’s Treatise on the Unity of the Church– St. Cyprian was bishop of Carthage, and Martyred in 258 A.D.
- St. Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies” — St. Irenaeus was Bishop of Lyons, and was martyred around the year 200 A.D.
- Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition– Hippolytus reposed in approximately 236 A.D.
- St. Basil’s Treatise on the Holy Spirit– St. Basil reposed in 379 A.D.
See this Dialogue on Sola Scriptura and the Early Church for more.
The “Fathers” disagree dramatically with each other on some subjects, even though they would each appeal to apostolic tradition to back-up their positions.
Such as? Let’s hear some examples of the “dramatic” disagreements. Of course the Fathers did not all agree on each every point, but then no two manuscripts of the New Testament text in Greek agree precisely either. That does not prevent us from determining the text that they are all based upon.
When they did agree, it was usually regarding subjects that were objectively taught in the NT. They treat the NT as Scripture and above themselves. They believed the NT was the source of their faith, and that the NT had Jesus’s direct and objective authority behind it, but the early church did not uniformly recognize an extra-biblical tradition because it didn’t exist. They believed that Jesus’s Apostles had put everything necessary into writing.
They did not believe this. They believed that they put everything necessary for the proclamation of the Gospel to the world, but they also taught that many doctrines essential to the faith of believers were not so written. See St. Basil’s defense of the Person of the Holy Spirit, chapter 29, for an example.
- Heretics and Tradition
Notice, the writer admits something that will actually destroy his argument. He thinks the heretics twisted Scripture AND made their own Scriptures, but if he’s consistent with himself, he really should not condemn the heretics for creating their own extra-biblical sources. After all, he believes in the truthfulness of oral traditions, does he not? What makes one oral tradition more reliable than another?
Once again, we see a statement that is based on an incomplete reading of my article. I actually ask the question of how one distinguishes between true and false tradition, and then answer it:
So what makes the tradition of the Pharisees false and that of the Church true? The source! Christ made clear what was the source of the traditions of the Pharisees when He called them “the traditions of men” (Mark 7:8). Saint Paul on the other hand, in reference to Christian Tradition states, “I praise you brethren, that you remember me in all things and hold fast to the traditions [paradoseis] just as I delivered [paredoka, a verbal form of paradosis] them to you” (First Corinthians 11:2), but where did he get these traditions in the first place? “I received from the Lord that which I delivered [paredoka] to you” (first Corinthians 11:23). This is what the Orthodox Church refers to when it speaks of the Apostolic Tradition — “the Faith once delivered [paradotheise] unto the saints” (Jude 3). Its source is Christ, it was delivered personally by Him to the Apostles through all that He said and did, which if it all were all written down, “the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25). The Apostles delivered this knowldge to the entire Church, and the Church, being the repository of this treasure thus became “the pillar and ground of the Truth” (I Timothy 3:15).
Responding to the following statement:
“The Church defended itself against heretical teachings by appealing to the apostolic origins of Holy Tradition (proven by Apostolic Succession, i.e. the fact that the bishops and teachers of the Church can historically demonstrate their direct descendence from the Apostles),”
This is a spurious interpretation of the historical facts. The Church defended itself against heresy by using the NT against the heretics. That NT was largely available around the Roman Empire by 200 A.D. Once it was available, any role of oral transmission became unnecessary because the teachings of the apostles had become objectively set. I’d really encourage a review of F.F. Bruce’s THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON.
This again is an incredible claim. Of course the early Christian apologists did argue from the New Testament, but they also appealed to Apostolic Tradition, and in fact, in the case of Irenaeus this argument was the clincher, see Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapters 2-5. Also, it is demonstrably false that the New Testament as we know it was established and available to all by the year 200. Obviously, all the books had been written, and they were all in the possession of at least some portion of the Church, and respected as Scripture. But it was more than 100 years later before the question of which books should be included was a settled question for the whole Church.
Apostolic succession is very problematic because nowhere in the NT are we taught that the apostles should appoint successors who have authority equal to apostles. Their role and authority was unique and unrepeatable.
Apostolic Succession is only problematic if one accepts the premise of Sola Scriptura – and the Early Fathers clearly did not, as one can see if they take a look at the writings of St. Clement of Rome (who was an associate of the Apostle Paul, and whose name appears in Philippians 4:3), who stated:
“Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions,that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry” (Epistle of St. Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter XLIV).
St. Irenaeus speaks similarly:
It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to “the perfect” apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves. For they were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things, whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, delivering up their own place of government to these men; which men, if they discharged their functions honestly, would be a great boon [to the Church], but if they should fall away, the direst calamity.
Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say, ] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.
The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome despatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spake with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the apostolical tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things….
But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time,-a man who was of much greater weight, and a more stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles,-that, namely, which is handed down by the Church. There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthuswithin, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.” And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, “Dost thou know me? “”I do know thee, the first-born of Satan.” Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” There is also a very powerful Epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those who choose to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth. Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles (Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 3).
- The Role of the Canon of Scripture
Above he admitted that the reason the Church sought to set the canon was that it could set apart apostolic writings. Here he says that the Church established this list. That’s not true. The Church didn’t establish or choose which writings were in the canon. As he said above, God had already determined which books were in the canon–those from apostles. If an apostle wrote a letter, the Church didn’t have anything to say about whether that letter was Holy Scripture.
As a matter of historical fact it was the oral tradition of the Church which preserved the memory of which books were authentic, and which were not. It was not as if people could tell by the smell, or by looking through their third eye to see that the Gospel of Thomas was a fraud and the Gospel of John was not. And if one reads conservative Protestant scholarship on the question of the authorship and canonicity of the books of the New Testament canon, they invariably appeal to the Tradition of the Church when answering these questions.
Also, there is mention in the New Testament itself of epistles that we no longer possess (another Epistle to the Corinthians, an Epistle to the Laodiceans, as well as to other things the Apostles wrote that we no longer have. If the fact that it was written by an apostle made a text Scripture and the Church had nothing to say about it, then apparently we are missing part of the New Testament. But the fact is, the Church certainly did have something to say about it, and in a few cases it did so after considerable deliberation (e.g., Revelation, 2nd Peter).
“By establishing the canonical list of Sacred Scripture the Church did not intend to imply that all of the Christian Faith and all information necessary for worship and good order in the Church was contained in them.3 “
What is his source for this statement? His footnote contains no reference. This statement is apparently an attempt to interpret the intentions of those who recognized the canon. However, those same leaders did tell us their primary reason for the adoption of the NT canon: apostolic authorship, which this author mistakenly calls “establishment,” when in fact it is merely a recognition of what was already established. To say they did not intend to exclude other writings is simply unsubstantiated. They did not allow in the canon non-apostolic writings; that fact verifies that they believed that only the NT’s documents were appropriately authoritative and sanctioned by Jesus exclusively.
The source of this statement is the fact that the same councils that established a canonical list of Scripture also established other canons which appealed to Apostolic Traditions that are not found expressly in Scripture. Take a look at the canons of the Ecumenical and Local Church councilssometime.
Actually, I think the breadth and scope of the Bible does deal directly with every doctrinal question. His Apostles were led into all truth (John 16:13). Once they delivered the truth to the Church, the Church is called upon not to create new truth, but to explain and defend the truth it already has (Jude 3). To explain and defend is not the same endeavor as to invent something new. Never is the Church told by any Apostle that it has authority to supercede the truth God delivered once and for all to the Church through the Apostles.
Perhaps Mark will tell us why there are 23,000 Protestant denominations, all of which hold doctrines that are at odds with most of the other 23,000 denominations. What is it that Mark is able to see that they cannot?
As for the unchangeable character of the truth, yet again, if Mark had read the entire article prior to composing his response, he would have known that I stated:
Contrary to the Roman view of Tradition, which is personified by the Papacy, and develops new dogmas previously unknown to the Church (such as Papal Infallibility, to cite just one of the more odious examples) —the Orthodox do not believe that Tradition grows or changes. Certainly when the Church is faced with a heresy, it is forced to define more precisely the difference between truth and error, but the Truth does not change. It may be said that Tradition expands in the sense that as the Church moves through history it does not forget its experiences along the way, it remembers the saints that arise in it, and it preserves the writings of those who have accurately stated its faith; but the Faith itself was “once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
Of course, his definition of “worship” here is crucial. He means “ritual.” He is concerned that we all have a uniform ritual when the NT provides enormous freedom in this area, with exceptions of the mode of baptism (immersion) and the Lord’s Supper.
This statement only highlight the point that it attempted to rebut. One can only contend that enormous freedom is provided by the New Testament by arguing from the silence of the New Testament on these issues. No where in Scripture do we find the Apostles stating that you could worship however you wanted to. The only questions of proper worship that are addressed were addressed because specific problems arose in specific Churches, but there is no reason to believe that every conceivable problem arose or that the Apostles wrote down everything that could have been said on those subjects. In fact, St. Paul specifically states that the things he did not write down were of the same authority as those that he did write down.
- The Early Church and Changes
One thing that is beyond serious dispute is that by the time the Church settled the Canon of Scripture it was in its faith and worship essentially indistinguishable from the Church of later periods — this is an historical certainty.
He’s wrong on two counts here. First, he ignores a more important issue: the “faith and worship” of the Church of the 400s was very distinguishable from the “faith and practices” of the 1st century Church. For example, by the 400s, prayers to Mary and infant baptism had crept into their practices and worship.
More statements which show that Mark is talking about things he has not really studied. Mark offers no proof to substantiate his claim – he simply assumes a Jack Chick history of the Church, which is surprising since Mark has a theological education. For one thing, just to take the question of infant Baptism. There is no evidence that it “crept” into the practice of the Church in the 400’s. In fact, there are extensive quotes from Early Christian writers which remove any doubt that this was the practice of the Church long before then. St. Hippolytus speaks of it as a matter of fact. St. Cyprian of Carthage speaks of it as a matter of fact, both writers reposed in the early 200’s. In fact, St. Cyprian is responding to those who held to practice of waiting until the 8th day to baptize, and he and his brother bishops in North Africa were of the opinion that there should be no delay at all – not even 8 days.
Why? He ignores the fact that a Church that is supposed to have been protected by some invisible “oral tradition” during the 200s to the 400s didn’t keep itself from syncretistic tendencies very well and that Church differed much with the Church of the 1st century. Why does he elevate the Church’s practices in the 400s but suppress the example of the 1st century Church in which the Apostles lived and taught? The 1st century Church had direct leadership from men Jesus clearly appointed, but you don’t see them baptizing infants or using icons, as traditions supposedly from Apostles suggest. Second, the Church of the 400s (when canonization officially occurred) did not, as he suggests, practice iconography, at least not as far as I am aware. Iconography spread particularly in the 600s and created huge upheaval in the 700s.
If Mark wishes to raise other issues to substantiate his claim that the Church’s faith changed between the 1st century and the 4th, let him do so – but let him also explain how he then could trust these same “apostate” “syncretists” to have accurately preserved the canon of Scripture both in terms of text and also in terms of which texts. As for the question of the history of icons, suffice it to say that he has also not adequately studied this question. See The Icon FAQ, which addresses the question in detail.
- Protestant Tradition vs. Apostolic Tradition
It is not an accident that Jehovah’s Witnesses all believe the same things, and Southern Baptists generally believe the same things, but Jehovah’s Witnesses and Southern Baptists emphatically do not believe the same things. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Southern Baptists do not each individually come up with their own ideas from an independent study of the Bible; rather, those in each group are all taught to believe in a certain way — from a common tradition.
He’s mixing two radically different approaches to the Bible and labeling them the same. JWs interpret Scripture exclusively through their extra-biblical sources, while SBs represent the Radical Reformation form of Protestanism wherein extra-biblical sources and methods are subordinated to the source and methods taught in Scripture. JWs elevate extra-biblical authorities above Scripture; SBs generally do not, leaving room for individual churches and individual Christians to have liberty to follow the Lord’s leadership through his Spirit (such as how often to have the LS). Traditions within the SB context are historically subject to modification, except in areas where the NT speaks clearly regarding faith and practices.
Jehovah’s Witnesses that I have talked to have certainly never agreed that they uphold anything above Scripture. One could also say that Southern Baptists read scripture exclusively through the extra-biblical sources that they use – such as their study Bibles, commentaries, etc. When you ask a Jehovah’s Witness what they base their faith on, they will say that they base it exclusively on the Scriptures. And yet all the Jehovah’s Witnesses read the Bible and conclude that Christ was a created being, whereas all the Southern Baptists conclude otherwise. All Southern Baptists also read the Bible and conclude that infant baptism is contrary to Scripture… though Orthodox Presbyterians find no such teaching in the Scriptures. Clearly, each group has an interpretive tradition, and their members are taught to view Scripture through the lenses of those Traditions. So the following question stands:
So then the question is not really whether we will just believe the Bible or whether we will also use tradition — the real question is which tradition will we use to interpret the Bible? Which tradition can be trusted, the Apostolic Tradition of the Orthodox Church, or the muddled, and modern, traditions of Protestantism that have no roots beyond the advent of the Protestant Reformation.
To which Mark replied:
“No roots,” as I’ve already shown above, is mistaken. The article I cited at the top of this thread shows that he is mistaken about Sola Scriptura in the early Church. As for the question of trustworthiness, I would encourage going with the one that the evidence suggests more closely remains faithful to what we know the Apostles taught. The only reliable objective source for that is the NT, not traditions that have little or no reliable historical evidence as having come from apostles.
The article you referenced does not accurately reflect the teachings of the early Church on this question. See:
- Response to another Protestant Apologist on the view of the Early Church in general regarding Scripture and Tradition.
- Response to a Protestant Apologist on St. Cyprian of Carthage, and his views of Scripture and Tradition.
See also the following articles by Joe Gallegos (A Roman Catholic writer):