Ultimate Authorities and the Bible (12)

In the interests of a sermon I am preaching on the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, I went looking about on the internet for some of the common objections to the claims my sermon makes. I found a very interesting link titled Twenty One Reasons to Reject Sola Scriptura

The article by catholic apologist Joel Peters presented much of what I have heard in the past, but also did present some new and very challenging information. It is my goal in a long series of blog attemots to briefly respond to each of these brief arguments.

I would like to begin with #12 in the link which states,

“The Belief that Scripture is ‘Self-Authenticating’ Does Not Hold Up under Examination.”

This is where the debate needs to begin. This is the worldview assumption: this is getting at the Ultimate Authority of both sides.

Although the Peters doesn’t claim this, the Ultimate Authority for the Romans Catholic is the Church. They claim they have a tripartite system of authority (Scripture, Tradition, and the Church Magisterium), but functionally this is not the case. They claim that Scriptures are an ultimate authority for them, but they claim that the Church had to give us the Scripture and it has to interpret it for us as well. This will come back up as this is the foundation behind claims 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 14, and 19 in the article. Without the Church, we would have no Bible, and we can’t know what the Bible says. We need the church as a necessary starting point before we can move forward, epistemilogically, to the Bible. The same goes for Tradition.

Regardless of the claim, as an epistemic axiom, the Church is the final authority. The formation/development of Tradition/the Scriptures are enslaved to the authority of the Church, and the understanding/interpretation of those things are also funneled through the Church. We will call this: Sola Ecclesia.

Here is the problem: everyone has to have an ultimate starting point, everyone has an ultimate authority, and those most be circular. You cannot appeal to something outside of your ultimate authority in order to justify your ultimate authority, because whatever you appealed to would then be a higher authority whatever it is you are trying to validate.

If I say my Mom is my highest authority, and someone asks me, “Why?” and I responded with, “Because my dad told me so”, that would make my dad my highest authority, regardless of my claim otherwise. All ultimate standards are circular.

Even the non-religious are philosophically stuck with this apparent issue. For example, if someone appeals to no external religious authority (Church, Bible, Quran, Book of Mormon, Prophet, etc.) they ultimate determine truth by appealing to their reasoning process. Their cognitive faculties serve as their final court of appeal.

Now, how would that person validate the reliability of their reasoning process? They would have to reason about the question, and then provide a reason for it. They would have to use their reasoning to justify the use of their reasoning.

Not all circles are created equal. Too much could be said on that, but the simple point is this, only one ultimate authority is actually valid and true, and thus that ultimate authority would be self-authenticating, while the others would simply be circular and fallacious.

The Roman Catholic and the Christian are at an advantage as they both believe in a God who can reveal things and authenticate to His creatures His own truths. The problem is the Catholic’s ultimate standard has cut its legs off from underneath itself; it has cut off the branch it is sitting on. And under this particular section it cuts branches multiple times.

Never once is the issue of how the author knows the Church to be infallible and authoritative addressed. At the risk of putting words into his mouth, he could not consistently appeal to the Bible for this validation because, by his own admission, he needs the Church prior to a reading of the Bible in order to properly interpret it as well as consider it reliable and completed. The same goes for validating his Tradition.

Thus, he needs to authenticate the Church apart from Scripture or Tradition. This leaves him with two options:

1) The Church is self-authenticating


2) A historical look at the development of the Roman Catholic Church validates its authority.

Number two cannot be consistently believed, for how does one study history? They must read books. Yet, the Catholic claim is that protestants cannot know what the Bible says without the Church, and the Bible is God’s Word! If God’s Word can not be known without the Church, certainly books that are fallible and written without inspiration cannot be known or understood without the interpretation of the Church. Yet again, the Church must be presupposed prior to any possible historical study.

This leaves one option for the Catholic: the circular claim that the Church is self-authenticating. There are many problems with this, the first one is, in order to be self-authenticating it must be God’s Word. Yet the Bible is just that. On what basis could the Catholic claim that the Church is self-authenticating because it is God’s infallible Church, but the Bible, which is God’s infallible Word, can’t be self-authenticating?

Special Pleading:

Underneath the claim in the article, Peters gives a number of standards for the self-authentication of Scripture that his own criteria doesn’t meet. First he argues,

“If Scripture were actually ‘self-authenticating,’ why was there so much disagreement and uncertainty over these various books? Why was there any disagreement at all?”

The first problem with this is the assumption being smuggled in. The assumption is a particular definition of “self authentication” that Bible would not agree with. The standard here is that in order for the Scriptures to be considered self-authenticating there must have been an immediate and unanimous agreement among people. Where does he get these standards from? Where does he get these expectations from in the first place?

In Dr. Michael Kruger’s book, The Canon Revisited, he says notes this very thing when dealing with these objections. He says,

“The reason [this] canonical defeater…has persuasive appeal is that they have quietly slipped a foundational assumption into the debate, namely, that the existence of diversity and disagreement is contrary to what we expect if these twenty-seven books are really given by God.”

Kruger then lists 4 biblical reasons why would ought to actually expect diversity:

1)The Scriptures worn of false teaching.

 2)There are spiritual forces opposing the church. 

3) People often resist the Spirit by their sin. 

4) Not all groups who claim to be the “church” are really part of it. (Kruger, 198-199)

I find the last one to be the most significant. By what standard does Peters get to determine whom among the dissenters of particulars books are the “sheep” that “hear [Jesus’] voice?” In other words, there are millions of Protestants who do not accept the authority of the Roman Catholic church, yet, protestants claim to follow Christ. Therefore, the Roman Catholic church cannot be divinely inspired since millions of Christ-followers don’t recognize it.

Another problem also is that the Catholic Church has had many disagreements over how to think of itself as well. It too has gone through a progression of understanding. Modern Catholics today disagree over things like whether the Vatican II is inspired, when the Pope is speaking Ex-Cathedra, and many other issues related to Rome’s claims to authority. And if our author would simply reject them as being authentic Catholics, then we are back to the first issue addressed. 

He complained that the Bible took multiple centuries to reach a “consensus”. Kruger again notes this presupposition is simply not necessary, 

“[T]he most critical issue is that God chose to deliver His books to His church through normal historical channels. Given that [the New Testament was] not lowered down from heaven in final form, but written by a variety of different authors, in a variety of different time periods, and in a variety of different geographical locations, we can expect that there would be an inevitable delay between the time a book was was known and accepted in one portion of the empire as opposed to another. Such a delay would have eventually led to some disagreements and discussion over various books. If God chose to deliver His books in real time and history, then such a scenario would be inevitable and natural” (Kruger, 199).

Along with the charge that agreement didn’t happen sooner, what is the evidence that there was unanimous consensus around Peter’s Primacy in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd century? (Remember, quoting church fathers will not answer that question. We need evidence of complete and total unanimity, not the opinions of prominent leaders; the biblical texts can give you those too.)

Begging the Question, Equivocation, and more Special Pleading:

In defense of this claim, Peters also states,

“Even more interesting is the fact that some books in the Bible do not identify their authors. The idea of self-authentication – if it were true – might be more plausible if each and every Biblical author identified himself, as we could more easily examine that author’s credentials, so to speak, or at least determine who it was that claimed to be speaking for God. But in this regard the Bible leaves us ignorant in a few instances.Take St. Matthew’s Gospel as one example; nowhere does the text indicate that it was Matthew, one of the twelve Apostles, who authored it. We are therefore left with only two possibilities for determining its authorship: 1) What Tradition has to say, 2) Biblical scholarship.”

This commits the fallacy of equivocation. Self-attestation and self-authentication are not the same thing. Jesus’ sheep can hear His voice in a message even if the messenger is not wearing a name tag (thanks to the power of the Sheppard, not the sheep).

He then concludes the following:

“In either case, the source of determination is an extra-Biblical source and would therefore fall under condemnation by the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.”

First of all: no it wouldn’t. That is a misunderstanding of the doctrine.

However, here is the bigger problem. How would he authenticate the Church’s authority? Any answer other than “The Church says so” would be committing the same fallacy he is accusing the position of Sola Scriptura of committing when they appeal outside of Scripture to validate an author of Scripture. His argument proves too much.

Now, the counter-claim I made earlier was attempted to be dealt with,

“Now the Protestant may be saying at this point that it is unnecessary to know whether or not Matthew actually wrote this Gospel, as one’s salvation does not depend on knowing whether it was Matthew or someone else. But such a view presents quite a difficulty. What the Protestant is effectively saying is that while an authentic Gospel is God’s Word and is the means by which a person comes to a saving knowledge of Christ, the person has no way of knowing for certain in the case of Matthew’s Gospel whether it is Apostolic in origin and consequently has no way of knowing it if its genuine (i.e., God’s Word) or not. And if this Gospel’s authenticity is questionable, then why include it in the Bible? If its authenticity is certain, then how is this known in the absence of self-identification by Matthew?”

This is a question-begging epithet. His complaint that without an infallible revelation of the author, we cannot examine the credentials and know a book is from God. Pick up Dr. Kruger’s book if you believe that.
However, this is now forcing the self-authenticating model to be dependent, ultimately and solely, on the historical, apostolic evidence, which is a denial of the definition of a self-authenticating model! He is forcing his presuppositions into the definition of a word that rejects those presuppositions by definition. He is painting the lines on the court we have to play on by using two different definitions of “self-authentication.”

A series of questions need to be asked in conclusion (although some have been asked in other ways):

The author has established a list of criteria for what makes biblical books: apostolic origin.

Question 1: Where did he get this criteria from? How does he know that that is what is needed for a New Testament book to be accepted? His answer has to be, “the Church”. This brings us to…

Question 2: In the same way that he decided upon external validation of the New Testament, what criteria is needed to validate the Church?

Question 3: Whatever external criteria you appeal to, why is it you can trust your fallible understanding of that criteria apart from the Church’s interpretive guiding, but the Protestant can’t trust his fallible interpretation of Scripture apart from the Church?

Question 4: If you appealed to internal criteria rather than external, why can’t the Protestant do this with the Scriptures?

Question 5: How can you consistently claim that the Church is able to be validated in its own self-authenticating way, but the Bible, which is also God’s perfect infallible Word, can’t be?

It appears, yet again, the Catholic apologist has proven too much. To steal an analogy from Douglas Wilson, he has driven the Protestant car into a ditch, but now no longer has a car of his own to drive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s