Stealing From The Atheist’s Armory (13,14,15)

Thanks for the arguments Bart

What a sad state of affairs the Roman apologist has devolved into when he is caught stealing Bart Ehrman’s arguments against the Christian faith. Never once have I heard this argument come from the mouth of a person who believes God has spoken who isn’t also a Muslim (and even for the Muslims it’s inconsistent.) Only God-hating, skeptical atheists and agnostics who begin from unbelieving presuppositions have promoted the idea that the Bible is untrustworthy, unreliable, and/or unknowable because no originals have been found (even though there are admittedly good reasons why they have not been found.) The article  makes this the 13th argument in its attacks against Sola Scriptura

None of the Original Biblical Manuscripts is Extant.

Before examining the argument itself, as has become custom of this blog series, let’s examine the obvious Sola Ecclesia at work here. The Roman apologist denies this principle, but has lived by it in every argument. They claim to not think lowly of the Bible, but with every argument they disparage it more and more. The idea that the lack of original manuscripts means the Bible cannot be authenticated by external evidence (which I in a different way agree with). The Bible therefore cannot be found reliable on the basis of historical evidences. Peters also has argued that the Bible cannot be self-authenticating either: 

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

“The Church produced the Bible not vice-versa.” 

“An Extra-Biblical” Authority Identified the Canon of the Bible.”

Thus, as it stands, without the church the written Word of God would be utterly unknowable, unreliable, and untrustworthy. The Bible can’t be authenticated by evidences, nor can it authenticate itself. 

How is this not a low view of Scripture? How does this not make the Church supreme? How does this not exalt the church to a much loftier position? How is this not offensive to God’s written Word and to the Spirit which inspired, preserved, and interprets it? This is serious sin, serious error, and self-refuting all at the same time. 

Keep in mind that very few historical scholars accept the kind of hard, atheistic, skepticism that requires originals to know the originals. That’s a novel idea. This standard makes every single writing from antiquity unreliable and unknowable. We simply cannot claim to know almost anything about history according to this standard. 

With the diatribe aside, let’s look at the heart of the argument (further redundancy will be necessary). The author is looking for and requiring from Protestants something that his position cannot provide: certainty. 

“[W]ithout original manuscripts, one cannot know with certainty if he actually possesses the real Bible, whole and entire.”

One of the oldest biblical manuscripts in discovery,
a fragment from John’s account of the Gospel
titled P52 (Papyrus-52)

Without originals we can’t have certainty. Apparently that is a defeater to Sola Scriptura. Well, it most certainly isn’t for many reasons. 

First of all, the kind of certainty the author requires he cannot provide. He can only beg the question. For why does Peters believe he can have certainty? The church. However, that only begs the question, how does he know the church he picked is the correct? In other words, the same fallibility that goes into validating the Scriptures is involved in validating his church, so he now has no more degree of certainty than the Protestant. His choice to follow Rome over the other plethora of churches which claim to be the one, true, living infallible church of Jesus, was a fallible decision made by a fallible creature. There goes his certainty. 

His decision to evaluate Rome’s claims could not be from Scripture since he admittedly needs Rome prior to knowing Scripture. Thus, what other resources could he utilize to validate Rome as the true church of Jesus? 

Apart from his fallible, uninspired reasoning faculties, he could also read a fallible, uninspired history book. He could also read a fallible, uninspired book on the early church with his fallible, uninspired reading capabilities. 

Thus, Peters argument should actually read like this: 

Because my fallible reasoning looked fallibly at fallible history books and fallible documents written by fallible church fathers, reproduced and edited by fallible men, all of them written by fallible authors who have biases, I made the fallible decision to choose Rome as the church I need to tell me what things are not fallible: now I have certainty. 

It’s absolutely absurd. 

Simply having a church tell you the Bible is from God does not offer any more certainty than a Protestant determining the Bible’s validity on other grounds. Remember, Mormons have an infallible church too, as do the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They both feel the same warm, fuzzy feelings of alleged certainty because they pull rank, but Rome would admit their claim to certainty is not certainty. Well…..welcome to our world. 

Second, certainty comes from the testimony of the Holy Spirit and the consistency of a worldview, not through piecemeal evidences or church leaders saying so. Certainty is achieved when the Holy Spirit reveals His truths infallibly, opens eyes, regenerates hearts, and the worldview which follows from that is consistent and real. It is not achieved when a church says, “We say so”. 

Lastly, even if we had the originals, Rome would still challenge our ability to trust them. Thus, this entire argument is completely irrelevant because of the presupposition of Sola Ecclesia. Even if we were to discover buried in the sands of Egypt somewhere Paul’s original letter to the Galatians, preserved completely, Rome would not allow knowledge of the fact that it is the original without her guidance. She would not allow us to know that the message contained within is from God without her approval, and she would not allow us to interpret the message on the Papyrus without her giving us the interpretation we must see in the text. To the Romanist, originals are irrelevant whether we have all of them or none of them. 

Outside of certainty, Peters also claims that believing God preserved His word is a violation of Sola Scriptura. This is purely ignorance of what Sola Scriptura is. However, he seems to be under the impression that we believe the individual copying process was inspired, 

“The Protestant may want to assert that not having original Biblical manuscripts is immaterial, as God preserved the Bible by safeguarding its duplication down through the centuries.” 

Perhaps a minuscule group of King James Onlyists believe this, but this is not the Protestant position. Thus, it makes it completely irrelevant. 

We do believe God preserves and keeps His word, and contrary to the article, the Bible does teach God would do this, and thus, it is not a violation of Sola Scriptura. Anticipating that position, Peters argues that by believing God can preserve His word (or protect a copying process) one would have to admit that God is able to protect oral transmission as well, thus, giving credence to the Catholic position. 

However, what God can do has never been the debate, what God has done is the issue. 

I believe God could split the sun in two, and give earth two suns. However, my belief that God could do that doesn’t give any credence to a person who might believe He has done that or that He will do that. God’s ability is not the issue in the debate. The Mormon, the Muslim, and the Jehovah’s Witness could all base their beliefs on an extra-biblical authority as well. Peters’ doesn’t abandon his belief that extra-biblical authority is necessary simply because others can abuse that belief, yet, he expects the Protestant to do just that. 

All of this is closely related to the next argument, #14,  which is yet again stealing artillery from the Atheist’s armory. 

“The Biblical Manuscripts Contain Thousands of Variations.”

Yet again, the author is doing his best impression of the unbelieving, atheistic skeptics. However, as the article admits, the vast majority of these variants are not meaningful, making the title of the argument misleading and dishonest. Really it should sound something like this: 

There are a handful of variants I consider meaningful which therefore disproves Sola Scriptura. 

Peters states in support of this idea, 

“[T]he manuscript evidence shows that scribes sometimes modified the Biblical texts to harmonize passages, to accommodate them to historical fact, and to establish a doctrinal correctness.”

The fact that he knows this undermines his point! The manuscript evidence is sufficient enough to know when something has been changed. In other words, one cannot claim to know something has been changed, edited, added, or removed, unless they admit to knowing the original! Without a standard, without a point of reference, one couldn’t know. 

If a museum historian handed a visiting tourist a painting they had never seen before and asked them if it was complete or edited, how could the lay-tourist know? He would have no idea until the historian showed him the original painting. Then the tourist could examine both. The fact that the Bible is self-authenticating, and then demonstrates the robust textual history that ought to be expected from a self-authenticating book, which can be utilized to to identify mistakes, is exactly why Peters can make the argument he just made. He is standing on Sola Scriptura in order to argue against it. 

Peters’ concern then turns again to the issue of certainty. He says, 

“These facts leave the Protestant in the position of not knowing if he possesses what the Biblical authors originally wrote. And if this is the case, then how can a Protestant profess to base his beliefs solely on the Bible when he cannot determine with certainty the textual authenticity of the Bible?”

And then after using the classic longer ending of Mark as an example, Peters states, 

“The best that can be said about these different endings is that we simply do not know for certain, from the Bible itself, where St. Mark’s Gospel concluded, and, depending on which ending(s) is/are included in a Protestant’s Bible, the publisher runs the risk of either adding verses to or omitting verses from the original text – thus violating the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, which requires ‘the Bible alone and in its entirety’ as the basis of faith. Even if a Protestant’s Bible includes all four endings with explanatory comments and/or footnotes, he still cannot be certain which of the four endings is genuine.”

But yet again, the Roman Catholic church cannot provide certainty. Simply having a church come in and say what the ending of Mark is does not provide certainty of Mark’s ending because it can’t be known for certain the decision to listen to the church was correct and that the church selected is even infallible. Peters has, yet again, defeated his own argument, he has cut off the branch he was sitting on. If in order for a rule of faith to be workable, one must have certainty, Rome is not workable as a rule of faith because she can’t offer that. 

Then, in a bizarre turn of events, the novel argument is used in argument #15 that multiple Bible translations somehow refute the doctrine of Sola Scriptura

“There Are Hundreds of Bible Versions.”

Although it is new, it really isn’t; it is much more of the same, as this built upon the last two arguments. 

Peters is finally being honest about his ultimate standard. His argument is essentially that without Rome the Protestant has no basis to know which Bible translations are most accurate, nor can they refute obviously erroneous translations like the Watchtower’s New World translation

“Ultimately, the problem can only be resolved through the intervention of an infallible teaching authority which speaks on behalf of Christ. The Catholic knows that that authority is the Roman Catholic Church and its Magisterium or teaching authority. In an exercise of this authority, Catholic Bishops grant an imprimatur (meaning “Let it be printed”) to be included on the opening pages of certain Bible versions and other spiritual literature to alert the reader that the book contains nothing contrary to the teachings of Christ and the Apostles.” 

What is ironic here is that Peters tries to appeal to an alleged infallible authority to solve a hypothetical dispute between a group of people who appeal to… alleged infallible authority! 

The very weapon Peters offers the protestant to fight against the Jehovah’s Witness with is the exact same weapon that the Jehovah’s Witness offers the Protestant in their fight against Roman Catholicism: an infallible church. 

Peters tells the Protestant they cannot appeal to biblical scholars who know Greek in order to refute the perverted Greek of the JW’s bible because they too can appeal to scholars. 

“If the Protestant responds by saying that this issue can be determined on the basis of Biblical scholarship, then he is ignorant of the fact that the Jehovah’s Witnesses also cite sources of Biblical scholarship in support of their translation of these passages!”

However, once again Peters has refuted himself. By that very line of logic Peters cannot refer to an infallible church to solve the debate because the JW can also appeal to an infallible church to justify his claims. 

That is why this quotation has enough irony to choke on:

“The issue then devolves into a game of pitting one source of scholarship against another – one human authority against another.

The above quotation however is the exact process of debate between the Roman Catholic and the Jehovah’s Witness! They would both be caught in a Mexican stand-off. 

Roman Catholic: “You’re wrong sir, and I know this because I have an infallible church which says so!”

Jehovah’s Witness: “No YOU’RE wrong sir, and I know this because I have an infallible church which says so!”

Yet again, Sola Ecclesia rears its ugly head and fails in accomplishing the tasks it itself requires for others. 

Peters demands a certainty that his arbitrary, fallible choice to follow Rome cannot provide. There is no certainty in pulling rank like this. It’s a question begging epithet. It provides no consistency and demeans God’s Word. And any position that demeans the Word of God and causes one to think inconsistently is a worldview that isn’t true, that can’t be true, and that should be abandoned with haste. 

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