Friday, August 15, 2008

Sola Scriptura


The last time I had a discussion about Sola Scriptura was with a Tillich Scholar, but he was also sympathetic with Barth’s view of Scripture. He thought that Scripture needed to be considered “authoritative” but that it was a mistake to consider it “inerrant.” I don’t know how useful it is to debate this issue since even if the autographs were inerrant, we don’t have them.

Beyond that, there is considerable disagreement about the meaning of various parts of Scripture. At best, if one is bent upon inerrancy, one is able to say, “I believe that the autographs were inerrant and the difference between what we have and the inerrant autographs is in realms that are not important for basic doctrine.”

My Tillich-scholar friend came out at a not-too distant place with his term “authoritative.” Tillich, Barth and others believed Scripture was “authoritative,” rather than inerrant.

I think Christians must at least find Scripture authoritative. You’d have to be specific about what bothers you about “Sola Scriptura” for me to respond properly. I disagree with Bultmann who demythologized Scripture so that you could get at the Christ beyond the Mythologized Scripture. His argument might sound good at first, but one soon learns that the only way to get across the river to the Christ beyond, is to get in the boat with this Charon-Bultmann and let him row you across.

The Reformers were initially reforming the Roman Catholic Church which argued that the Church is the prime authority, and the church will explain what Scripture means. The Christian’s primary duty was to believe the teachings of the Church which will include but not be limited to Scripture. The Reformers argued that the Roman Church was not the authority, that the only authority was Scripture. Interestingly, the Reformers almost at once abandoned Sola Scriptura. Technically, the group that ended up with the title, “Reformed,” is that group which subscribes to the dogmatic authority of Calvin – the way they put it was along the lines of, “we believe in doctrine as explained by Calvin.”

Beyond that, it is well known that the early Christian teachers (including John) utilized Greek Philosophical terms to explain and define Christian doctrine. The early Christian creeds depended heavily upon Greek Philosophical terms. Therefore, one might ask, if Greek Philosophy were useful in explaining and understanding Christian doctrine prior to the Reformation, can more modern philosophy be of use subsequent to it? Could Wittgenstein, for example, be useful in explaining certain Christian concepts to the modern world?

Then too, the King James Bible was based upon the Textus Receptus, the Greek text of Disiderius Erasmus. Since then we have discovered older “more reliable” texts, known as “local texts.” Should we use these “local texts” which were closer to the time of the autographs? Or should we use the Byzantine Texts, the Textus Receptus, the “Received Text,” the text, according to some that the Holy Spirit blessed by protecting and causing it to be proclaimed without interruption for the major portion of the church age?

Then too, there is the matter of hermeneutics. What did the writers of the autographs mean when they wrote certain things? Is the authority that our denomination (whatever our denomination is) relies upon consistent with the writers of the autographs? Is our current understanding the same? The meanings of words change. Do any of these changes impact doctrine?

Then too, Christian doctrine is not State-dependent. That is, it fits in with a variety of states. In Liberal-Democracy where the citizen is an important part of the state, the Christian is a citizen. The Christian therefore is part of the state. He has become Caesar, so to speak. How does he then give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and God that which is God’s. In other words, the circumstances, the Social Milieu at the time the Christian disciples first wrote the New Testament, has changed. But should we as Christians change too? Or should we maintain an alienation from Caesar despite being Caesar?

I don’t know if anyone will have a problem with my view of Scripture. I do think Scripture is authoritative, but we shouldn’t be rigid in the way we approach it. What does God intend us to do? What is God’s Modus Operendi? Did he keep the State and Society the same? Obviously not. Then does he expect us to keep the same view about how to apply Scripture the same? I think that hasn’t been explored adequately. I’m not saying I know how to explore it, but I don’t think we should apply it quite the way they did 2000 years ago. Christian principles remain unchanged, but such things as women not speaking in church ought not to apply today. Women had a certain place, a certain education 2000 years ago. The role of women in Liberal-democracies is much different today; so we should apply this Scripture differently.

Lawrence Helm

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