Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sola Scriptura

Often times Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists object to the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura on the grounds that it is not found in scripture. That is, they argue that this is a self-refuting proposition because the phrase “scripture alone” is itself not in scripture. In this blog post I plan to give a correct definition of Sola Scriptura that avoids these misunderstandings and then I intend on giving Biblical arguments for this definition of Sola Scriptura.


This is what Sola Scriptura means According to Protestant Reformed scholar Dr. W. Robert Godfrey:

“The Protestant position, and my position, is that all things necessary for salvation and concerning faith and life are taught in the Bible clearly enough for the ordinary believer to find it there and understand.”

We can see by this definition that there is no contradiction here because the Bible clearly teaches this proposition in 1 Timothy 3:16:

“16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

This verse teaches the sufficiency of scripture for faith and practice. It also seems implicit within this text that if scripture can by itself equip every person for every good action then it seems that we would have to individually understand it. This is not the only text that teaches Sola Scriptura, there are two other texts that I believe imply this doctrine.

1 Corinthians 4:6 6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.

Paul is teaching that the Corinthians not ought to be judgmental and puff themselves with arrogant pride rather they are to be submissive to what is written and not to go beyond it. If this holds true when Paul is saying this to a church in the first century when the Holy Apostles were alive, then how much more should we follow this principle when there is no more living apostles? This is what Reformed Theologian Michael Horton has argued in his class lectures. If Paul is arguing not to go beyond what is written then it is clear that Scripture is necessary for all things pertaining to our salvation, practicing our faith and he is also presupposing in this that we can understand what is written in Holy Scripture.

Acts 17:11 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

In this text, Luke is saying that it was a noble thing that the individual believers were themselves examining the scripture to see if what Paul the Apostle had been saying was true. This shows that it is a noble task to even check the scriptures even against a Holy Apostle. If that was true then, then it would be true today when there are no more Apostles. This shows that individual believer can sufficiently understand and interpret the things in scripture because Luke says this is a noble task if they were getting everything wrong by their individual interpretations then it certainly would not be noble.

In Conclusion:

Therefore, I believe to have shown two things from this post: 1) The definition of Sola Scriptura is coherent contra Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologist and 2) this definition is biblical derived.

Works Cited:

http://www.the-highway.com/Sola_Scriptura_Godfrey.html

14 comments:

  1. Nate said..."If Paul is arguing not to go beyond what is written then it is clear that Scripture is necessary for all things pertaining to our salvation, practicing our faith and he is also presupposing in this that we can understand what is written in Holy Scripture."

    -Amen!

    I just wrote a long positive response and tried to send it and it timed out. I should have known better. I usually respond in a word doc and then send. Basically I wrote that I thought this was a good post defining Sola Scriptura and agreed with your argumentation and liked the discussion of these relevant passages. I also said that I think that a section similar to this one would have made my paper stronger because although Sola Scriptura is clearly a theological given in my writing I never defined it clearly from Scripture. Looking back months later after writing a short paper to fulfill class expectations always frustrates me because I find that I overlook some really important stuff. Thats why I think it is cool to be able to discuss these things on blogs and expand on what we believe in a more complete fashion making future writing and debate more clear and sharp.

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  2. Hey Thanks Danny!

    This is a critque I hear all the time of sola scriptura. And I thought it was valid until I actually started to listening to my lectures and books on how historic reformed protestants defined sola scriptura. But I hope you have the best of luck in coming up with future theological formulations!

    God Bless,

    NPT

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  4. Nate--

    You quoted:

    “The Protestant position, and my position, is that all things necessary for salvation and concerning faith and life are taught in the Bible clearly enough for the ordinary believer to find it there and understand.”

    Even if the Bible has all content necessary for salvation, and is clear enough for the ordinary believer to understand and make demonstrations from, does this imply that the Church cannot have an authoritative oral tradition of how to interpret the Bible? In this case, your definition of SS would be met, but yet it doesn’t seem to capture what Protestants mean by SS.

    You wrote:

    “16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

    This verse teaches the sufficiency of scripture for faith and practice, but it does not teach that we can understand those truths as individual believers, for that I will go to other texts.”

    Where does this teach the sufficiency of Scripture for faith and practice?

    You wrote:

    “1 Corinthians 4:6 6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.

    Paul is teaching that the Corinthians not ought to be judgmental and puff themselves with arrogant pride rather they are to be submissive to what is written and not to go beyond it. If this holds true when Paul is saying this to a church in the first century when the Holy Apostles were alive, then how much more should we follow this principle when there is no more living apostles? This is what Reformed Theologian Michael Horton has argued in his class lectures. If Paul is arguing not to go beyond what is written then it is clear that Scripture is necessary for all things pertaining to our salvation, practicing our faith and he is also presupposing in this that we can understand what is written in Holy Scripture.”

    Even if all of this is so, why think that Paul is denying that there is an authoritative oral tradition about how to interpret the contents of the Bible? What does “going beyond what is written” consist in?

    You wrote:

    “Acts 17:11 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

    In this text, Luke is saying that it was a noble thing that the individual believers were themselves examining the scripture to see if what Paul the Apostle had been saying was true. This shows that it is a noble task to even check the scriptures even against a Holy Apostle. If that was true then, then it would be true today when there are no more Apostles. This shows that individual believer can sufficiently understand and interpret the things in scripture because Luke says this is a noble task if they were getting everything wrong by their individual interpretations then it certainly would not be noble.”

    Doesn’t this seem to be more of a rhetorical strategy? It seems Paul is appealing to a shared authority in an effort to persuade Jewish people to become Christian—namely the authority of the Old Testament. It would be question-begging to just assert “look folks, Apostolic tradition is infallible”. So of course he would appeal to premises that his hearers might be willing to accept. This hardly seems like an example of laypeople judging Apostolic doctrine—these aren’t even Christians (yet—in the next verse they become Christians). Paul seems, rather, to be encouraging Jewish people to see if the Jewish Scriptures can demonstrate some of the tenets of Christianity.

    Assuming (regardless of whether the assumption is correct) that there is no reason to deny the existence of an authoritative oral tradition of how to interpret the Bible, should we accept Sola Scriptura as the teaching of Scripture?

    Also, considering that none of the examples you give are principled statements of general norms, would you say that your case for Sola Scriptura is inductively-based, generalizing from certain instances of Christian practice to the conclusion that this is the norm?

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  5. I wrote an apologetics article on how the Westminster Confession defines SS, if you want to have a looks:

    http://catholicdefense.googlepages.com/westminsterch1

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  6. Even if the Bible has all content necessary for salvation, and is clear enough for the ordinary believer to understand and make demonstrations from, does this imply that the Church cannot have an authoritative oral tradition of how to interpret the Bible? In this case, your definition of SS would be met, but yet it doesn’t seem to capture what Protestants mean by SS.

    Response: Sola Scriptura is a epistemological principle about how we know about the Divine/Human Christ and salvation/sanctification today. I would say that one can infer from this definition that it is false or that there is no reason to believe that there is a authoritative oral tradition that interprets the Bible. This would obviously be a different argument and I have given arguments in the past for this, but in further posts on this blog I will update my Ockham's razor arguments and make other inferences from SS as I have defined it that suggests that it is false that there is a authoritative oral tradition that interprets the Bible. This definition of Sola Scriptura is what most studied Protestants would hold to (Horton for example), so far every Protestant I have run this by agrees with this definition and two Reformed Protestants have commented on this blog so far have not disagreed with anything I have said. So perhaps this confusion is from either deliberate misrepresentation, misunderstanding or from the unstudied Protestants.


    Where does this teach the sufficiency of Scripture for faith and practice?

    Response: That the Man of God is competent for every good action is the Protestant view of faith and practice.

    You wrote:

    “1 Corinthians 4:6 6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.

    Paul is teaching that the Corinthians not ought to be judgmental and puff themselves with arrogant pride rather they are to be submissive to what is written and not to go beyond it. If this holds true when Paul is saying this to a church in the first century when the Holy Apostles were alive, then how much more should we follow this principle when there is no more living apostles? This is what Reformed Theologian Michael Horton has argued in his class lectures. If Paul is arguing not to go beyond what is written then it is clear that Scripture is necessary for all things pertaining to our salvation, practicing our faith and he is also presupposing in this that we can understand what is written in Holy Scripture.”

    Even if all of this is so, why think that Paul is denying that there is an authoritative oral tradition about how to interpret the contents of the Bible? What does “going beyond what is written” consist in?

    Response: Well if we apply the message of not going beyond the things that are written today then there would only be the written word that we would need to go by and not the authoritative oral tradition that interprets the contents of the Bible. I obviously think eastern orthodoxy and roman Catholicism is not biblical so I believe there so called authoritative interpretations are extra biblical.


    Doesn’t this seem to be more of a rhetorical strategy? It seems Paul is appealing to a shared authority in an effort to persuade Jewish people to become Christian—namely the authority of the Old Testament. It would be question-begging to just assert “look folks, Apostolic tradition is infallible”. So of course he would appeal to premises that his hearers might be willing to accept. This hardly seems like an example of laypeople judging Apostolic doctrine—these aren’t even Christians (yet—in the next verse they become Christians). Paul seems, rather, to be encouraging Jewish people to see if the Jewish Scriptures can demonstrate some of the tenets of Christianity.

    Response: I, as Protestant, believe that the Bible is a divine and human inspired text given to the church to interpret and apply to their lives. With that being said I think the application of this verse for the contemporary church is that it is a moral virtue to check what teachers, the church, and ministers say with the scriptures and this assumes that the scriptures can be correctly interpreted by a individual believer and this also it assumes that the authority of scripture by individual believers interpretation can overrule epistemologically what the church says and it is a virtue to so according to saint Luke. But aside from that consideration it still seems to me that Luke praises the Jews in general for checking out what Paul says with the scriptures so even if Paul was using a rhetorical strategy the word of God gives praise to people checking out what the word of God says over and against the church.

    Assuming (regardless of whether the assumption is correct) that there is no reason to deny the existence of an authoritative oral tradition of how to interpret the Bible, should we accept Sola Scriptura as the teaching of Scripture?

    Response: Yes.

    Also, considering that none of the examples you give are principled statements of general norms, would you say that your case for Sola Scriptura is inductively-based, generalizing from certain instances of Christian practice to the conclusion that this is the norm?

    Response: I would say that the first verse from timothy was a normative statement and the same with the second because they are in the prescriptive epistles. But the Last is a inductively based on a narrative of instances of christian practice. But the uniqueness of what Saint Luke cannot be underestimated because he gives a value statement about a historical practice in the early church and thus it is pretty clear that it is prescriptive for us today.

    Thanks for your comments Michael.

    God Bless you,

    NPT

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  7. I wrote an apologetics article on how the Westminster Confession defines SS, if you want to have a looks:

    http://catholicdefense.googlepages.com/westminsterch1

    Response:

    Nick,

    I do not hold to every word of the Westminster Confession of Faith, I would rather hold to the general gist of it. Moreover, I do not hold it to be a authoritative document. So if you would like to have effective dialogue with me then you will need to critique my view of Sola Scriptura.

    Thanks for your thoughts,

    God Bless,

    NPT

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  8. Where in this blog have you argued for the exclusivity of scripture as an authority? i understand you've made arguments for it's adequacy, but i don't see (especially in your initial definition of SS) where you argue that a Christian is obligated to take scripture *alone* as authoritative.

    the closest i came to seeing something in this vein was your quotation from Paul to the Corinthians "not to go beyond what is written." But if that is taken to imply "SS" then wouldn't it have ruled out Paul's own *spoken* words as authoritative to the Corinthians?

    and relevant to the comments made by MG: what does your understanding of SS imply about the possibility that some of the biblical documents themselves are a product of oral traditions, or that the authors (inspired as they may have been) used sources which were based on oral traditions?

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  9. Where in this blog have you argued for the exclusivity of scripture as an authority? i understand you've made arguments for it's adequacy, but i don't see (especially in your initial definition of SS) where you argue that a Christian is obligated to take scripture *alone* as authoritative.

    Response: I think that one can infer from this proposition that epistemological we have reason for thinking that there is not a authoritative church oral tradition to interpret the scriptures. But this argument will be on a different post, but for now we can at least see that we have no reason to believe that the church has that sort of authority and thus the epistemological principle still stands. That is what Sola Scriptura is.

    the closest i came to seeing something in this vein was your quotation from Paul to the Corinthians "not to go beyond what is written." But if that is taken to imply "SS" then wouldn't it have ruled out Paul's own *spoken* words as authoritative to the Corinthians?

    Response: Yes, it would. This just shows that all people at all times are bound to the written word even before the Apostles in the first century.

    and relevant to the comments made by MG: what does your understanding of SS imply about the possibility that some of the biblical documents themselves are a product of oral traditions, or that the authors (inspired as they may have been) used sources which were based on oral traditions?

    Response: I do not have a problem with that seeing that Sola Scriptura functions differently than it did in the first century as all Protestants agree. Now it is a epistemological principle about how we know Christ and things sufficient for faith and practice *today*.

    I hope that helps!

    God Bless,

    NPT

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  10. Nate—

    You wrote:

    “Response: Sola Scriptura is a epistemological principle about how we know about the Divine/Human Christ and salvation/sanctification today. I would say that one can infer from this definition that it is false or that there is no reason to believe that there is a authoritative oral tradition that interprets the Bible. This would obviously be a different argument and I have given arguments in the past for this, but in further posts on this blog I will update my Ockham's razor arguments and make other inferences from SS as I have defined it that suggests that it is false that there is a authoritative oral tradition that interprets the Bible. This definition of Sola Scriptura is what most studied Protestants would hold to (Horton for example), so far every Protestant I have run this by agrees with this definition and two Reformed Protestants have commented on this blog so far have not disagreed with anything I have said. So per haps this confusion is from either deliberatemisrepresentation, misunderstanding or from the unstudied Protestants.”

    My problem (which may be illegitimate) is that I think I can probably affirm your definition of Sola Scriptura. But its clear to me that I don't believe in what the Reformation taught about the Bible. I agree that all of what Christians need for life and salvation is taught in the Bible, and I even think that exegetical arguments can be made for the Orthodox-patristic interpretation of the Bible that seem to adequately show that the Orthodox-patristic interpretation is more plausible than others. But I also think that the core content of the Old and New Testaments is formalized (interpreted) in an intrinsically authoritative oral tradition (the rule of faith), whose content is taken entirely from Scripture. And I believe that the content of the Bible has also been formulated (interpreted) in Ecumenical Councils that are infallible—having divine power to obligate human consciences to believe and obey their dogmas. Surely what I believe is not an example of Sola Scriptura, and yet it fits your definition. All I'm trying to say is that this makes me suspicious. I think a correct definition of Sola Scriptura might need to include content about the right of private judgment and the non-normativity of the decisions of any interpreters.

    What'cha think?

    You wrote:

    “Response: That the Man of God is competent for ever y good action is the Protestant view of faith and practice.”

    Who is the man of God?

    By what standard does he interpret the Bible?

    You wrote:

    “Response: Well if we apply the message of not going beyond the things that are written today then there would only be the written word that we would need to go by and not the authoritative oral tradition that interprets the contents of the Bible. I obviously think eastern orthodoxy and roman Catholicism is not biblical so I believe there so called authoritative interpretations are extra biblical.”

    Do you think the act of interpreting the Bible is “going beyond what is written”? It seems like the verse you are citing could be interpreted that way—never interpret the Bible, just repeat its contents. This appears to be the most literal read.

    Does “not going beyond what is written” consist in “not reformulating the content of biblical teaching”, or in “not accepting extra-biblical teaching content”?

    You wrote:

    “Response: I, as Protestant, believe that the Bible is a divine and human inspired text given to the church to interpret and apply to their lives. With that being said I think the application of this verse for the contemporary church is that it is a moral virtue to check what teachers, the church, and ministers say with the scriptures and this assumes that the scriptures can be correctly interpreted by a individual believer and this also it assumes that the authority of scripture by individual believers interpretation can overrule epistemologically what the church says and it is a virtue to so according to saint Luke. But aside from that consideration it still seems to me that Luke praises the Jews in general for checking out what Paul says with the scriptures so even if Paul was using a rhetorical strategy the word of God gives praise to people checking out what the word of God says over and against the church.”

    But doesn't this verse also seem to imply that we should judge whether or not what the New Testament says is compatible with the Old? After all, these Jews were checking Apostolic teaching—which you think was entirely written down in the New Testament—by the standard of Old Testament teaching. So is this verse supportive of the idea that it is virtuous to suspend judgment on New Testament teaching until it can be proven from the Old Testament?

    Doesn't Luke seem to be praising the honesty of the Jews in accurately recognizing the inherent divine authority of Apostolic tradition—not the fact that they questioned the Apostles?

    And why should this apply to Christians today, given that it is talking about unbelievers? Don't the Apostles treat their oral teaching to laity as being authoritative and beyond question?

    You wrote:

    “Response: Yes.”

    But it seems like we need clear and virtually indisputable evidence for a doctrine from Scripture in order for belief in it to be binding on our consciences. If all one can do is undercut arguments for an a uthoritative oral tradition being required by Scripture, but we cannot show it is incompatible, then doesn't this seem to fall short of the Protestant standard for what we should be bound to believe?

    You wrote:

    “Response: I would say that the first verse from timothy was a normative statement and the same with the second because they are in the prescriptive epistles. But the Last is a inductively based on a narrative of instances of christian practice. But the uniqueness of what Saint Luke cannot be underestimated because he gives a value statement about a historical practice in the early church and thus it is pretty clear that it is prescriptive for us today.”

    Hah, stupid me for not seeing that obviously the first two are in the Epistles. Okay, this makes sense. Of course I would still dispute your interpretations of those verses.

    Thanks for chatting, Nate.

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  11. My problem (which may be illegitimate) is that I think I can probably affirm your definition of Sola Scriptura. But its clear to me that I don't believe in what the Reformation taught about the Bible. I agree that all of what Christians need for life and salvation is taught in the Bible, and I even think that exegetical arguments can be made for the Orthodox-patristic interpretation of the Bible that seem to adequately show that the Orthodox-patristic interpretation is more plausible than others. But I also think that the core content of the Old and New Testaments is formalized (interpreted) in an intrinsically authoritative oral tradition (the rule of faith), whose content is taken entirely from Scripture. And I believe that the content of the Bible has also been formulated (interpreted) in Ecumenical Councils that are infallible—having divine power to obligate human consciences to believe and obey their dogmas. Surely what I believe is not an example of Sola Scriptura, and yet it fits your definition. All I'm trying to say is that this makes me suspicious. I think a correct definition of Sola Scriptura might need to include content about the right of private judgment and the non-normativity of the decisions of any interpreters.

    What'cha think?

    Response: Well one could argue that from the scriptures they came to all the propositions taught in the Roman Catholic church (Gerry M. does). One can say they derive a whole host of things from scripture. But I believe with this principle I could infer that we have no reason for thinking that there is a authoritative interpretation and that we have no reason for thinking that there are documents or teachers that possess intrinsic authority apart from the scriptures. Thus, from this proposition I believe that one can infer principles of the Reformation rather than the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox church. Again this is a epistemological principle that I think binds someone to the Protestant position. The part were you would disagree with me on is that you would say from this epistemological starting point you would infer the eastern orthodox church and so on. This is interesting for me because I would argue that you are starting with a Protestant methodology to establish a Eastern Orthodox conclusion. But if you really start with that proposition and move to the Eastern church then that is interesting....but are you really comfortable with saying that you starting off with your individual interpretations that are reasonable and from this moving to the church? By the way I think that my definition does include private judgments when it makes the statement that the ordinary believers can find and understand these things in scripture. So I think that is in the definition sorry if that was not clearer.


    Who is the man of God?

    Response: Every Christian

    By what standard does he interpret the Bible?

    Response: Well here it is saying that scriptures are sufficient for the believer to be competent in every good work, so if the believer cannot understand what the scriptures says by themselves then it seems like they would fail to be competent.


    Do you think the act of interpreting the Bible is “going beyond what is written”? It seems like the verse you are citing could be interpreted that way—never interpret the Bible, just repeat its contents. This appears to be the most literal read.

    Response: I think when Paul says this he is assuming that Corinthians can understand and interpret it for themselves so they can check out what is being taught. To add some infallible interpretation which binds the individual believer that is not from the Bible is going beyond what is written. But of course you do not think the infallible interpretation does go beyond what is written so you would be fine with this. In the end, this comes down to a exegetical disagreement more than anything else. You think that your Eastern Orthodox theology is biblical, I do not. But my methodological principles as Protestant fail to be incoherent and I think entail a consistent Protestant position. Thus, in a apologetic interaction between a eastern orthodox like yourself it would seem that the discussion would thankfully turn into a exegetical argument rather than anything else.

    Does “not going beyond what is written” consist in “not reformulating the content of biblical teaching”, or in “not accepting extra-biblical teaching content”?

    Response: Yes, extra-biblical infallible teaching content that I believe adds to the biblical content.

    You wrote:

    “Response: I, as Protestant, believe that the Bible is a divine and human inspired text given to the church to interpret and apply to their lives. With that being said I think the application of this verse for the contemporary church is that it is a moral virtue to check what teachers, the church, and ministers say with the scriptures and this assumes that the scriptures can be correctly interpreted by a individual believer and this also it assumes that the authority of scripture by individual believers interpretation can overrule epistemologically what the church says and it is a virtue to so according to saint Luke. But aside from that consideration it still seems to me that Luke praises the Jews in general for checking out what Paul says with the scriptures so even if Paul was using a rhetorical strategy the word of God gives praise to people checking out what the word of God says over and against the church.”

    But doesn't this verse also seem to imply that we should judge whether or not what the New Testament says is compatible with the Old? After all, these Jews were checking Apostolic teaching—which you think was entirely written down in the New Testament—by the standard of Old Testament teaching. So is this verse supportive of the idea that it is virtuous to suspend judgment on New Testament teaching until it can be proven from the Old Testament?

    Response: I would say Luke is praising them for checking out if the previous old Testament writings were compatible and pointed to Pauls teaching. And the application is that we ought to individually do the same thing today especially since there are no more apostles and new revelation.
    But yeah in this context Luke is praising them for accepting what Paul was saying on the basis of what was previously written.

    Doesn't Luke seem to be praising the honesty of the Jews in accurately recognizing the inherent divine authority of Apostolic tradition—not the fact that they questioned the Apostles?

    Response: To be more precise: Luke is praising the means by which they recognized Paul's teaching as authentic via there individual interpretation of the OT.

    And why should this apply to Christians today, given that it is talking about unbelievers? Don't the Apostles treat their oral teaching to laity as being authoritative and beyond question?

    Response: They could have been regenerate. The text is not clear and besides that, I think either way it seems to be accidental to Luke's point in the text. I think the essential transcendent application is that it is a good things to rule out or in on certain teachings via individual interpretation.


    But it seems like we need clear and virtually indisputable evidence for a doctrine from Scripture in order for belief in it to be binding on our consciences. If all one can do is undercut arguments for an a uthoritative oral tradition being required by Scripture, but we cannot show it is incompatible, then doesn't this seem to fall short of the Protestant standard for what we should be bound to believe?

    Response: I think my Ockham's razor and I think 1 Corinthians 4:6 give us reasons to doubt a infallible oral tradition. But I will give these arguments in more detail in future posts. But I do not think it falls short at all. I just think you have been talking to Protestants that are clueless or maybe you have misunderstood something.

    Hey thanks for your time Michael. I really have enjoyed our discussions.

    God Bless,

    NPT

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  12. Nate--

    I continued discussion of SS on the other blog. I will post a response to your take on the verses other than 2 Timothy 3:16 sometime soon.

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  13. Thanks Michael! I am greatly looking forward to the future discussion!


    God Bless,

    NPT

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