Sunday, March 17, 2013

Green Baggins Sola Scriptura

I recently stumbled across the "Green Baggins" blog and found it is often discussing Catholicism.  One of their recent articles (which does not identify who wrote it, so I would assume it is by the Rev. Lane Keister, a Presbyterian minister who hosts the blog) is on a topic I have recently discussed and raises some points worth commenting on . . .
Sola Versus Solo Scriptura Revisited  February 6, 2013 at 4:38 pm
This post will not be an attempt to hash out all the arguments adduced in Bryan Cross’s original review of Mathison, or Mathison’s response, or Liccione’s response to Mathison. I do want to point out a few things, however.
First of all, I think Liccione gave away the barn when he said,
Catholic theologians generally understand Scripture as the divinely inspired norma normans for other secondary authorities, including the Church. That means that, once the biblical canon was formed, whatever was admitted from other authorities had to conform to and cohere with Scripture. No authority may introduce anything as de fide that is logically incompatible with Scripture or otherwise fails to cohere with it. Other authorities are thus norma normata: they are “normed” by Scripture rather than vice-versa.
To put it mildly, this is NOT what I have read in Roman Catholic sources. 
That which may or may not have been read in Catholic sources is merely an anecdotal analysis of the Catholic position, and is not accurate.  The fact is, as stated, no authority may introduce anything as de fide that is logically incompatible with Scripture - and no authority has, period.  
In the Second Vatican Council’s document on divine revelation, Dei Verbum (Latin: "The Word of God"), the relationship between Tradition and Scripture is explained: "Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit. To the successors of the apostles, sacred Tradition hands on in its full purity God’s word, which was entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. "Thus, by the light of the Spirit of truth, these successors can in their preaching preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same devotion and reverence."  (Qtd from:
CCC 133 The Church "forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. (Qtd. from:
Perhaps Keister will rethink his position on this?
Generally the partim-partim understanding has prevailed, which is that divine revelation is contained partly in Scripture, partly in tradition. 
I would grant Keister this statement, but not his next...
In practice, tradition trumps Scripture. 
Tradition never trumps Scripture - in fact no Sacred Tradition can be contrary, nor is contrary to Scripture.
For instance, even supposing a Roman Catholic canon, the argument from Maccabees about purgatory is that prayer for the dead means that the church can help the dead. The problem is that the passage they usually cite has people praying for idolaters. Idolatry is mortal sin, and cannot be something purged away in purgatory, which is only for the cleansing of the temporal punishments of venial sin (I have yet to see this argument answered by Roman Catholics). Therefore, since Maccabees cannot support their understanding of purgatory, Tradition makes purgatory necessary in spite of its having no support in Scripture. By this method of procedure, the church can invent anything it wants, “find” a justification for it in Scripture, and then stoutly say that the Tradition has supported it all along. 
Keister is mixing topics here and is essentially diverting from his thesis.  It is undeniable that 2 Maccabees makes positive reference to praying for the dead. We could get into the debate on the reasons of 2 Maccabees, but that would distract from his thesis.  The fact remains that 2 Maccabees discusses praying for the dead as a practice of the Jewish people prior to the existence of Christians.  The point is, the Catholic position on this is not one invented by Catholics, as Keister would like you to believe; rather it is a tradition of Jewish origination and is not contrary to Scripture - regardless of one's position on the canonicity of 2 Maccabees.    
A very vocal minority at Vatican I, by way of contrast, led by Bishop Strossmayer, strongly rejected papal infallibility, stating that Scripture and history were strongly against it. But that would not deter the pro-papal authority crowd.
It would not and could not deter the pro-papal authority crowd because neither Scripture nor history is against it!  Scripture records Jesus laying the foundation for papal authority in Matthew 16:18-19.  Kiester's point is duly noted, it was a very vocal minority, but a misinformed one.
The other problem with this quotation is the statement “No authority may introduce anything as de fide that is logically incompatible with Scripture or otherwise fails to cohere with it.” On Roman Catholic principles, however, since the Magisterium can interpret the Bible to say what they want, then by definition no de fide statement could ever possibly be introduced that was logically incompatible with Scripture. 
It does not take the Magisterium to come up with logical arguments for or against.  The fact is that Scripture itself teaches that it is the Church which is the pillar and ground of truth, not the written word.
Liccione is here actually borrowing a Protestant principle that is incompatible with the Roman Catholic position. There is the assumption implicit in the statement that the Bible has a logical system all its own apart from interpretation, to which de fide statements must conform. This is the very position they accuse Protestants of holding! If the Magisterium holds the exclusive key to authoritative interpretation of the Scripture, then Liccione’s statement is devoid of teeth.
Keister presents us with a false dilemma here, the Scriptures do not have to be "a logical system all its own."  Scripture makes statements like "Thou shalt not covet..." as de fide, and no authority can come up with a teaching contrary to these.  Now when it comes to sola scriptura, Scripture is contrary to this!  As stated earlier, it is the Church which is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Timothy 3:15), not a book or collection of books (which the Church, with the Holy Ghost,  assembled!).  
Liccione/Cross also failed to deal with what is generally regarded as the most severe problem associated with Tradition: where is it? As we noted before, Tradition usually boils down to what the current church says. But this confuses the Tradition with the Magisterium. There are supposed to be 3 sources of infallible authority in the RCC: Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. 
Keister again falls into the false dilemma fallacy here - since the Magisterium is PART OF Tradition!  Where is tradition?  2 Thes. 2:15 tells the objective reader.  
The more modern Newmanesque version of Tradition, however, collapses Tradition and the Magisterium, thus making what the early church fathers said practically useless. 
I'm not sure what Keister means here, perhaps he can elaborate?
I was somewhat flabbergasted recently when Bryan Cross admitted to me that it wouldn’t really matter if even more than half of the ECF did not believe that Matthew 16′s “petra” was a reference to Peter.
Well, regardless of numbers - all along there have been many who believed and professed that "petra" or in the language Jesus was likely speaking there, "kephas," refers to the person of St. Peter.  Even those who do not directly link it to St. Peter's person, they relate it to the testimony of St. Peter.  Now, taken within the context of the rest of Scripture - we see that the Apostles are considered the 12 foundations - (Rev. 21:14) so when Jesus is speaking of "building" His Church, it is not logical to jump from the person, whom He just renamed "Kephas" (meaning rock) to the confession of Kephas.  But again, the thesis here is that Tradition cannot contradict Scripture - and clearly, here it does not.
This certainly reflects a non-Vincentian understanding of Tradition. But isn’t Trent Vincentian in its understanding of Tradition? I would argue that it clearly is Vincentian. 
I am not sure what Keister means by "Vincentian" and will not speculate.  If he wishes to clarify, perhaps we can deal with the particulars here.
What authority does the later church have to re-interpret what Trent said? 
Well, the Church has EVERY authority to bind or loose "whatsoever" she chooses!  Scripture confirms this!
And if the ECF’s did not, on the whole, believe that “petra” equals Peter, then by what authority does the Magisterium trump Tradition? Oh, I get it, the Magisterium also gets to interpret the Tradition (read, define it!). Quite frankly, this turns church history, the ECF’s, and the Bible into a complete wax nose: it means whatever the church today says it means, regardless of what it might actually say. All contrary evidence can be therefore safely ignored. The evidence, however, will not be so quickly domesticated. Protestants, it should be noted, do not have to do this. I can freely acknowledge that what is believed today in the RCC can be found among the ECF’s (in a very inchoate form), though I would be quick to point out that what Protestants believe would also be found there. But if you listen to many Roman Catholics, it is as if there no evidence whatsoever, and no arguments whatsoever against their position!
Well, in the case of this Roman Catholic, I freely admit there are testimonies in the Early Church Fathers, ECFs, which state something which many Protestants would accept - that the statement is directed toward the testimony of St. Peter, and not St. Peter himself - but again, I have already pointed out the logical fallacy in that thinking.  I would remind Keister, and the reader here, that the Church is not based upon what "some" think - but upon that which Jesus Christ empowered the Church either in the successor of St. Peter or in the body of the bishops together to decide an issue (we call an "ecumenical council").  The bottom line here is not in what some said one way or the other, but in what the Church says.    
Speaking of Trent, one assumes that the RCC believes that everything Trent said was infallible (and if it isn’t, who gets to define it? And how do we know which parts are infallible and which aren’t?). 
Not every word of the Council of Trent is infallible, similarly, not every word of a document, such as a papal bull, defining a dogma is infallible.  The ONLY place where Trent and papal documents are infallible is in the specific section(s) which define a dogma.
However, most Roman Catholic biblical scholars today ignore the first article of the fourth session, which states that Hebrews was written by Paul. By what authority do modern Roman Catholic biblical scholars go against the infallible decrees of Trent? Has anyone ever been disciplined for this? This was in the section on the canon, by the way, so an anathema sits on those who do not believe everything in that article (see Denzinger, 1503-1504).
Again, Keister is misrepresenting the Catholic Church here - as I said, not everything in Trent is infallible - and the part which mentions Paul as the author of Hebrews (a fact still disputed in many circles, Catholic and Protestant alike) and the chapter he refers to does contain an infallible decree, but the section which contains the statement about St. Paul and Hebrews is not the same section as the infallible decree!  The decree part from Trent IV is as follows:
If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema.
The infallible decree only applies to the books, not the author(s) of them.
It would be good, perhaps, to go through all of Bryan’s post section by section. Maybe sometime I will do that. For now, a teaser. Bryan argues that the individual is still the ultimate interpretive authority, even in Sola Scriptura, because he chooses his church based on what agrees with his theology. And, if he should at some time choose to believe something else, then too bad for the church. One other thing I did notice about Bryan’s article is that he quoted Mathison’s words to the effect that all Bible reading is interpreted reading. He quoted these words about ten times. But, as Mathison pointed out, he was really using the word in the sense of simply understanding what was there: not implying that what is said is unclear, and therefore has to be interpreted by some infallible magisterium. 
Keister's argumentation here is not very focused and difficult to pin down, other than it is about the individual interpreter being the ultimate authority, for Protestants - and that all scriptural reading is interpretive reading.  These are points I would tend to agree with, if indeed that is what he is stating is what Cross and/or Mathison is saying.  The point, however, is not in what any individual, even myself, says online - but in what the Church REALLY teaches.    
As to the substantive point about Sola Scriptura that Bryan brings up, I would answer it in brief with these observations. 1. Just because a person disagrees with his particular church about something does not mean that he reserves the right to leave it. The membership vows of the PCA, for instance, require the member to study the purity and peace of the church. This means that if the person disagrees with the church, he will start talking about the matter to the leadership. Most of the time, the issue can be settled in this way. 
But, if the issue is NOT resolved, the individual goes off to find another "church!"  Cross' point is not assailed in the least by Keister's reply.
2. Also, the vows include submission, which is to say that a proper keeping of the vow will include giving the church the benefit of the doubt in the case of a difference. The fact of the matter is that if the leadership of the church cannot convince the person of the incorrectness of his views (assuming the issue is large enough to warrant separation, such as the difference between paedo-baptism and credo-baptism), then the leadership should recommend that the member go to another church. The member does not have this responsibility all on his own. In other words, Bryan’s picture of supposed individualism does not take into account how shepherding is actually supposed to work. It is not the individual who should be shuttling around to various churches. It is the church which should shepherd the people. If the difference is not a matter on the level of importance indicated (take post-millenialism versus amillenialism), then the member should just continue to learn and discuss, and not leave the church (after all, everyone differs on some things), and be respectful to promote the purity and peace of the church. What I am describing, of course, is the ideal situation. We live in a fallen world, where people do not even recognize this shepherding function of the church. And thus, individuals leave on the flimsiest of excuses nowadays, even the color of the carpet! I would decry this form of individualism just as much as the Roman Catholics would. Surely, even Roman Catholics and Protestants can agree that 1 Corinthians 12 would preclude this kind of thinking!
I would assume here that Keister is referring to verses 12 and following of 1 Cor. 12, wherein the parts of the body cannot decide for themselves they can leave, however likewise it says that the eye cannot say to the foot, "I do not need you" - so Keister's example of the PCA leadership telling someone to go to another church is not scriptural either.  Now the Church can excommunicate, but even that is not truly separation!  Excommunication separates one from the Sacraments, save one - and that is Confession.  Until the excommunicant restores his/her self to communion with the Church, they are forbidden from partaking in the other Sacraments - but they are STILL required to attend Mass and they are STILL under the authority of the Catholic Church (whether the individual admits to this or not is irrelevant).  And this is for the same reason as before - the foot, even if it is separated from the body is still part of that body!   There is no valid recommendation for a Catholic to go to another church, for this is no other valid Church!  THAT is the point of 1 Cor. 12:12-31

Well, after going through the whole article now, I think the reader can see that there really wasn't a discussion of the difference between sola and solo scriptura!  First of all here let me clarify for the reader - there really is no linguistic difference between solo and sola - one is masculine, the other is feminine for the same word/meaning - so when coupled with the feminine "scriptura" - only "sola" is appropriate.  Some apologists like to make the distinction that "solo scriptura" is the teaching that if it is not found in Scripture then it is not authoritative at all whereas "sola scriptura" allows for other authorities, but Scripture is the sole infallible authority.  Both concepts are wholly untenable and contrary to Scripture, regardless of the naming convention applied.  As I peruse Keister's blog, perhaps I will find an article more on point and/or maybe he will engage this discussion more directly after reading my response.

Scott Windsor<<<


  1. I posted this article before reading through the replies to the initial one. I see at least a couple names there I am familiar with from other blogs. As time allows, I may get to some of those other responses too.

    In JMJ,

  2. I suppose it would be a bit remiss of me to not wish Rev. Keister a Happy St. Patrick's Day - so with this I do! Happy St. Patrick's Day to the "Green Baggins!"

  3. While there have been responses on the GreenBaggins blog to messages I have posted there, no one has engaged the full response (here) to the original article.

  4. Hi Scott,

    If you'd like to contribute to the info. I have in a recent post of mine about the origin of the term, "radtrad," feel free. Three people claimed to have coined it. Pete Vere deferred to Sandra Miesel, so now it is between you and her. See:

    My e-mail:

    apologistdave [at] gmail [dot] com

  5. Hi Dave,
    I don't know what documentation I can add to this discussion on "RadTrads" - I know I've been using the term for years and I know I didn't hear or see it from others before my use, but I could not tell you precisely when I first used it. I'll look around when I have time, but I'm not overly concerned about it.


  6. Thus far, not a single participant on GB has engaged my fuller response (here or on WordPress). I have engaged them in the combox section of their blog, but no one has even attempted, as yet, to respond to my response article.


  7. Well, while no one at Green Baggins responded - two other bloggers did, but even they were not directly responding to THIS article, rather they were responding to what was being talked about on GB.

    Here's the link to the response to their blogs:


Keep in mind while posting:
1) Please respond ON TOPIC to the article at hand.
2) Posts more than 4 weeks old are set to automatically save new comments for moderation - so your comment may not show up immediately if you're responding to an older post.
3) The "Spam Filter" is on - and randomly messages get caught in that filter. I have no control over which messages get caught in the spam filter and those that do must wait for me to mark them as "not spam." A message caught by the spam filter may show up for a moment, making you think it posted, and then disappear. Do not assume I have deleted your comment, it's probably just the spam filter and it will show up.