This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Prophetic Defense of Sola Scriptura

 Someone might want to object to the self-referential argument against Sola Scriptura
with what i will call 'The Prophetic Defense.'  The following is an email i wrote trying
to deal with this objection: 
Now, my guess is that you might address the self-referential problem by appealing to 
the possibility that some of the 27 books of the New Testament seem to refer to themselves in 
some sort of prophetic sense.  In other words, perhaps there are parts of the New Testament 
which refer to the 27, but those parts refer in a way that is *separate* from the 
author's awareness or intent.  For example:

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give 
birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14)

Now, i take it as granted that when Isaiah wrote this, he, himself, was likely unaware 
that this prophecy was meant to refer to Jesus of Nazareth.  Yet Matthew tells us that 
this prophecy does refer to Mary's pregnancy with Jesus (Matt 1:22-23).  Thus, God/The 
Holy Spirit meant something by the words of Isaiah even though Isaiah himself didn't 
intend or wasn't aware of that meaning.  So it's true that Isa 7:14 references Jesus even 
though this reference is not intended by the human author of Isa 7:14  [If you think this 
is false, that's fine.  It's not really a big deal; i'm just looking for an illustration, 
and i picked this one.  There are other examples in scripture of the same kind of 
thing--Genesis 50:20.]

A person using the prophetic defense ("PD") could say something like this: 
"It may be the case that the NT authors weren't aware that their words were 
referring to the completed New Testament ("the 27"), but God intended that meaning
 for their words.  Thus some documents included in the 27 reference the 27 *apart* 
from the human authors' intended meanings."

i wanna deal with PD because i believe PD is a fairly canned response from a 
traditional CoC line of thought.

Objection to PD #1: 
The PD at best only addresses my (1) and (2), but i do not see how PD addresses (3) or 

[RECALL that the numbers here refer to the list i posted on Monday:

(1) The 27 books of the NT were produced by a church that didn't have 
    the 27 books of the NT.  Thus, no single author whose document is 
    included in the 27 could've taught SS since the 27 didn't exist at 
    the time that any of them were written (except for whichever 
    document was chronologically 27th).

(2) The 27 books of the NT were produced by a church that clearly 
    didn't adhere to SS because she recognized other sources of 
    authority--namely the apostles themselves, the teachings of the 
    apostles passed on orally, and revelations given to those who 
    possessed certain types of charismata.

(3) Nowhere does any single document included in the 27 provide an 
    explicit list of which documents are meant to comprise the 27.  
    Thus for any single one of the documents included in the 27, we 
    cannot justify it's use in the faith and practice of the church by 
    means of SS.  If we justify it's use by means of some authority 
    outside the 39-OT/27-NT, then we have already violated SS.  But 
    again, if we stick solely to the 39-OT/27-NT, then we have no 
    clear authority for the use in faith and practice of any 
    particular document included in the 27.

(4) There at one time existed documents *beyond* the 27 which in 
    principle we would have every reason to accept as authoritative, 
    which even if such documents are not currently extant, it remains 
    the case in principle that there are more books than just the 27 
    that could serve as authoritative for the church's faith and 
    practice. (Take pre-1Corinthians as an example here: 1Cor 5:9)]

Objection to PD #2:
PD seems to create more problems than it solves.  How can we know that there are meanings 
intended by God apart from the human author's intent?  In the case of Isaiah, Matthew--an 
apostle--told me that there was a prophetic level of meaning.  What source could i use to 
determine a prophetic level of meaning when it comes to the words of the apostles?  How 
could it possibly be tested whether a given statement by a NT author has a prophetic 
level of meaning apart from that author's intent??

Objection to PD #3:
What compelling reason is there to think that PD is true *except when a person already 
assumes Sola Scriptura*?  In other words, what could motivate PD except a *prior* 
adherence or wish to defend SS?  

Now, i'm guessing here that the standard CoC line would be to turn to 1Cor 13:8ff or Eph 
4:11ff and argue that "the perfect" or "until we all attain to the unity 
of the faith" must refer to the completed NT. But i have a couple responses to this:

First, notice that my (4) above is still a major problem for this claim about a 
'completed NT' because even according to the 27 there are more than 27, thus, we don't 
currently possess the 'completed NT.'  Or to put it another way, the 'completed NT' argument 
used in the 1Cor 13 interpretation can only arbitrarily refer to the particular books we ended up
with, and not to all the books God actually inspired in the NT times.  Even the theoretic 
existence of #28 means that 27 is not a magic number, and thus 27 cannot be 
taken as the 'completed NT' except in a pragmatic sense (i.e., "Well, 27 is all 
we've got right now pending some archaeological discovery.").

Second, suppose the year was 110 A.D. and you and i were Christians.  And we were members 
of a congregation that had copies of both 1Corinthians and Ephesians.  What reason would 
we have to think that either of those passages referred to the 'completed NT'?  Or more 
importantly, what *exegetical* reason would either of us have to conclude that?  To us in 
our time, the NT doesn't exist as a unit in that sense.  Some books circulate together, 
but so far as we know, no one circulates the 27 together as some sort of 'exclusive' 
unit.  In fact, we know that some books *outside* the 27 are circulated (ex., 1Clement 
and the Shepherd of Hermas).  So, in fact, what reason would anyone *prior* to the 
Reformation or, say, the Council at Carthage have for interpreting those passages that 
way?  (This is really just a finer restatement of the original objection: Why believe the 
PD is true apart from a *prior* commitment to SS? :: Why believe 1Cor 13:10 refers to the 
'completed NT' unless i have a *prior* conceptual awareness of and commitment to a 
'completed NT' which = the 27?)

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