Monday, March 22, 2010

The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture Pt 2

Our previous post looked at the inspiration of Scripture. We will now make some observations on the subject of Scripture’s Authority

The question of the Scripture’s authority is not in regard to the canonical authority, but to the authority attached to the writings that are acknowledged to be canonical Scriptures. The following point addresses itself to this issue: If the Scriptures have been proved to be divinely inspired, then their divine authority goes without saying. If they are His Word, they must be absolutely authoritative with regard to all the matters they treat. The Bible is the last word on doctrinal and ethical matters and all theological and moral disputes must be brought before the bar of the written Word. This is the orthodox Protestant position.

The Protestant holds the authority of Scripture to be exclusive in the sphere of religion. That is to say that there is no other authority in matters concerning the Church’s doctrine and practice. This has to be true unless it can be shown that God designed them to be restricted in the scope of their influence – in other words, that there is some other revelation of God’s will possessing the same authority as Scripture. Plenary inspiration must be proven then of this other revelation. There are several reasons why this cannot be proved:
• The Bible claims to address all men. It recognizes no rival revelation of God’s will.
• If the Bible is inspired this claim to worldwide authority must be true and exclusive. This exclusivity is unavoidable because each would limit and condition the other, which would be contradictory to the supremacy of either. Just as two sovereigns cannot reign in the political realm, so two sovereigns cannot reign in the spiritual realm.
• No other revelation has been established by clear and unimpeachable miracles.
• No other revelation provides for the redemption of man from guilt, depravity and destruction.
• The world needs a revelation that is characterized by unity, which is consistent with itself. The idea of several revelations that are incompatible with each other at certain points is completely absurd.

This principle of the exclusivity of authority of the Bible, known to the Reformers as sola Scriptura, is not new however to the Church. This principle is stated explicitly and implicitly by the Fathers.

The clearest proof token of the prestige enjoyed by Scripture is the fact that almost the entire theological effort of the Fathers, whether polemical or constructive, was expended upon what amounted to the exposition of the Bible.
That the Fathers were firm believers in the principle of sola Scriptura is clearly seen from the writings of Cyril of Jerusalem, the bishop of Jerusalem in the mid fourth century. He wrote what are known as the Catechetical Lectures. This is an extensive series of lectures given to catechumens expounding the principle doctrines of the faith. His teaching is thoroughly grounded in Scripture and there is not one appeal in the entirety of the Lectures to an oral Apostolic Tradition that is independent of Scripture. He states frankly that if he presented any teaching that could not be validated from Scripture, they were to reject it.

The following are some of his statements from the Lectures on the final authority of Scripture: “This seal have thou ever on thy mind; which now by way of summary has been touched on in its heads, and if the Lord grant, shall hereafter be set forth according to our power, with Scripture-proofs. For concerning the divine and sacred Mysteries of the Faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures: nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe me because I tell thee these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures.” (The Catechetical Lectures of S. Cyril 4.17)

“But take thou and hold that faith only as a learner and in profession, which is by the Church delivered to thee, and is established from all Scripture… For the Articles of the Faith were not composed at the good pleasure of men: but the most important points chosen from all Scriptures, make up the one teaching of the Faith… Behold, therefore, brethren and hold the traditions which ye now receive, and write them on the table of your hearts.” (Lecture 5.12)

Notice that Cyril says that these catechumens are receiving “Tradition” and he exhorts them to hold to these traditions. Yet these traditions are not the “oral traditions” of Roman Catholicism; they are synonymous with Scripturally based doctrine. The Teaching or Tradition or Revelation of God that was committed to the Apostles and passed on to the Church is now accessible in Scripture alone. It is also quite significant that Cyril, who is communicating the entire faith to these catechumens as a recognized authority on the subject, did not make a single appeal to an oral Tradition to support his teachings. The entirety of the faith is grounded upon Scripture and Scripture alone.

This principle is also articulated by Gregory of Nyssa. “We make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet (dogma); we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.” (On the Soul And the Resurrection).

Athanasius, while speaking on other subjects makes many indirect references to the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture. In the first paragraph of his Contra Gentes, he declares, “the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth.”

Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea from 370 to 379 A.D., testifies to his belief in the all-sufficient nature of the Scriptures in these words taken from a letter he wrote to a widow: “Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right.” (Letter CCLXXXIII)

These fathers are simply representative of the fathers as a whole. Cyprian, Origen, Hippolytus, Firmilian, Augustine are just a few of the fathers that could be cited as proponents of the principle of sola Scriptura, in addition to Tertullian, Irenaeus, Cyril and Gregory of Nyssa. The early Church operated on the basis of the principle of sola scriptura and it was this historical principle that the Reformers sought to restore to the Church.

The extensive use of Scripture by the fathers of the early Church from the very beginning are seen in the following facts:

• Irenaeus: He knew Polycarp who was a disciple of the apostle John. He lived from @ 130 to 202 A.D. He quotes from 24 of the 27 books of the New Testament. He makes over 1800 quotes from the New Testament alone.

• Clement of Alexandria: He lived from 150 to 215 A.D. He cites all the New Testament books except Philemon, James and 2 Peter. He gives 2400 citations from the New Testament.

• Tertullian: He lived from 160 to 220 A.D. He makes over 7200 New Testament citations.

• Origen: He lived from 185 to 254 A.D. he succeeded Clement of Alexandria at the Catechetical school at Alexandria. He makes nearly 18,000 New Testament citations.

By the end of the third century the entire New Testament (short of about 11 verses) could be reconstructed from the writings of the Church fathers. B.F. Westcott sums up the position of the New Testament Scriptures in the early Church with these words: "The first hundred years of the existence of the 27 books of the New Testament reveal that virtually every one of them was quoted as authoritative and recognized as canonical by men who were themselves the younger contemporaries of the apostolic age." (A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament)

Scripture has authority as all evangelical Protestants will agree because it is the Word of God. But Scripture is not the Word of God merely because the Church says so. Scripture’s authority comes from its intrinsic nature as a communication from God to man, in other words, it has an authority independent of the Church.

The basis on which Christians accept the inspiration of Scripture is the fact already argued that the Scriptures themselves make this claim. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. Paul clearly states here that all Scripture is inspired by God. He is referring specifically to the Old Testament since the New Testament canon was not complete at the time he wrote, but the New Testament must also be covered by this statement for in 2 Peter 3:16. Peter refers to Paul’s writings (including this epistle to Timothy) as Scripture. The word used for ‘inspired’ literally means ‘God-breathed’.

The first century Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us that the Hebrew canon consisted of twenty-two books and did not include the Apocrypha. Josephus categorically rejects the Apocrypha as being truly inspired. Even the Roman Catholic Church affirms the fact that the Jews did not accept the Apocrypha, in that it was not part of the Hebrew canon, and acknowledges that the Protestant Church follows the canon of the Jews. For the Old Testament, however, Protestants follow the Jewish canon; they have only the Old Testament books that are in the Hebrew Bible.

The first list of the Old Testament canon given to us by a Christian writer is from Melito of Sardis. His list is preserved in the writings of Eusebius, the Church historian. Origen also names twenty-two books in his list of the Hebrew canon. First, there is the canon of inspired Scripture of the Old and New Testaments which he enumerates. Cardinal Cajetan, the great opponent of Luther in the sixteenth century, in his Commentary on all the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament, dedicated to Pope Clement VII, fully supported Jerome’s teaching in separating the Apocrypha from the Hebrew canon. The books that were considered inspired and authoritative for the establishing of doctrine held a proto-canonical status.

Augustine held a kind of two-fold canonicity. Clearly, Augustine believed that the Church held the Apocrypha to be canonical in the broad sense that these writings provided a good example and an inspiration to perseverance in the faith. However, it is equally clear from Augustine’s writings that he did hold the Apocrypha to be canonical in the same sense as the canon of the Old and New Testaments.

The Councils of Hippo and Carthage did not establish the canon of the Scriptures, for their decrees on the Old Testament were unsupported by the Church’s earlier testimony and were not accepted afterwards. It was not until the mid-sixteenth century at Trent did the Roman Catholic Church approve the Apocrypha as part of the Old Testament canon. St Jerome distinguished between canonical books and ecclesiastical books. The latter he judged were circulated by the Church as good spiritual reading but were not recognized as authoritative Scripture. He refused to translate them for his Latin Vulgate, and they were only added literally over his dead body. The situation remained unclear in the following centuries.

According to Roman Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until rather late in the history of the Church at the Council of Trent. The Council of Trent definitively settled the matter of the Old Testament Canon. Here is an authoritative Roman Catholic source affirming the fact that it was not until the sixteenth century that the Roman Catholic Church established the canon of the Old Testament. The Apocrypha was not considered to be part of the Old Testament canon. But at least it is honest enough to give an accurate picture of when the Old Testament canon was truly and authoritatively determined by the Roman Church.

The Protestant Church is continually charged with upholding dogmas which first appeared very late in the history of the Church. As we have seen, it is a ruling contrary to the testimony of the Jews to the canon of Scripture, to the general patristic witness of the Church and to the overall consensus of the Church right down to the time of the Reformation. Louis Gaussen summarizes this well when he writes, “With the single exception of Theodore of Mopsuestia [c. 400]…it has been impossible to produce, in the long course of the eight first centuries of Christianity, a single doctor who has disowned the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, unless it be in the bosom of the most violent heresies that have tormented the Christian Church.” (Theopneustia pp. 139-140)

In conclusion then, we sum up all the forgoing arguments by saying that the Bible claims to be breathed by God i.e., inspired. This inspiration is plenary, in other words, full; it applies to all of Scripture. This inspiration guarantees the accuracy and inerrancy of all of the Bible’s contents. This inspiration therefore makes the Bible authoritative in all areas of our spiritual life. Every issue we face as spiritual beings is, at bottom, a theological issue and as such is addressed and regulated by Scripture. The authority of the Scripture is the authority of God Himself. In Romans 9:17, St. Paul represents Scripture as addressing Pharaoh! Surely this is a strange way of speaking? This demonstrates that in St. Paul’s mind the authority of God and the utterances of His Word are inseparable. For the Scripture to say anything is for God to say it. David says in Psalm 138:2 that God has magnified His Word above His name! However lofty God’s name is, at least for the present state of affairs (discounting what things may be like in the Eternal State), God has made His Word, the Bible, the Supreme Authority in the universe on all spiritual, doctrinal, ethical, moral and theological issues. Not only is the Bible the supreme authority, there are no subordinate authorities to which appeal may be made. It is God’s Word and it is the Final Word.

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