Irish With A Tan

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Inspiration As a Matter of Special Revelation


It seems to me that sometimes those advocating that we don’t need an infallible Church in order to know what books are inspired, use criteria which really don’t necessitate or show that something is inspired. Then the table is usually flipped around and it’s claimed that those who posit an infallible Church are in the same boat. I don’t think that’s the case. I admit that the reasoning and distinction may at times be subtle, but it is still there and nonetheless important. It is true that both sides do require an element of faith. However, to me it seems that one position is better supported by the evidence. And that the other tends closer to some sort of fideism, or needs to default to a claim of an inner witness for its ultimate starting point. Leaving no external binding/normative authority on issues of faith and morals bar the individual themselves. This individualistic and subjective foundation for the Canon then plays itself out in like manner when it comes to authority and doctrine. Hence leaving Protestantism with no inherent (or rather a weak) principle/mechanism for unity. The following is a conversation I’ve had with a good friend on some of these issues. They’re words are bracketed. So unless further notice is given, unbracketed words are my own.

//You accept it or reject it [the Canon] on the basis of the Historic evidence and reasons for or against it. Evaluate the evidence. Whether this is possible in the actual world, I don’t know. It is logically possible and as such Sola Scriptura remains logically consistent.//

This confuses categories. The canon is an issue of special revelation. Authorship, antiquity and consensus, may be good to defend the historical reliability of a text, but do not mean a text is inspired. Even if everything I wrote about Jesus was accurate, it doesn’t make my text inspired. Unless one wants a broad definition of inspiration. Inspiration is special revelation. If one relies on these factors to tell them what is inspired, then they will be less sure of some books than others. And said canon can called into question anytime some piece of historical data countering the normal narrative comes to light. This is why an Orthodox or Roman Catholic believer should not lose any sleep because we aren’t sure who wrote Hebrews. But for the Protestant, does fact that it’s traditional make it scripture? Or because one judges it to be consistent with the theology of their tradition as handed down? And if one wants to use antiquity/consensus as the basis of their canon, while rejecting books supported by this very same criteria, how is that not ad hoc? Thus it must be understood that canonicity [actually, inspiration] is a matter of special revelation. It is not a presupposition or starting point without falling in presuppositionalism or fideism. The canon is not the foundation of a worldview, but part of a worldview where one has already has reasoned and taken faith in a person or body to select it.

//Sola Scriptura presupposes the existence of Scripture? Yes. Sola Scriptura presupposes that Scripture is available for the believer to discover? Yes//

Based on what? Who says there is an inspired text bar the Old Testament? And who gets to decide which Old Testament? And who says that the New Testament isn’t just a reliable but albeit at times mistaken and uninspired document? Inerrancy and the idea that the Apostles didn’t teach error which has been passed down in the text, is also an assumption being brought in. And considering scripture doesn’t make a list of books, anyone of them whose authorship is in question becomes suspect. Not to mention that as already stated before, authorship doesn’t necessarily mean a work is inspired. And even if one were to begin by accepting the New Testament as inspired, and just the Old Testament books quoted in it, who says quotation is equals endorsement? Do we say good bye to Esther and hello to Enoch?

//Sola Scriptura presupposes one must have an infallible way of knowing what is and is not Scripture? No, I deny that claim//

I’m not even asking for infallibility, I’m just asking for logical basis for the claim that doesn’t require me to hold to fideism. Trying to determine inspiration is not the same as determining reliability or trying to determine whether a historical event took place (the Resurrection). So the first issue is categorical since inspiration is a question of special revelation and requires faith. The question is whether this faith is reasonable or not.

Secondly, it is illogical in that if those are the basis upon which one decides inspiration, then on those vary same criteria, many other things rejected by modern Evangelicalism, not just the deuterocanonical books ought to be received too. To use this criteria when it’s in one’s favour and to deny it the next is ad hoc.

//And nothing from History necessitates the Church is guided by the Spirit. Your claim applies just as well to the question, “Which Church?”//

The issue of infallibility is not at the beginning of a worldview, but presupposes one. While on the other hand, Sola Scriptura, presupposes a canon as a given as thus makes itself a foundational issue. That is why one can use historical arguments (including theological continuity) in favour of the Church, as part of reasonable basis to accept by faith, it’s infallibility.

Basically, if one reasons historically that a Church is faithful to its line of continuity, then they are more rational in taking the step of faith in believing its claim of infallibility; than they would be to break from said continuity, introduce novel (or even contrary) doctrine, while arbitrarily selecting text as canon based. Text which they argue for by using the same criteria which favour continuity they are departing from. Both require faith, since inspiration is a matter of special revelation [you’re probably sick of seeing that same phrase repeated by now], but it seems to me, one position is more reasonable than the other.

To further illustrate the idea of infallibility and how it relates to the foundation of a worldview, I’ll give an example of answer I had posited to someone before:

“I think there are levels. If you reasoned and questioned the claims of Church as God’s vehicle of salvation and you come to a satisfactory acceptance of its veracity, then you could affirm its dogma without question. Since infallibility is founded upon the veracity of the Church, which you have come to accept.

In the same way, if one were to come to faith in Christ, and it was also an intellectually supported faith, then it is rational, to take what He says as a given. What will happen now is that you will try and see how reason supports the dogma of the Church, but recognising that if you can’t seem to attain or grasp the dogma by reason, you still do not reject it. Rather you practice epistemic humility and accept that 1) either you just can’t see it or 2) it’s not given to us to know yet. So I think this idea of plato’s [of questioning all] applies to the foundations of a worldview. While dogma belongs *within* the worldview. So if plato’s position leads one to hold a worldview where infallible dogma is possible, then plato’s idea should not be applied to such dogma. Rather if ever one is to doubt, the foundations are to be examined. Because to apply Plato’s thinking to dogma would be an implicit denial of the worldview one claims to hold. Begging the question in favour of its falsehood.”

//Sola Scriptura does not necessitate one doing this:

“then they reject certain books, because it doesn’t cohere with certain theological ideas they have. Which undercuts the whole consensus argument, and begs the question that they got your part of the canon right, but their part wrong.”

^That is a problem with the logic of the individual, not the logic of Sola Scriptura.//

It may be the case, but the same argument could be posited for the individual who accepts an entire canon, but then rejects major beliefs that pass the test of antiquity and consensus, which are criteria they used themselves not to *support* the canon, but *determine* it.

However for a Sola Scriptura advocate to say these criteria just support the canon, would still be fideism, for an already existing canon. To say that those criteria *determine* the canon, would be to confuse the categories of natural and special revelation. As well as being ad hoc. It begs the question as to the Fathers getting the canon right, but not other doctrines which may have just as much *historical* support or even more, than some of the books in the canon.

//”But for SS, one is presupposing a canon, as opposed to reasoning to it.”

And why is that? You can’t just assert that to be the case//

I think by now the reasons I say this should be clear.


Here is a snippet of a conversation I had with someone else:

//Sola Scriptura is a hard Worldview to deal with but in conjunction with the Holy Spirit and the person of Christ in history, we have a responsibility to be faithful.//

You mention the person of Christ in history which is interesting due to the implications. I’ve coming to believe that the issue of inspiration is a matter of special revelation. In other words, asking “What book counts as inspired text” isn’t going to be determined merely by checking the reliability of a text. Coming at it from a purely historical perspective, we cannot assume inspired text or revelation. In which case we look at what is considered “the New Testament” as well as a plurality of other early church text as a witness to the faith and history of its people. From that alone, if you came to the conclusion that Jesus did indeed exist, and in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, that he is indeed the Christ, a few more things will follow. Bar a claim to having direct, special revelation, you still could not based on historical data alone, claim to know which texts, or portions of text are inspired. At least I don’t see how. For all intents and purposes, you have a large body of witnesses testifying to how the faith is to be understood. You know that the Apostles wrote to various churches. These churches were in communion with each other. And unless contrary evidence is given, it would be assumed that they shared a largely common faith. The more universal, common and old a belief, the more likely it is of Apostolic deposit. Especially in Churches that have strong evidence of being directly founded by one of the Apostles, or having received their guidance for quite some time. The stronger the case for such, the harder it is to make the claim for corruption. Sure there may not be perfect unanimity on all things, but that’s quite different than laying a charge to the deposit of faith. At best any major distinctions found in one church, especially if it’s novel, could be passed off as local anomaly. However, any claim to corruption or discontinuity from the Apostles of the common articles of faith, would have to claim that somehow everyone apostatised or misunderstood the Apostles in the same way.

This would then throw into suspicion the various deposit or Rule of Faith that is commonly held. But based on what would some come along and claim that X or Y, parts of the faith are in error, whilst A and B are not? It would have to be their own interpretation of what they think the faith is. But how likely is it that the deposit of faith is in error? That those who knew the Apostles or were discipled by them or knew those who did are greatly deficient in their understanding of the faith compared to us? For what reason would I claim the guidance of the Spirit on me and my various tradition, if even so early on (and depending on how radical one wishes to go) and for so long He did not prevent error? I’ve now made myself and my beliefs the normative standard faith. Then considering I come to disagree with myself, and change my mind, that I’m not so much a rule, as opposed to a fluctuating opinion. The only thing I have left to justify any belief in an inspired text or interpretation will be an appeal to special revelation of some sorts. And Christianity becomes now primarily a subjective faith where everyone is a prophet. And cannot be told by any other. In principle, nothing is to stop Bob from claiming special revelation on more or less books than yourself. Why should it? Certainly nothing is to stop Bob from disagreeing with your most foundationally held beliefs. In other words no one is a heretic.

So Sola scriptura is more than just saying that everyone gets to try their best to be faithful in reading the Bible by being led by the Spirit. It’s a stronger claim that Jesus intended to set up the faith in such a fashion that no individual is answerable to any authority bar their own. That’s a crude way of putting it but it essentially boils down to that. I see in this no principle of unity. It’s the definition of anarchy. If this idea does not have historical support, but is rather an innovation, then to claim faith in the historical Jesus on the one hand, whilst holding this on the other, seems kind of arbitrary? And in regards to wanting to have faith in a Jesus grounded in history, it touches on another subject that you’re dealing with; the sacraments. Whatever interpretive framework you’re dealing with, if it can be shown that without question, the early church and the majority of Christianity since was sacramental, then again, how seriously can one seek to disagree with that and claim to have a faith grounded in history? In regards to the canon then, I take a view of the Church preceding it. So I look for the historical church, and I affirm what they affirm through the deposit of faith. And reject what they reject. Just as one can historically come to the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead and then take a step of faith to take him seriously in regards to his claims. So too I seek the church of antiquity, and having no other place to turn I take a step of faith, trusting the Holy Spirit’s guidance of his Church. And thus trust the canon that they accept. That God has inspired his Church to get it right. So both my worldview and sola scriptura have assumptions. And both must receive the canon as special revelation and thus a matter of faith. But it seems to me that one position is more reasonable than the other for its consistency, grounding in history and for having a more effective principle of unity.


[This quote wasn’t in the original but some one else referred to it and commented, which I thought was helpful]

Adam: [St Augustine Fundamental Epistle against the Manichaeans]

‘Therefore I ask, who is this Manichæus? You will reply, An apostle of Christ. I do not believe it. Now you are at a loss what to say or do; for you promised to give knowledge of the truth, and here you are forcing me to believe what I have no knowledge of. Perhaps you will read the gospel to me, and will attempt to find there a testimony to Manichæus. But should you meet with a person not yet believing the gospel, how would you reply to him were he to say, I do not believe?

For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church. So when those on whose authority I have consented to believe in the gospel tell me not to believe in Manichæus, how can I but consent? Take your choice. If you say, Believe the Catholics: their advice to me is to put no faith in you; so that, believing them, I am precluded from believing you—If you say, Do not believe the Catholics: you cannot fairly use the gospel in bringing me to faith in Manichæus; for it was at the command of the Catholics that I believed the gospel;— Again, if you say, You were right in believing the Catholics when they praised the gospel, but wrong in believing their vituperation of Manichæus: do you think me such a fool as to believe or not to believe as you like or dislike, without any reason? It is therefore fairer and safer by far for me, having in one instance put faith in the Catholics, not to go over to you, till, instead of bidding me believe, you make me understand something in the clearest and most open manner.

To convince me, then, you must put aside the gospel. If you keep to the gospel, I will keep to those who commanded me to believe the gospel; and, in obedience to them, I will not believe you at all. But if haply you should succeed in finding in the gospel an incontrovertible testimony to the apostleship of Manichæus, you will weaken my regard for the authority of the Catholics who bid me not to believe you; and the effect of that will be, that I shall no longer be able to believe the gospel either, for it was through the Catholics that I got my faith in it; and so, whatever you bring from the gospel will no longer have any weight with me. Wherefore, if no clear proof of the apostleship of Manichæus is found in the gospel, I will believe the Catholics rather than you. But if you read thence some passage clearly in favor of Manichæus, I will believe neither them nor you: not them, for they lied to me about you; nor you, for you quote to me that Scripture which I had believed on the authority of those liars.”

Adam: Replace Manichaeus with you or any of the Reformers. And you have my opinion.


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This entry was posted on July 19, 2015 by in Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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