This is part of a collection of rebuttals, responses, and replies. See the index.
Analyzing the axioms of sola scriptura and sola ecclesia.
This post in a response to Jack at Sigma Frame. For context, see the comments at “Are Common-Law Marriages the most Biblical?”
Sola scriptura is the axiom that the Scripture is the Word of God. An axiom is a statement that is self-evidently true, a thing that is defined not derived. The standard for sola scriptura is defined by God in 1 Kings 13, where the man of God was killed for not following the self-evident authority of the Word of God and failing to reject the external authority.
Commentator Eye of Sauron stated the Orthodox and Roman Catholic axiom of sola ecclesia:
“All of this rock-solid reasoning from the sola scriptura perspective. Any time someone says, “Show me that precise thing in the scripture”, whatever follows is either rational or not but has no bearing on confessional faith traditions’ view of the relationship between scripture, the church, and tradition.”
This is a clear claim that a perfectly, rock-solid rational argument from scripture alone does not make it true: it is not the Word of God merely by being a deductively sound argument from scripture alone. The claim that the Word of God requires an external authority to verify or confirm it is an axiom.
“…because this axiom puts the tradition of men in primacy over the Word of God. And so, you’d prefer that such discussion cease.”
…and Jack responded:
You’re overreaching your assumptions here. What I got out of EoS’s descriptions of Orthodoxy is that scripture and ecclesia are parallel and intertwined, not that one trumps the other.
It is not true that scripture and church are parallel authorities
In the Orthodox (and Roman Catholic) frame, the church has implicit authority over what scripture is or isn’t the Word of God. The church is axiomatically authoritative. Logically, the church cannot cite scripture for its authority, for the authority of scripture is derived from the church and tradition. To do so would be circular reasoning. It can, however, assume this as a matter of axiom.
Read back to what EoS said: if scripture says something precise and rational, it has no bearing on faith unless it is conforms to the church and tradition. Thus, what constitutes the Word of God is derived from the church and traditions. Something derived cannot be an axiomatically true, which is why EoS rejects sola scriptura. The authority of the church is derived from itself—from its own traditions and scriptures which it has defined by its self. It is self-evident, an axiom.
It really doesn’t matter that scripture, tradition, and church are parallel and intertwined. Together they form a self-evident truth, an axiom, that would immediately fail without the church. Indeed, it is trivial to find arguments from scripture that refute Orthodoxy (e.g. sacraments), but those arguments are only invalid because of the axiom of sola ecclesia.
Of scripture, tradition, and church, if you take one out (e.g. the church), what is left isn’t valid in Orthodoxy. As EoS says, scripture-only arguments have no bearing on the faith. None whatsoever. Valid scriptural arguments can only be derived from the church and tradition. This is plain from his own words.
What makes a particular scripture the Word of God? Is it because it is the self-evident Word of God (the axiom of sola scriptura) or is it because the church says it is the Word of God (the axiom of sola ecclesia). These are mutually exclusive, but also epistemologically equivalent. Each of us has to make an assumption about what is and is not scripture and how that is determined. For EoS…
[Sola ecclesia] actually puts scripture (the writing, collection and collating of which was something the church did) as a part of a hierarchy of other things the church did and continues to do…
…scripture is dependent on—derived from—the hierarchy of the church. Scripture is not axiomatic, so it cannot axiomatically be the Word of God. This is simple logic. If you want the Word of God to be scripture, you have to declare it so. That’s sola scriptura.
If, as Jack claimed, neither scripture nor church trumped each other, then how could you resolve any conflict between the two? EoS said the solution is that nothing in scripture is valid without the church. In fact, we have seen EoS clearly and unambiguously choose the church every single time it conflicted with something found in scripture, without exception. It is not true that scripture and church are parallel authorities.
Word salads like this make me confused about what you’re trying to say and which of your statements you really believe. To make yourself clear, you should begin each doctrinal statement with “I believe that…”, or “My denomination holds that…”, or “I understand the Catholic church teaches that…”, or at least provide some context.
When making inductive arguments, it is important to clarify beliefs. But I was making deductive arguments from scripture. I explicitly cited scripture and tied each scripture together by logical deduction. Outside the known givens (in this case sola scriptura), a deductive argument is completely free of belief. It is either true or false, not a matter of belief or probability.
It doesn’t matter what I believe. I was citing scripture, which speaks on its own authority using an argument that stands on its own. If there was a problem with scripture or my argument, it can be debunked without any reference to my beliefs. But nobody has debunked my arguments, rather EoS cited his own axiom in order to disregard my argument without consideration.
The only context of my arguments are scripture itself. I’m not going to clarify that scripture is my belief or the belief of a church. It is not. Scripture is self-evident and speaks for itself. The ‘doctrine’ I presented were the words of Genesis, the words of Jesus, and the words of Paul. They were not my words, nor the words of my church, nor the words of any other denomination. Why should I start every statement by saying “Scripture says…” which is implied by the references themselves?
In any case, this was in response to two comments by Eye of Sauron in direct reply to me, in which he falsely attributed my views:
People from the strict Reformed view behave as if the ancient high-church confessional faiths have never heard of the letter of the law. That they invented the concept of legalism vs grace.
I’m not a member of any Reformed denomination. It is a non sequitur. One can see solely from the scriptures that I quoted that Jesus emphasized the spirit of the law and deemphasized the letter of the law.
Jack pretty much answered this with the best tact possible. It’s controversial because we aren’t all Berean Baptists spouting canned talking points from that particular faith tradition like automatons.
I am not a Berean Baptist. Although I do attend a Baptist church, I am not a member. And this is just a plain insult. I’ve never used anyone’s talking points. The idea that I’m some sort of automaton for reading scripture on my own is a complete contradiction of the facts. Believing whatever your church tells you might make you a “canned talking point automaton”, but this is definitely not that.
Words for others
Meanwhile, we do have some readers here who are going through literal hell at this exact moment. Do you have any good word for these men?
Yes. Read 1 Peter. It was written specifically for those suffering for the sake of Christ, especially those suffering at the hands of unbelievers (including unbelieving spouses). I’m available to talk privately: just reach out to me at email@example.com.