Dialogue: The Old Testament, the Jews, and Sola Scriptura

A Baptist acquaintance (his words will appear in blue), in a thought-provoking and well-researched essay, sought to establish an analogy between the faith and religious authority structure amongst the Jews, as evidenced in the Old Testament, and the Protestant principle of sola Scriptura. I disagree with his assessment of the exclusive and final status of the written word of God over against the patriarchal, prophetic, and priestly proclamations of it, and its oral, traditional (and talmudic) aspects. I contend that he has come to his conclusions in the last portion of his paper with far too little and insubstantial evidence. And it is only that last portion which directly deals with biblical proofs for sola Scriptura.

There are many highly relevant factors which prove, in my opinion, that the OT analogy is much more in line with both the early Church and present-day Catholicism (which developed from that early Church) and its notions of Church authority and Tradition, than with the Protestant sola Scriptura rule of faith. I shall summarize these, each in turn:


A) Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, ed. Allen C. Myers, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1987 {from Bijbelse Encyclopedie, ed. W.H. Gispen, Kampen, Netherlands, 1975}:

Dave quoted Meyers [Eerdman's Bible Dictionary] as saying that Jesus' "...own interpretation of the Torah on the Sermon on the Mount employs the scribal [and Pharisaic] principle of 'building a fence about the Torah.'" Again, I must register profound disagreement with Meyers at this point. In fact, I am appalled that this thought could be seriously suggested.

I think he is referring here primarily to teaching method and pedagogy, which would be a different proposition than what you object to, I think.

. . . "Fence building" was aimed at insuring that the Law was kept in an outward way, while Jesus shows that keeping the law is beyond human power, because it demands internal righteousness even more than external conformance.

I think the better (more biblically-oriented) strains of Jewish tradition perfectly understood that the Law dealt with the heart, not just outward and/or ritualistic conformity. Jesus introduced nothing radically new in this respect, contrary to the jaded views of Judaism held by many Christians of all types. Jeremiah talked explicitly about the New Covenant.

B) The New Bible Dictionary, ed. J.D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1962:

Dave quotes a source that implies that the Pentateuch reached its final form at the time of Ezra. I believe that the Pentateuch was in its final form quite soon after Moses's death, just as it implies on its face. The theory of long development is certainly NOT agreed by all Protestant scholars. I sense, rather, that the documentary hypothesis is clearly teetering on a shaky foundation, and I expect it will soon fall of its own weight.

I'm not sure biblical and canonical development is necessarily tied in with the Documentary hypothesis (with which I have great difficulty as well). It seems fairly certain from Holy Scripture itself that various writings and oral traditions were compiled and canonized at a later date (the time of Ezra and Nehemiah) and put into the form with which we are familiar (just as the NT itself was). I don't think this implies either a denial of Mosaic authorship or of Biblical Infallibility (at least it doesn't in my own admittedly limited viewpoint on this).

Suffice it to say that I am not persuaded by an argument that depends on the belief that the law of Moses is a 5th century forgery and that Jesus was taken in like the rest of us.

Here you have created a straw man. Whether or not the Pentateuch was not codified until a later date is a different proposition from the question of Mosaic authorship. If later compilation was the case (as many conservative biblical scholars believe, I think), this no more means that such a process is "forgery" than the late canonization of the NT brings into question Pauline authorship of his Epistles. Nor does it entail Jesus being "taken in." It is all merely development, not change in essence (almost always a scary concept for Protestants).

Summary and Analogy

All these facts being true, and agreed upon by Protestant and Catholic biblical and historical scholars, it is hardly possible to make an analogy between the ancient Jewish authority structure and Protestantism. We have seen how the oral tradition was central from the beginning, and flourished even more after the Canon of the OT was finalized. At that point, the (mostly oral) methods and traditions which later crystallized into the written Talmud, intensified and continued on unabated for another six or so centuries. And then after that Judaism continued to discuss and comment on the Talmud itself, to this day.

So the analogy is much more to Catholicism:

a) Oral Law in Judaism corresponds to Oral Tradition in the NT (e.g., 2 Tim 1:13-14, 2:2) and Catholic Tradition. But to what in Protestant tradition?: Luther's Table Talk? Or Calvin's letters?

b) In its interpretive and developmental aspects, Jewish Oral Law is similar to Catholic development of dogma and historical growth of conciliar and magisterial understanding of Christian teaching.

c) The Jews believed that the "oral Torah" went back to Moses on Mt. Sinai and ultimately to God, and was received simultaneously with the written Torah. Likewise, Catholics believe that Catholic Tradition was received simultaneously from the Apostles - who received it from Jesus - with the "gospel," which itself was eventually formulated into the NT.

The analogy to sola Scriptura, then, is impossible to maintain, since the Jews accepted the oral Torah as equally authoritative, the Canon of the OT was only gradually formed (even the Pentateuch alone was authoritatively collected 500 years after David!), and authoritative and binding talmudic speculation and interpretation flourished even after the OT had been completed and organized.

But I think that the whole argument about oral prophecies is wide of the mark. God is sovereign, and He can choose to reveal Himself in many different ways. The only real question that I am concerned with is the question of relative authority. As long as all the authority figures/sources are in agreement, there is obviously no problem.

But this is already very close to the Catholic view of authority, and I think you would catch misery from many Protestants over this statement (concession?).

But suppose there is a conflict? What (or who) rules in that case? If a purported prophet claims to be speaking the very Word of God, but his prophecy disagrees with other authority figures, for example, then what? This was the issue with Jesus.

And it is with me, very much so. We believe that the authoritative Church is placed by God in the position as Arbiter of doctrinal disputes and Guardian of the Apostolic Deposit. Just as it verified the NT Canon, so it acknowledges Apostolic Traditions and distinguishes them from corrupt, merely human ones. Protestants, on the other hand, have no way of settling doctrinal disputes, since they are hopelessly divided. They possess no real, binding authority, when all is said and done. So, if I were you, I would be most reluctant to bring up the issue of competing truth claims.

But no one could make an accusation stick against Him to the effect that His teachings went contrary to the Scriptures. He contradicted the traditions, yes.

Corrupt human traditions, that is. Let's be accurate!

He decimated the "oral law."

Not quite. Again, you have not shown this at all, in my opinion. How could He "decimate" in total something which He indisputably accepted in part (e.g., Moses' Seat)? That makes no sense . . .

But where is the evidence that these dimly-remembered or third-hand accounts were to form a system with an authority rivalling the OT?

Further down, I demonstrate, I think, how the Pharisaical tradition was the mainstream, and how within that there were several tenets which developed post-OT Canon, such as eschatology and angelology in particular - adopted virtually wholesale by the early Christians. The Sadducees were the Sola Scripturists (and liberals) of that time. Remember the proposition you originally sought to defend: that the Jews followed a sola Scriptura model.

The fact that we are not arguing this from Talmud indicates that none of us really believes that the Jewish beliefs in its inerrancy.

Agreed, but that is not at issue.

So the beliefs of the Jews in the oral law, however devoutly held, are misplaced. The OT recognizes no such body.

I'm not sure about that, but it is certain that the post-exilic Jews, Jesus and the Apostles certainly did, which is nine-tenths of the argument.

The OT documents, on their face, claim no long period between the events recounted and their inscripturation, except for Genesis.

Well, if this is true for Genesis, then it is not inconceivable for other OT books as well.

God, obviously, can sift through the libraries of human traditions and select those which are true and are yet culturally relevant. God can use any body of tradition in this way without in the least validating the entire corpus of the tradition. So, quotes of isolated instances where God found something of value in the Jewish oral law, or the Greek philosophers, for that matter, prove nothing.

I disagree. They prove that the written word is not the sine qua non of Christianity. Authority and Christian truth goes beyond the written word, and indeed must. This is the very thing we must establish if our notion of binding Sacred Tradition is to have validity in the eyes of Scripture-Alone Protestants. Yet you say it "proves nothing." I find that a bit amusing, I confess.

Furthermore, pronouncements without a clear source may not blithely be assumed to be based on tradition, since God obviously knows all details of history and is capable of directly illuminating the writer of Scripture.

Perhaps, but the ones which can be directly traced to an older work are pretty straightforward and compelling.

So the bottom line is that while it is true that the Word of God is not exclusively written down, this in no way proves the Jewish belief in oral tradition to be accurate. In fact, the accounts found in the Gospels make it abundantly clear that the traditions of the Jews were, like any human tradition, a mixture of truth and falsehood, and hardly to be compared with the OT, which Jesus said, not one jot and not one tittle shall pass away until all things shall pass away.

Again, we are not denying that much falsehood is mixed in (humanly and historically speaking) with the true Sacred Tradition. That's why we have the Church, among many other reasons.

The really interesting thing is the uncanny resemblance of the Jewish system of belief and the Roman Catholic (RC) system. It seems that both have the same belief in a body of oral tradition that (it is said) dates back to the beginning.

This backs up my analogy but is not compelling in and of itself. And Protestants have their beginnings of the supposedly "Protestant" early Church and the myth of the "Reformation," both shot through with error - historical and doctrinal. The difference is that we can trace our views back, whereas Protestant distinctives such as sola fide, congregationalism, private judgment, sectarianism, non-regenerative baptism, symbolic Eucharist, and sola Scriptura most emphatically cannot be traced back to the early Church.

But if the first system is shot full of error, how can we have any assurance that the second is not full of error as well? What assurance does the second system have that the first did not have?

Easy: the Holy Spirit and Jesus' guarantees of the indefectibility and infallibility of the Catholic (Universal) Church. Quite a difference, I would say.

Would not Christ be likely to criticize the RC religious leaders just as he did the Jewish religious leaders?

Sure, from a humanly fallible, heterodox, ethical standpoint. Not a doctrinal perspective, in my humble opinion.

Are not both adding human traditions to the Word of God?

Sure, in practice. The doctrine remains pure. But in Protestantism, the doctrine as well as the practice becomes corrupt, so that the situation is substantially far worse. And the really serious and dangerous human traditions are found there, such as the many I just recounted - all late-breaking innovations which have no basis in Apostolic Christianity. I hate to be so blunt, but what's good for the goose is good for the gander . . .

Are not both claiming Divine sanction to the work of their own hands?

If by this you are denying the institution of the Church by Jesus, of course we vehemently disagree.

Do not both have instances where not only the spirit but the very words of Scripture are violated or contradicted? It seems so to me.

In practice, of course, but would you claim with a straight face that Protestants have done better in this respect?


My friend David Palm has written an excellent (published) article on this topic, in which he notes the indisputable NT references to authoritative Jewish oral tradition, summarized as follows:

Since Jesus and the Apostles acknowledge authoritative Jewish oral tradition (even in so doing raising some of it literally to the level of written Revelation), we are hardly at liberty to assert that it is altogether illegitimate. That being the case, the alleged analogy of the OT to sola Scriptura is again found wanting and massively incoherent.

Unfortunately for the Catholic view, Jesus was scathing in His attack on oral traditions of the Jews, but he was unflinching in his support of the written Scriptures and confirmed them as the very Word of God.

This proves little, because Jesus was attacking corrupt traditions only, not tradition per se, and not all oral tradition, as you just conceded. The simple fact that there exists such an entity as legitimate oral tradition, supports our "both/and" view by analogy, whereas in a strict sola Scriptura viewpoint, this would be inadmissible, it seems to me.

He not only corrected the oral traditions, he found them erroneous and debased traditions. All that is really necessary to support the Protestant (and Baptist) view is to point out one place where the oral traditions erred.

No, that is wishful thinking, because it is obvious that there can be false oral traditions just as there are false written traditions which some heretics elevated to "Scripture" (e.g., the "Gospel of Thomas"). This is precisely why we need the Church as Guardian and Custodian of all these traditions, and to determine (by the guidance of the Holy Spirit) which are Apostolic and which not, just as the Church placed its authoritative approval on the NT Canon.

This would establish that they are less reliable than the OT scriptures, and that in case of conflict, the Scriptures would rule.

Holy Scripture is absolutely central and primary in both our viewpoints. No legitimate oral tradition can ever contradict Scripture, just as no true fact of science can ever contradict it. On that much we are in full agreement.

Oral Tradition Vs. Scriptures -- Mark 7

An excellent case study where Jesus clearly distinguishes between the "oral law" and the Holy Scriptures is found in Mark 7:1-23 (cf. Matt. 15). The scribes and Pharisees rebuked Jesus for the fact that some of His disciples did not follow the ceremonial hand washing as prescribed by the "tradition of the elders." Did Jesus agree that the oral law had binding authority if it went against the spirit, much less the letter of the Scriptures? Did he cite some other part of the Halakhah or a rabbinical precedent to refute the critics? What source did he use that outweighed (in a Sola Scriptura way :-)) the traditions, the oral teachings of the elders that unwashed hands defiled the body?

OK. Let's be sure to point out that Jesus is clear to distinguish what is called "the tradition of the elders" (Mk 7:3,5) from the legitimate Tradition, by saying,

I would argue that neither commandment nor tradition per se are restricted to the written word, as I think I have shown in my last post, and in my treatise on Bible and Tradition. Jesus contrasts human tradition with the word of God in 7:13, and I have shown previously that word of God is not only not at all restricted to the written Bible, but even identical to Divine Tradition, once one does some straightforward comparative exegesis. You wish to make a dichotomy, based on this passage, between oral and written Tradition, whereas Jesus, I think, is clearly contrasting human (false) tradition and Divine Tradition, whether oral or written. I think any notion that any of this proves sola Scriptura is eisegesis at best and special pleading at worst.

First, He cites Scripture, Isaiah 29:13, to show that the oral law led people to focus on outward conformance, but ignore the heart attitude.

Based on what I just said, this citation (Mk 7:6-7) proves nothing of the sort. It does support Jesus' familiar condemnation of corrupt human traditions. You are throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Then Jesus blasts the religious leaders of His day for teaching the commandments of men as though they were of God. He identifys these commandments of men as being the same thing as the traditions mentioned above, hardly a vote of confidence in the oral law! In fact, He clearly says that some of the oral law is a human thing, and does not originate from God.

But so what? This is precisely what I have agreed with - apart from the general denigration of oral law. You have admitted that the NT acknowledges some legitimate instances of oral law, so I don't see how instances of corrupt traditions - written or oral - undermine that salient fact, any more than false traditions and interpretations within sola Scriptura Protestantism would undermine your own formal principle in your mind.

Second, He reiterates the basic problem, which was that the scribes and the Pharisees were teaching their own traditions, but since the traditions were directly opposed to the Scriptures, they were of necessity disobeying them. Not only disobeying the Scriptures, they were disobeying God, since the Scriptures are His voice.

Agreed, but this neither denigrates Tradition per se nor establishes sola Scriptura over against Sacred Tradition. It is, in the final analysis, irrelevant to our main topic of discussion.

Jesus notes that the religious leaders routinely violate the commandments of God, then He quotes from the writings of Moses (cf. Leviticus 29:9) (note that He settles the question of the author of the Torah -- no committee at the time of Ezra, but Moses!) in verse 10.

I agree with Mosaic authorship.

Then He devastatingly shows how the oral tradition of corban actually provided an escape hatch to circumvent the Scriptural command to honor one's father and mother. In closing, he pointed (v. 13) out the problem. He says that they were, Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

Again, so what? We would expect Jesus to scathingly condemn false traditions.

So, Jesus said that the oral tradition of the Jews incorporated many such things that violated the will of God. I do not think it is necessary to belabor the point, though one could go on and on.

No, I would say that it is human corrupt tradition over against true Divine Tradition, which is the fundamental problem addressed here by our Lord.

The oral law was hopelessly corrupt by the time of Christ, even though some things of value remained.

And - as I think you are well aware - there were also many false books parading as Scripture in the early Christian period. If falsity alongside truth is a disproof of that truth (and its medium), then your view is just as fatally flawed as you contend ours is. And you needed the authoritative Church to proclaim the Canon of the NT, just as we need it to determine true Apostolic Tradition.

The Jewish understanding of what constituted OT Scripture, for example, was confirmed by Jesus, and He never condemmed anyone for attempting to follow the will of God through the OT Scriptures. He always and everwhere concurred that the OT was God's very word.

Of course. No disagreement here, as far as it goes.

Also note that He also carefully distinguishes "oral tradition" from the written word of God.

Where does He do that? I say this is eisegesis on your part. You're falsely assuming both that 1) all false traditions are oral, and 2) word of God always refers to written Scripture.

Clearly these are not the same thing, regardless of the beliefs of the Pharisees.

No one is saying oral and written traditions are identical, but we say that the legitimate strains of both can be true, and that both are "twin fonts of the one spring of revelation."

To further clarify the central place that Jesus gate the OT Scriptures in His teaching ministry, one need only refer to the way that He taught the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-32). And beginning at Moses and all the prophets He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself. (v. 27) Note what he did NOT do. He did not cite the oral law; He made no reference to the teachings of the Pharisees; and He ignored the Talmud, Mishnah and Halakah. Though the Jews may have believed Talmud was needed to correctly expound the Scriptures, the Son of God obviously did not agree. In fact, He appealed to the Scriptures, alone, to establish His messianic credentials. A stronger attestation to the OT can hardly be imagined, and one which leaves the oral law shown for what it was, a pale shadow of the real thing.

But see, this is a classic example of Protestant tunnel vision. I have already shown Jesus' and NT acceptance of oral tradition. You cite an instance where He seems to primarily refer to Scripture Alone, as if it somehow wipes out the other instances. Of course this doesn't follow. We take into account all of Scripture. An example of one thing doesn't negate the existence of another of a different classification (unless one wrongly interprets Scripture in isolation).

Besides, you neglect to realize that this discourse of Jesus, which may have been several hours in length (as implied by the length of walk and the night falling), was an exercise of interpretation (Lk 24:27 - interpreted in RSV). This is the whole point. Jesus didn't merely cite proof texts (as is the unhappy habit of so many Protestant polemicists), but interpreted, i.e., commented on the text. And that is precisely what the bulk of the Talmud and Jewish oral tradition was about. We simply don't know if Jesus tapped into that body of knowledge and thought during His exposition or not, but it seems reasonable to assume that He did, given the existence of other similar examples in His teaching. So this example is a wash - I don't think it can be used conclusively in support either of our views.

Therefore, though the Jews may have believed that the oral law had equal authority with the OT, Jesus clearly shows that they were quite wrong.

I honestly don't see how anything you have produced thus far establishes that.

Since their traditions contradicted the word of God, it is no wonder that the Jewish religious leaders were the "blind leading the blind." This is not to say that all their tradions were wrong. "Even a blind pig can find an acorn once in a while."

Yes. No true tradition can contradict Scripture.

If this existence of an oral Word of God disproves the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, then I don't believe the doctrine, either and I never did.

No, I don't say that the mere existence disproves sola Scriptura, but it does provide a clean and neat analogy to Catholic Tradition. And this is our discussion: you asserted that the OT analogy was to Protestantism. I don't think you have proven that.

It is not surprising that the Apostles and others prophesied and spoke the very Words of God. It is not surprising that the Apostle Paul would direct his personal representative, Timothy, to heed these oral prophesies, just as carefully as the written epistles. The teachings of Jesus were clearly passed along in an oral form to the early believers as a matter of necessity, before the written scriptures were produced. The office of teacher was a respected one in the early churches. Even today, to make the written word come alive, it often has to be spoken and understood orally. But none of these things is helpful in establishing a NT oral tradition that could bear an independent witness with comparable authority to the NT itself.

What of the 360-odd years before the NT canon was established, then? How did (or could) Church authority operate then? Is that not a non-scriptural tradition indeed (since the Bible nowhere names its own books)?

After the Apostles and the first generation witnesses fell asleep, how could anyone be sure that an independent traction was transmitted with perfect accuracy?

Good point. It took the Church. And how can today's Protestant have assurance that his particular branch of Protestantism possesses the Apostolic Deposit of Faith?

Now, clearly some of the early Fathers did claim such a thing in order to attempt to silence heretics. One wonders if this was not in part a response to Gnostic claims that they had secret oral teachings from the lips of the Apostles. Could the response be a simple attempt to get one "up" on the opponents of the early Fathers?

Perhaps in part. I don't know. But I know that apostolic succession was the ultimate authoritative principle for the Fathers, not Bible Alone, even though Scripture was always central in their Christian apologetic. Why? Well, because, like today, there had to be a way to resolve competing theological claims. Obviously, sola Scriptura didn't cut it, because every heretic claimed the same principle (indeed, it typified them). The Church, on the contrary, claimed an historical lineage back to Christ. It received the Gospel and the Tradition, and it merely passed it on (ever-developing), with the protection of the Holy Spirit.

There does seems to be good historical evidence that many churches began to stray, doctrinally, quite soon after the Apostles passed from the scene.

What? Judas and the Pauline Corinthian Church, and the Judaizers were not "straying"? Thus this argument falls flat, methinks.

The letters in the Book of Revelation to the seven churches in Asia make the point clearly enough, though John was in prison and not dead. As ecclesiology strayed from the NT form, the divergence seemed to accelerate.

Yes. Therefore the so-called "Reformation" and its radically novel ecclesiology, has wreaked untold havoc on the Body of Christ, with the resultant myriads of competing mutually-contradictory truth claims, moral compromise and disunity.

The topic of "tradition" could be, and was, invoked to justify the most egregious deviation from Scriptural norms,

If you can claim this, then likewise I can claim the same ill effect resulting from the invocation of "Scripture Alone."

And, though the "gates of Hell" did not completely prevail, they did terribly wound the churches and the damage has yet to be undone.

You mean the "Reformation?"


The Jews did not just have a "me and the Bible, and the Holy Ghost" mindset. Protestants have, of course, teachers, commentators, and interpreters of the Bible (and excellent ones at that - often surpassing us Catholics in many respects). They are, however, strictly optional and non-binding when it comes down to the individual and his choice of what he chooses to believe. This is the Protestant notion of private judgment and the nearly-absolute primacy of individual conscience (Luther's "plowboy").

In Catholicism, on the other hand, there is a parameter where doctrinal speculation must end: the Magisterium, dogmas, papal and conciliar pronouncements, catechisms - in a word (well, two words): Catholic Tradition. Some things are considered to be settled issues. Others are still undergoing development. All binding dogmas are believed to be derived from Jesus and the Apostles. Now, who did the Jews resemble more closely in this regard? Did they need authoritative interpretation of their Torah, and eventually, the OT as a whole? The OT itself has much to "tell" us (RSV):

Summary and Analogy

The Catholic Church continues to offer authoritative teaching and a way to decide doctrinal and ecclesiastical disputes, and believes that its popes and priests have the power to "bind and loose," just as the NT describes. Protestantism has no such system. In fact, real authority is impossible to exercise in Protestantism, because the offender simply leaves one denomination for another when censured. Thus, the biblical notions of excommunication and penitential discipline are - for all intents and purposes - impossible to carry out in practice.

The OT and Jewish history attest to a fact which Catholics constantly assert, over against sola Scriptura and Protestantism: that Holy Scripture requires an authoritative interpreter, a Church, and a binding Tradition, as passed down from Jesus and the Apostles.


My friendly opponent's concluding section in his post on the OT and sola Scriptura includes the following arguments:

A. The voice of the prophet was the voice of God. Since God does not change (Malachi 3:6), His Word is also changeless (Psalms 119:89).

Agreed, but this is a moot point, as it has no bearing on the question of the exclusivity of Scripture as the rule of faith. All Christians believe this - it isn't a bone of contention.

The point is that anything that is not fully the word of God must have less authority.,

If "word of God" is defined as both written and oral, I agree.

B. Believing the prophetic voice was the same as believing God (II Chronicles 20:20; Amos 3:7-8).

Agreed, but another non sequitur.

Not at all -- merely establishing the uniqueness of the OT Scriptures.

No, because here the "voice" had equal authority with the biblical writing.

C. The written prophecies were the very Word of God and were to be honored by subsequent prophets (Daniel 9:2). The Word of God, indeed, was binding on all (Daniel 9:6, 10).

Of course it is. What Christian disagrees with that? But how is it relevant to a proof of Bible Alone, especially in light of the arguments presented in parts 1 and 2 of the present post?

D. Kings, Princes and People, alike, were to "hearken" unto the prophets (Daniel 9:6), a reference to the written word.

The last clause is disputable. Protestant arguments on sola Scriptura frequently contain this gratuitous assumption that word of the Lord, word of God, etc. is always or usually a reference to the written word (i.e., Holy Scripture). This simply is not the case. In fact, the exact opposite is true, as a good Concordance ("word") will quickly confirm. In the very verse in question above, one can readily observe this. It reads:

It seems to me that the most straightforward primary meaning of this passage is as a reference to oral proclamation. The Old Testament "Church" and its Torah perpetuated itself - roughly up to the time of Ezra (5th century B.C.) primarily by oral and liturgical (Temple, priestly) Tradition. Just as in Catholicism, Scripture for the Jews (to the extent that it was recognized as such - which was a process) was central but not the be-all and end-all of faith, or the sole rule of faith for atomistic individuals. Like any other book, it needed (and needs) an interpreter, and when differences of interpretation arise, there is the need of a binding authority to settle the matter, so that chaos and relativism may not reign amongst God's covenant people. This has been demonstrated from the OT in the previous two portions of this paper.

It seems to me, on the other hand that this analysis overlooks the context of the verse and merely siezes on an appealing word listened! It does not pay to get too hasty. Verse 2 [ch. 9] clearly said that Daniel understood by "books" referring to the book of Jeremiah. So the translation "hearkened" to the voice of the prophets is a better translation here. But if the term "listened" is insisted upon, then he is saying that the peopled refused to listen to Jeremiah, both literally listen and figuratively listen to the written prophecy. Certainly the written word is primarily the focus of this chapter, but clearly the Kings, the princes and the fathers disregarded both the spoken and written word and were censured for it.

I disagree and continue to maintain that it is the oral proclamation which is at least as in focus here as the written. In Daniel 9:2, it seems to me that Daniel is referring solely to the fact of the desolation of Jerusalem for 70 years, not the book of Jeremiah as a whole. So in verse 6 when he writes we have not listened to your servants the prophets [plural], this obviously refers to more than just Jeremiah. The verse is very broad and refers to the prophetic voice in its totality. This comes back to the common error among Protestants that only the written words of prophets, Apostles, and Jesus have anything to do with subsequent Tradition. This is a manifestly false assumption.

A prophet's inspired utterance was indeed the word of the Lord, but it obviously was not written as it was spoken! Most if not all prophecy was first oral proclamation, but it was just as binding and inspired as oral revelation, as it was in later written form (i.e., those prophecies which were finally recorded - surely there were more). In this sense truly inspired prophecies are precisely analogous to the proclamation of the gospel, or kerygma, by the Apostles. Both the gospel and virtually the entire NT (excepting perhaps Revelation) began as oral preaching (notably, Jesus Himself wrote nothing), and was increasingly recognized by the early Church as inspired and hence Scripture. But it was just as binding before it was finally proclaimed Scripture in 397 A.D.

I generally agree with Dave in this paragraph, but I don't see how it disproves my thesis.

Well, it does because it establishes that sola Scriptura couldn't possibly be the formal authoritative model for Jews often without a written Scripture, nor for the early Church up to 397 AD! This is obviously the Catholic model of authority. Just as the Church verified the extent of NT Scripture, so it has the burden of orthodox interpretation of that Scripture, in order to maintain true Apostolic Doctrine. Sola Scriptura is historically (and logically and biblically) self-defeating. There is no question about this whatsoever. It is only retained because of the prior antipathy to what the Catholic Church in fact teaches. There needs to be something to counter Catholic historic and actual authority, so "voila!" Bible Alone is drafted into service . . .

Like its Jewish predecessor, this state of affairs (the process of canonization) is not sola Scriptura: it is Tradition and binding Church authority which has the prerogative of determining the parameters of what is of its own essence Scripture.

This is a direct contradiction of the above paragraph, which alrady said I agree with. No proclamation by a council can add to or take away one atom from the Scriptures.

Of course not. I didn't say that they did (as a careful reading of the above clearly reveals, I think). This is Catholic dogma. The Church doesn't create Scripture (which is "God-breathed"), but merely recognizes it. But see, it has to recognize it. That is the whole point. It is practically necessary.

Tradition and binding Church authority also claim possession of the apostolic deposit and final say as to what are true Christian doctrines, and which are to be rejected as false.

Sorry! No human institution can add to or take away from God's word.

I (and my Church) agree. You are fighting straw men and avoiding the practical issue of authority which is the matter at hand. Sola Scriptura is a self-defeating proposition which is impossible to maintain coherently in the teeth of the historical record of the early Church. An appeal to OT precedent does nothing to alleviate the excruciating logical and historical problems inherent in sola Scriptura.

E. The written words of the prophet had at least the same, if not more, authority than his spoken words. Jeremiah wrote a scroll at the direction of the Lord, which was then referred to as the "words of the Lord" (Jeremiah 36:6). When King Jehoiakim burnt the scroll, the prophet simply wrote another and prophesied that the king's body would be cast out into the elements (Jeremiah 37:30) and that he would be buried with the "burial of an ass" (Jeremiah 22:19). When he burned the scroll he burned God's Word, not merely a human writing, and he made a dead ass out of himself.

Even if this is accepted as true (which arguably is the case in a somewhat limited, pragmatic sense) it still ignores the whole necessity (and actuality) of an authoritative and binding teaching function - both among the ancient Jews, and in the early Church.

Probably why the words of the prophets often made such little impact. They [the Jews] depended on traditions which quickly became corrupt, leading the people astray. Had they only depended on the OT scriptures, they could have constantly corrected the tendency to stray.

Here is your illegitimate conclusion from the above agreed-upon facts. Whereas I would place the blame of the Jews' disobedience on plain old sin and self-righteousness (as Jesus did), you want to again throw out the validity of tradition per se and act as if only the written word can preserve faithfulness and orthodoxy. I don't believe those conclusions follow.

God's answer was to have Jeremiah write out the Word of God and read it to the people (Jer. 36:6); not to the priests, nor to the prophets, but to the people directly. Yes, there is an ultimate authority; God, and His written word supplies what is lacking. As in the case of the revival of Josiah, all the things that Dave said was sufficient to maintain orthodoxy were present, but the people fell away. Only one thing was lacking, the written word. When the Word of God was added to the mix, only then did true instruction come to the people.

And in that instance (Josiah), the Scripture was explained to the people, as I showed above. There is every reason to believe that the same was necessary in this instance, even though it is not mentioned directly in the context. The very existence of a teaching class (priests and prophets) presupposes this. As soon as teachers are introduced, "perspicuity" goes out the window and the possibility of divergent interpretation and hence, of the need for binding authority, arises. Welcome to the Catholic Church!

No one objects to authoritative teaching. But students should still search the Scriptures daily to see whether these things be so. Acts 17:11.

Please answer for me then:

And on and on the logical and ecclesiological conundrum goes . . . There is simply no way out of this dilemma. Sorry . . . This is one reason I became a Catholic, because I believed in the Church, and real, true, consistently exercised authority, as we see in the NT and the early Church. And I am not a relativist.

F. The test of a prophet was to be totally accurate in predicting the future. If he failed to predict the future with 100% accuracy, he was not to be obeyed and was to be executed (Deuteronomy 18: 20-22). Clearly, this written command in the Torah was binding on all prophets.

Agreed, and beside the point again.

Not at all. The point is that the source of instructions on how to deal with prophets. The people were expected to know their Bible and to use it as authority for the execution of a false prophet.

Yes, this is an instance of biblical authority, but it still doesn't necessitate sola Scriptura. It is a case of Scripture being primary and central, but not exclusive, which is our view, and that's why I said it was "beside the point."

G. But even if a dreamer or prophet was to successfully predict the future or display some other sign or wonder, he was still to be ignored if he called God's people to serve a false God (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Not only ignored, he also was to be put to death. This command and others (cf. Deuteronomy 6:13), were (and are) binding on all generations of prophets. In other words, the written Word takes precedence over the spoken word, signs, or wonders.

This does not establish sola Scriptura for several reasons: 1) a true spoken prophetic word would serve exactly the same purpose . . .

But this, don't you see, begs the question! How do you know if it is a true word?

If what is predicted comes to pass! If I say the world is to end on November 1st, 1997, and now it is November 2nd, and the world goes on as usual, why is a written word necessary to determine the falsity of that prophecy?

. . . 2) the essential dynamic is not "written word vs. spoken word" but "true word (whether written or oral) vs. false word (whether written or oral)"; 3) If something is false, that can be ascertained in many ways, not solely through the guideline of a written word. False prophecy is its own disproof, given anough time. One need not assert sola Scriptura! When Peter interpreted OT Scripture messianically and "Christianly," in the Upper Room (as recorded in Acts 2), his word was just as authoritative and inspired as when it was set down in writing later. Throughout the book of Acts we see St. Peter and St. Paul exercising apostolic authority and preaching, not handing out Bibles.

True, but they would have handed them out, I'm sure, if they had had them.

As did the Catholic Church, as soon as mass distribution and literacy made it possible (mid-15th century). But that didn't mean that sola Scriptura followed as a matter of course.

H. To repeat, since the prophetic writings were the Word of the Lord (Jeremiah 36:11) and since God does not change (Malachi 3:6) the written Word stands forever.

Great; we all agree, but this proves nothing one way or the other about sola Scriptura.

Only that there is nothing else that can make this claim, based on OT. Not prophet, not priest, not king.

Fine. But that says not a whit about necessary interpretation, which is the crux of the issue. If Scripture was so "perspicuous," then Protestants would largely agree. Since they obviously haven't, I take that as both a disproof of perspicuity and an indication of the necessity of real (not just paper or illusory or "ivory tower") ecclesiological authority.

Therefore, written prophecies had even greater authority than spoken prophecies.

This doesn't follow from your argumentation. You haven't given enough airtight evidence to establish this, in my opinion.

If there was a conflict, the written Word would rule (Psalm 119:105).

This is a wishful, circular conclusion. The verse simply reads:

Your maxim breaks down as soon as two people disagree as to the interpretation of that "word," whether it is oral or written. Then we're right back to the same old problem: questions of authority and "binding and loosing."

Therefore, I must conclude that under the old covenant, the written Word of God was the supreme authority. God's people clearly owed obedience to priest and king, but the prophet and preeminently the written Word of God reigned supreme.

I think I have shown that the reality was quite otherwise. But you have conceded much by including "prophet" in the above summary. For prophets were the OT equivalent of Apostles. Apostles passed on their office and authority (albeit in less spectacular and "inspired" form, no doubt) to Bishops. And so the early Church had the notion of apostolic succession and apostolic Tradition, which was the bottom line in doctrinal disputes - not simple recourse to Holy Scripture, as if there were no differences of opinion on it, and as if it were "perspicuous" as Luther and Calvin later deluded themselves. Virtually all the heretics based themselves on Scripture Alone, but a skewed interpretation of the Scripture (and Tradition). This was particularly true, I believe, of the Marcionites, Arians, and Nestorians. And the last analogy, to follow, will demonstrate this as well:


Many people do not realize that Christianity was derived in many ways from the Pharisaical tradition of Judaism. It was really the only viable option in the Judaism of that era. Since Jesus often excoriated the Pharisees for hypocrisy and excessive legalism, we often assume that He was condemning the whole ball of wax. But this is throwing the baby out with the bath water. Consider the following passage from the Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (ed. Allen C. Myers, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1987 {from Bijbelse Encyclopedie, ed. W.H. Gispen, Kampen, Netherlands, 1975}, "Pharisees" ):

Likewise, with the Apostle Paul:

The Sadducees, on the other hand,

{The New Bible Dictionary, ed. J.D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1962, p. 1124; "Sadducees"}



A) The Sadducees were obviously the elitist "liberals" and "heterodox" amongst the Jews of their time.

B) But the Sadducees were also the sola Scripturists of their time.

C) Christianity adopted wholesale the very "postbiblical" doctrines which the Sadducees rejected and which the Pharisees accepted: "resurrection, belief in angels and spirits," "the soul and its after-life, . . . rewards and retributions, angels and demons."

D) But these doctrines were notable for their marked development after the biblical OT Canon was complete, especially in Jewish apocalyptic literature, part of Jewish codified oral tradition.

E) We've seen how - if a choice is to be made - both Jesus and Paul were squarely in the "Pharisaical camp," over against the Sadducees.

F) We also saw earlier how Jesus and the NT writers cite approvingly many tenets of Jewish oral (later talmudic and rabbinic) tradition, according to the Pharisaic outlook.

ERGO) The above facts constitute one more "nail in the coffin" of the theory that either the OT Jews or the early Church were guided by the principle of sola Scriptura. The only party which believed thusly were the Sadducees, who were heterodox according to traditional Judaism, despised by the common people, and restricted to the privileged classes only. The Pharisees (despite their corruptions and excesses) were the mainstream, and the early Church adopted their outlook with regard to eschatology, anthropology, and angelology, and the necessity and benefit of binding oral tradition and ongoing ecclesiastical authority for the purpose (especially) of interpreting Holy Scripture.

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Copyright 1997 by Dave Armstrong. All rights reserved.