Dialogue: Does the Bible Clearly Teach That it is Clear and Formally Sufficient for Authority? (Preliminary Considerations)

Dave Armstrong vs. Jerome Smith (editor of The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge)

Jerome Smith is a friendly acquaintance (his brother Martin has been a friend of mine for many years and was a member of my board of directors when I was a Protestant evangelist in the late 80s). Jerome gave a talk at my ecumenical discussion group in the early 90s. Recently, he discovered my website, and we have begun an ongoing series of dialogues on a topic dear to both of us: Holy Scripture and what it teaches about its own authority, private judgment, hermeneutics, and the role of the Christian Church. His words will be in blue:

Hi Jerome. Great to hear from you. I hope that all is well with you and yours.

I discovered your pro-Roman Catholic website just now when searching for mentions of my name and/or The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge on the World Wide Web. You will recall that I spent a pleasant evening at your home discussing the perspicuity of Scripture as outlined in my volume, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. We had further discussions of a wide-ranging nature until nearly midnight after that, as I recall.

Yes, and it was fun . . . I commend you for your teaching efforts, both secular and Sunday school and related activities. I always appreciate those willing to spend time educating others, especially about the Bible and Christianity.

Now that I have email access to you, and you have email access to me, more efficient communication between us is possible, as desired. I find email communication a much more efficient use of my time and resources. I have "bookmarked" your website on my "favorites" list, and shall return diligently to study its contents as time permits.

There are certain Biblical issues which I have studied at considerably greater depth than others. I believe I am most studied on the issues of the doctrine of the trinity (to which I firmly adhere),
 
We have no difference there. I have very extensive biblical proofs for the Trinity on my website, stemming from 1982 research.

. . . and the issue of the Scriptural mode of Christian water baptism. On this latter issue, would you be so kind as to state in a sentence or so what your view is on this limited issue?

I don't think the Bible requires a particular mode (and so that issue is uninteresting to me). I think the essence of baptism is in the water itself, not how it is applied, and in the intent and trinitarian formula, and in what it does (regenerate, in our view, and also Luther's).

An acquaintance of mine just a few days ago asked me whether Augustine believed in the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. I said "I assume that he did, but I'm sure that I could find you precise proof one way or the other on the internet." In less than one minute, using "Go Express Search," we had listings and specific reference to his works. I pulled off my shelf an appropriate volume of the Church Fathers, and showed him, as it were, "Chapter and Verse" (in Augustine, of course, not the Bible, where such cannot be found directly stated. Is this parallel to the problem Jehovah's Witnesses have with Biblical Christians who affirm the "trinity" is taught in Scripture, though not named as such therein?) which quite proved Augustine believed in purgatory. My friend, a staunch Calvinist, was quite interested, for he had been talking to a Roman Catholic individual who raised the issue with him.

Two immediate thoughts:

1) Development of doctrine is often the key to understanding the Fathers with regard to distinctive Catholic doctrines.

2) Purgatory and other "Catholic" doctrines are indeed strongly indicated in Scripture by many indirect proofs. When it comes right down to it, Athanasian, Chalcedonian, even Nicaean trinitarianism is not explicitly stated in Scripture, either. It is deduced from many many indirect proofs, as you well know. So is purgatory. Certainly there is not as much proof as with the Trinity (as we would expect), but there is more than you might suspect. See my papers:

By the way, I am not a Calvinist myself, either. I maintain sufficient truth needed for salvation is found in Scripture, that no church is divinely authorized or inspired, that all churches have a mixture of truth and error, but Scripture has no error. The closer a church is to the Bible, the closer it is to being a "true church."

Duly noted.

You are welcome to counter-respond to any of my posted tracts. I will respond in turn and (if I think it would be interesting to my readers - as I usually do) post the exchange on my website, with your name and e-mail address, if you should so desire. I have many dialogues on my site with Protestants, Orthodox, agnostics, evolutionists, homosexuals, and others who disagree in one way or another. I'm always willing to defend my stated beliefs, and to change my opinion if I am persuaded by a dialogical opponent. Thanks for taking the time to write.

May God bless you abundantly as you serve Him.

Looking forward to hearing more from you as time permits. I have been mulling over your piece on (or, perhaps, against) the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture posted on your excellent web site.

I think I now have four pieces on this very subject, including a massive debate recently with a very cordial woman who has a master's in theology (Carmen Bryant).

I think I follow your reasoning or line of argument. As I recall, you cite Martin Luther's Bondage of the Will, a portion of which you quote which asserts the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. That shows how ignorant I am on the subject, because though I have Luther's book, I have not read it recently, and forgot he dealt with the subject. I appreciate your enlightening me.

You're welcome!

Then, I believe, you proceed in your argument to affirm that none of the Protestants you have discussed this issue with could present a reason (other than the sinfulness of the individuals who read the Bible) to explain the great multiplicity of Protestant denominations

True.

(I think you suggested a figure of 23,000 different ones in the United States alone). You may want to double-check that figure. When I last studied the subject, I had encountered the figure 2,300 denominations or so from two different sources, one was probably such a claim in some Watchtower literature, I believe. The other was probably in some Roman Catholic apologetic literature (perhaps a Knights of Columbus pamphlet) I read years ago. Of course, maybe there has been creeping inflation in denominationalism, too, since I read those figures!

See my papers:

I have a paper about everything! :-)

Your conclusion, if I recall correctly, was that if the doctrine were true, it certainly wasn't working out very well in practice!

One would hope for better fruit if perspicuity is true, I think. Things aren't true because they work, but they ought to work when they are true. That's what I call the "reverse pragmatic argument."

My problem with your argument is that you have not answered the Biblical argument for the perspicuity of Scripture as I presented it at your home, and as I have presented it in the Topic Number Index of my book, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Topic Numbers 1110-1122, on pages 1597 and 1598.  When the passages there adduced are consulted, they either by direct statement or clear inference assert or demonstrate the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. Consulting the references given in The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge at those places will furnish more passages to elucidate the theme.

Please tell me what these verses are. I've yet to see "direct" biblical proofs or "clear inferences" for either sola Scriptura or perspicuity.

Take note of Topic 1122. It resulted from a delightful Bible study I held some years ago in the home of some of my Sunday school pupils. The references gathered there are available nowhere
else, because they were the result of our "brain storming" that night the topic derived from John 6:14, namely, the remarkable knowledge of the Scriptures of the leaders and especially the common people incidentally mentioned in the Bible. I will never forget the exciting time we had in
searching the Scriptures that night to uncover the wealth of material on this theme now preserved in my note in The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge at John 6:14. Once one consults all of these passages, one is utterly awestruck at the amount of knowledge these people possessed. But it also demonstrates the perspicuity of the Bible on a practical level, for the common people, "who heard him gladly" (Mark 12:37) were possessed of this knowledge.

I'm not sure what the argument here is.

Thus, the Bible is clear and understandable on its major themes for those who have made it their careful study.

I agree with that. But I don't think it rules out the necessity for a binding teaching authority (itself quite a biblical construct and not optional, according to the NT).

Then why so many differences of opinion on what the Bible means? While the "sin factor" may be a part of this (though I had never heard of or come to that line of thinking myself until I saw it referred to on your web site), I believe that most differences of interpretation can be accounted
for by these reasons: (1) differences in individual knowledge of the Bible. I don't expect, for example, most Baptists or other immersionists to agree with me on the subject of the scriptural mode of Christian baptism, because they have not had or taken the opportunity to study the evidence. Once presented with the evidence, they would have to either agree with it or,
because of preconceived and unalterable opinion, disagree with it. But the evidence is so clear and substantial, I doubt it can be successfully answered. The evidence is clear enough that a child can understand it.

Well, this spectacularly supports my point of view. "Clear enough that a child can understand it," yet Protestants can't agree amongst themselves. It is pathetic.

I would assume that those who know more about the Bible will tend to agree on its central teaching, or at least upon those topics with which they are equally studied or knowledgeable,

That's not true, either; Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons know their Bibles quite well (of course they have horrendous hermeneutical principles). Calvin and Luther both knew the Bible inside out, yet they disagreed on a host of things (baptismal regeneration, Eucharist, etc.). The argument simply doesn't fly. It certainly isn't proved by one cozy meeting experience. We have to deal with history and the ugly reality of unbiblical sectarianism.

but will be in disagreement with those whose knowledge is less. Jesus said (Mark 12:24), "Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?" (2)

I don't think the disagreements are primarily due to a mere lack of knowledge, but rather, due to a lack of a biblical authority structure (Church, Bible, Tradition: three-legged stool), and flawed premises (sola Scriptura, private judgment, supremacy of the individual conscience, competing ecclesiologies, etc.).

Many differences are attributable to historical accident (the founding of various-- at least Evangelical--denominations, though they differ in name, they agree on the important essentials: they are not all apostate or heretical because of differences in minor matters (is foot washing a
sacrament commanded by Christ to be practiced today? Or, Are women to "keep silence in the church" today, and if yes, under what circumstances, as Plymouth Brethren might emphasize, etc.).

Agreed; but this, too, shows how ludicrous the Protestant position ultimately is. Doctrine determined by "historical accident"? St. Paul would turn over in his grave to see the "tradition" he "received" and "delivered" handled so cavalierly and nonchalantly.

(3) I believe the tendency to approach the Bible deductively with already held preconceived notions of what it must say--seeing it through Calvinistic eyeglasses, for example, or Arminian eyeglasses, or any of a multitude of other "isms" which might color our perception: humanism, Russelism, Romanism, etc.--

Don't forget "private judgment," which is what you are doing. No one escapes presuppositions. You are no different. Yet many Protestants pretend to be "objective" (over against a guy like, say, Aquinas) and not weighed down by any prior traditions whatever. It's a pipe dream, I think. Sola Scriptura itself is an unbiblical and self-defeating proposition; quite a man-made tradition in its own right.

will cause Bible readers to miss some of the truth the Bible contains.

Well, it is true that false premises will lead to false hermeneutics. But in the end I don't think the problem is deduction and prior notions per se, but rather, the wrong premises vs. the right ones. There is no such thing as the tabula rasa.

Should such readers encounter a truth contrary to their deductively derived system of belief, they will do everything in their power to ignore, hide, deride, debunk, or otherwise work around the problem, but they will not face it square on.

Indeed. I have observed scores of Protestants squirming when faced with a lot of the biblical evidence I have on my site, which supports our view but not theirs. I couldn't even count the number of Protestants who disappeared from the face of the earth when their "proofs" were shown to be wanting.

To such persons the Bible may as well be a closed book, for to them it is almost impossible to learn new or fresh truth from a study of the Bible, because their minds are made up on most controverted issues ahead of time.

I have found that to be the case with most Protestants, yes.

(4) Failure to have a working knowledge of Biblical hermeneutics is at the root of much divergent interpretation.

No doubt.

Most  false doctrine is the result of misinterpreting the Bible.

I agree again.

A correct interpretation will pass muster when subjected to an analysis based on the rules of interpretation; false doctrine will not.

Yet of course you still have competing Protestant Christianities with equally scholarly exegetes on all sides, so this is not the final answer to your dilemma. An authoritative Tradition and Church is clearly needed, and these things are biblical in the first place, so it is no new idea.

One essential principle often missed is that the Bible does not contradict itself.

That's right. But now we're talking about theological liberalism, I think: flat-out denial of inspiration rather than false application of what one believes to be inspired revelation (a la Jehovah's Witnesses).

Another is, a correct interpretation must be based upon a proper induction from all the evidence: that is, all texts which have a bearing on the doctrine, topic, or issue must be consulted and "factored in;" one cannot legitimately ignore passages which inconveniently contradict the doctrine we wish to assert. That is why the Bible is a self-correcting doctrinal textbook: when I assert a doctrine and seek its support from scripture, if I find passages which "don't fit," I know that I
must adjust my understanding of that doctrine, not gloss over the texts which fail to support or even contradict it.

AMEN! I couldn't agree more. And this is what I have observed from Protestants so often. It was only when I converted to Catholicism that so many biblical passages which Protestants routinely ignore came alive and made sense for the first time. I have often marvelled at the glorious harmony which Scripture becomes, under Catholic dogmatic beliefs and premises.

(5) Insufficient knowledge of the cultural background of the people in the Bible and their circumstances will sometimes cause us to not fully understand what they wrote--at least in
the finer details (Revelation 3:16 suffers much at the hands of interpreters unaware of the cultural/geographical allusions it contains).

I agree.

Well, Dave, you'll have to back off your argument that no Protestant has given you any other reason for the multiplicity of denominations based on variant reading of the Bible other than the "sin problem."

:-) It still basically reduces to that, because your arguments break down as soon as you have equally brilliant, able, spiritually-minded, godly theologians on two sides of a question. Since there is no "final court of appeal" in Protestantism, there can only be insinuations that the other guy is a closet liberal, or ignorant, or stubborn, etc., because "he doesn't agree with me (i.e., the true opinion....)." So essentially I already anticipated your response in my original paper. I have gotten to the very root of the (insurmountable) epistemological problem, I believe.

I have hereby given you FIVE MORE for your elucidation!--and just off the top of my head tonight, at that.

I think you need to read my longer debates on the subject in order to understand the nuances and complexities of the Catholic position in this regard. See:

The latter extensively gets into historical hermeneutics and becomes a quite technical discussion. Basically, I was responding to a master's thesis on the issue. And this is why we become more and more confident of our position, with even the so-called "best" presentations of the Protestant viewpoint being so easily answered and refuted. Or at least in my humble opinion, anyway . . . :-)

I really do enjoy communicating with you, now that I have the medium of doing it electronically available.

Yes, I enjoy this a lot, too.

I shall continue to pray for the Lord's richest blessings and protection upon you, your wife, and family, and look forward to hearing from you again.

Thank you very much. I'll pray for you, too.

Hi Jerome. Thanks for your vigorous letter! It, too, was fun to read, but I must say with all due respect that - despite the appearance of strength - its arguments are based upon the same circular reasoning that characterizes all Protestant defenses of this doctrine that I have seen, and which I have dealt with many times (more than any other topic on my website).

In a nutshell, when all's said and done, you merely assume that your doctrine is biblical (both the doctrinal system and the principles of authority and epistemology) without having proven this from Scripture itself, except for a few fleeting references: themselves quite exaggerated and not establishing at all the principles you wish to assert. I've seen this over and over again, but my esteemed Protestant friends seem quite impervious to the fallacies of their viewpoint, and the compelling strength of the biblical and logical counter-evidence against it.

Perhaps you have argued this more cogently in your book; I'll grant you that possibility (it is a strong likelihood). But I, too, have argued my position very strenuously in my several papers on the topic, particularly the two debates with Mr. Enloe and Mrs. Bryant. If you want to see this through to the end, eventually I would challenge you to answer those papers point-by-point. There is no need for me to repeat all those arguments again presently. I have already done that, and I have very little spare time as it is.

I would contend that your arguments in this letter are already essentially answered in my two debates and in various other dialogues I have had on sola Scriptura in general. There is nothing new here. It may have been presented in a more vigorous, aggressive fashion (as I would expect from an old debate team guy :-), but it is still a circular argument. You can dress an old stinky hog up in linens and give it a bath to make it smell nice for a time, but eventually, its "hogness" and essential characteristics will come shining through again! Forgive the awkward analogy, but I'm sure you grasp my point.

Furthermore, the positive evidence for our side has been detailed in many other papers, which give the biblical support for the notions of Tradition and an authoritative Church. You have not dealt with that (at least not in our exchanges thus far). Yet it is required of you in order for you to make your dogmatic statements about what Scripture does and does not teach. I'm sure you understand this, being the excellent debater that you are. :-) And I know you are very busy (I'm sure even more than I am); yet if you hope to even come close to persuading me that my viewpoint is mistaken, you must grapple with the arguments that I have already laid out for all to see on my website, against all opponents so far, including two who wrote seminary master's theses on these very topics (Mrs. Bryant and Dr. James White).

I think you've done about as good as any Protestant can do, but it is still a woefully inadequate presentation. I'm still waiting for a Protestant to truly interact with all the arguments we bring to bear on this topic (as well as many other doctrinal issues). You yourself can "get" my side by reading my several papers on the subject (i.e., perspicuity), and - if you like - you can enter the second round of discussion by answering these arguments one-by-one. You are definitely the one to do it, for the obvious reason of having been immersed in Scripture more than most Christians, due to the nature of your excellent book.

Whether you are motivated enough or have time to do so is up to you. I won't assume anything one way or the other if you don't have the time or desire to go into that level of depth of argumentation. I'm simply explaining what I feel to be the requirements for overthrowing my position, and that of the Catholic Church. I've done my homework and my work on this. The Protestant view sounds wonderful, biblical, insurmountable, plausible, impenetrable, almost self-evident when simply "preached" and presented without counter-arguments (mostly from Holy Scripture) to weigh it down and sink it. Once these are allowed to see the light of day and truly interacted with, it is a whole different ballgame, believe me.

E.g., political candidates may sound convincing when they alone are heard, but when they engage in debate with each other the effect on the hearers is very different (at least those who haven't made up their minds previously; I confess that I myself place little credence in anything a Democrat says LOL).

That said, I will comment on a few things (ha ha; I'll probably get long-winded like you did LOL), but bear in mind that I believe I have already dealt with all of this (excepting, perhaps, a few scriptural particulars) elsewhere. If I hadn't already done that, that would be one thing, but since I have, I reserve the right to appeal to my own past research and dialogues. I don't want to spend time repeating what I have already argued. But I will always devote time to any critique of an existing paper (one which truly interacts with each argument I made there, in the effort to reveal some glaring inadequacy therein) - because that would be something new and appropriately challenging, from where I sit.

I immensely enjoyed your response to my diatribe regarding the Perspicuity of Scripture. I do not think, however, that you can legitimately take a reductionistic stance and consolidate my five additional reasons answering your question "why are there so many Protestant denominations" or your question "why are there so many differing viewpoints among Protestants about the Bible" back to your original complaint about the solitary reason Protestants ever offer, namely, "the sin factor." This time, YOU are the source of the solitary reason, failing to admit that I have offered you FIVE MORE!

I contend that your argument still reduces to that, because you yourself said that once two people go head to head on any given biblical matter, that the Bible is clear enough to resolve it. I replied that this clearly isn't the case. Faced with that, the Protestant must blame the other guy's inability to see the clear truth of Scripture. Why does he not see it? Because he is ignorant. Why is he ignorant? Because he is lazy or stubborn, or has preconceived notions he refuses to yield, etc. I exaggerate greatly to make my point, but I really think this is what it boils down to. I can make that point without denying the need to understand proper exegesis and hermeneutics; that's a given for any student of the Bible.

Lord willing, I shall return to dwell upon these matters at greater length and in detail in a future communication.

I look forward to it!

In the interim, . . . I will attempt to learn more about how to access my old files and give you the requisite Biblical information.

Great. I've yet to see a biblical argument remotely approaching compelling status on this topic. It is the "Achilles' Heel" of Protestantism, as we lowly "Romanists" are fond of saying.

I already developed a "compendium" on the subject of the Biblical mode of Christian water baptism. I developed another "compendium" to answer the mistaken doctrines of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Looks like I have the opportunity and good cause now to develop another compendium on the subject of the Biblical doctrine of the Perspicuity of Scripture. [This letter to you does not constitute that yet to be produced compendium.]

In so doing, you would be providing a much-needed service to your Protestant brothers, and a great service and encouragement to us as well, since this would show that the best shot a Protestant can give is altogether insufficient to prove sufficiency of Scripture Alone as a formal principle of authority. Just a prediction on my part, based on universal past experience debating the issue . . .

I thought you would see immediately the inference to be made from the series of cross-references to John 6:14 which demonstrate the remarkable knowledge of the Bible of the common people (who, as I quoted in my prior communication, "heard [Jesus] gladly"). I assert, that the inference is quite plain, that the Bible must be perspicuous for the common people of that day to have such a vast and accurate composite knowledge of the Bible, a knowledge certainly at variance with the "traditions" held by the one true church of that day represented by the authoritative temple organization and teachings of the Jewish religious leaders.

Not at all. This is where the argument starts to become radically circular, and brings in unnecessary dichotomies (viz., all traditions are by their very nature man-made and opposed to the Bible, which both Paul and Jesus clearly deny). You also assume an airtight epistemological system which is not present (the Jewish people were not the Greeks; they weren't philosophical as you or I might seek to be). And you compress oral and written elements into one, and overlook the issue of the canon of Scripture. That's just the beginning of the objections; one must deal with the actual biblical "arguments" for perspicuity one-by-one to reveal their woeful deficiencies. I have done so, many times. Few things strengthen my faith and belief in Catholicism more . . . .

Of course, I do not at all agree with your position that the Bible authorizes that there is a three-legged stool of tradition, an authoritative Church, and the Bible working as a threesome to establish what is and what is not authoritative correct Bible doctrine.

Then you have to disprove our biblical arguments along those lines, don't you?, and provide better alternate explanations than the ones we give.

The Bible itself and in its entirety is the only source of infallible spiritual truth verbally inspired by God Himself--the claim that the Bible makes for itself quite repeatedly and clearly, by the way.

Inspiration is not at issue. Protestant liberals have been responsible for tearing that down for over two centuries now, whereas it has always been a binding dogma of the Catholic Church. But even an inspired document needs to be authoritatively interpreted and its teachings proclaimed and codified and systematized in their particulars and parameters in creeds and confessions (just as in Protestantism, pertaining to the latter aspects).

Private judgment is a Biblical doctrine, certainly insurmountably buttressed by the statement by St. Paul . . .

You'll have to prove that to me, too.

. . . (who certainly would turn over in his grave were he aware of the additions to the deposit of truth he and the other Apostles of the New Testament, by divine inspiration, left for us in the written Word of God, --additions preserved in the unbiblical teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

All merely declarative statements which have to be demonstrated one-by-one. But we are both making those, I suppose. I've argued the biblical support for all distinctive Catholic doctrines on my website, and also several doctrines which we hold in common (my proofs for the Trinity and Divinity of Jesus are extremely extensive, and I think you would appreciate them).

Furthermore, "additions" is a loaded term itself requiring a huge discussion about development of doctrine. I would argue that the only party making "additions" never before seen in the history of Christianity are the Protestants, with their hosts of "Johnny-come-lately" innovations and departures and corruptions of apostolic doctrine of the 16th century.

Jesus spoke pointedly about the dangers of manmade tradition; Peter spoke about the dangers of twisting Scripture;

Indeed, and in so doing they condemn much of Protestantism (or at least insofar as it departs from received doctrines). You yourself said that if people disagree, either one is wrong, or both are. They can't both be right. Therefore, it is CERTAIN that Protestantism contains much undeniable error, and error is not from God; therefore it is man-made. So you necessarily condemn many of your brethren when you assert this. But it's always easy for a Protestant to dismiss "the other guys" in their overall camp (all absurdly depending on private judgment) and to create their own religion of one, if need be.

We can defend all our beliefs from both Scripture and Tradition. You guys can't defend a symbolic and regenerative baptism at the same time (both being biblical and historical). You can't prove both the Lutheran and Zwinglian notions of the Eucharist from Scripture and history. Etc., etc. Someone is, therefore, telling untruths and creating man-made tradition. Someone is twisting Scripture . . . But we have one doctrine, which doesn't necessarily have to be man-made, if we can support it from Scripture and Tradition (i.e., unbroken history of doctrine; apostolic succession), as we do.

the excessive veneration of Mary would be totally foreign to the Apostle Paul, and certainly could not be a mark of the true church, but superstitious accretions from the Middle Ages and times before and since) in Romans 14:12, "So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God."

What is "excessive"? Does that imply that there is a "proper" level of "veneration"? Here you need to deal with all the proofs from Scripture I set forth, and discard probable mistaken beliefs that it is idolatrous, etc. It is not . . . Mary does not replace God in any way, shape, or form.

If every one of us shall give account of himself to God, then every one of us is responsible to determine what the truth of God is. We will not be excused by God on judgment day by the excuse, "Well, I simply believed what my (allegedly authoritative, one true) church taught me."

There is a sense in which we all stand alone before God. We don't deny that for a second. But this is logically distinct from the question of ecclesiastical authority or lack thereof.

The whole emphasis Jesus makes, as recorded in the Gospel of John chapter 5, is an appeal to belief in his WORDS (John 5:24), and these are only recorded for us in the confines of the Bible.

Here you accept the fallacy that His disciples only remembered His words that were recorded in Scripture, and no other ones. By saying "words," Jesus didn't imply that only those which made it into the Bible were binding on His hearers. You assume that, based on your axiomatic presuppositions, but it is not there in the text.

Jesus said "But if ye believe not his writings [referring explicitly to the written Word of God penned by Moses, see verse 46 of the Gospel of John, Chapter 5], how shall ye believe my words?" If we are held accountable, according to Paul, and according to Jesus himself, to believe these words, THEN it follows that the words must be understandable in order to be properly believed, and this PROVES the perspicuity of Scripture, for it is by believing the Scripture, by believing the words of Scripture (James 1:21, "the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls"; 1 Peter 1:23, "being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever," a reference to Isaiah 40:8, "but the word of our God shall stand forever," that we have everlasting life.

You fail to grasp that we freely accept all this, as you do. Scripture is true; Scripture is unique and authoritative. That does NOT rule out the need for the Church, or else Paul would never talk about it (or tradition / paradosis) at all; there would have been no need for a Jerusalem Council. Etc., etc. There would have been no oral teaching and preaching for many generations before the NT was formed and codified (God would have dropped it out of heaven when Jesus ascended - if not before - as with Mohammed and the Koran).

The entire argument presupposes dichotomies which are both logically unnecessary and blatantly contrary to Scripture. And you assume that Catholics deny things that we do not deny at all. We believe in the material sufficiency of Scripture, but not its formal sufficiency. It's amazing how full of holes the Protestant argument is, and even more incredible that it is accepted without question by otherwise sharp people who should know better.

All that is necessary to believe for salvation is to be found in the confines of the written words of the Bible alone.

Yep; if you are on a desert isle with no one around, and a Bible, I believe you could be saved. I also believe you could be saved without a Bible or ever hearing a word of it, if you seek truth; since God said His existence is evident from that which is made (Romans 1). This does not - again - disprove the need for a Church and an authoritative Tradition in normal circumstances. It's like saying "I could survive on a deserted, barren island with bread and water, no modern conveniences, no medicine, etc." Sure you could, but is this the best way to go through life? Do we not take advantage of those blessings which God has provided for us - among which is the Church, and the wise spiritual guides in it who help us better follow the path of discipleship?

The Bible is the complete revelation in written words from God to man.

Yep, it's inspired revelation. This has nothing to do with the question at hand. We agree with this.

The Bible is the primary source document. Other writings are secondary sources. The secondary sources must be tested as to their truth claims against what we find in the Bible.

Indeed; we believe all Catholic doctrines are harmonious with Scripture. We know for sure that many Protestant doctrines are not, because they are contradictory, and neither the Bible nor God can contradict themselves.

There is no serious question regarding which books belong in the Bible.

There certainly is; the seven books of the so-called Apocrypha were thrown out only in the 16th century. The apostles and Church Fathers accepted them.

No church council settled that matter for the Old Testament books; the Hebrew speaking Jews of Palestine in the time of Christ accepted as inspired the same thirty-nine Old Testament books that Protestants do today.

So now you wish to go to the Jews after Christ to determine which books are in the Bible, rather than to Christians in Council, during the same time they were working out other doctrines such as the fine points of the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ (doctrines which you accept)? Very curious . . . How about if I go to the Muslims to find out some more things about the Christian faith, rather than to my Protestant brothers? You wish to condemn the Pharisees as absolutely corrupt (which Jesus did not do), while accepting what NT period Jews declared about the Bible, and conveniently neglecting what other Jews had asserted previously, during the period the Septuaguint was produced. Good luck working out this pack of absurdities  . . .

We already agree on the content of the New Testament,

Thankfully; yet if Luther had had his way, James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation might not be there.

and when I was at your home you will recall that I provided incontestable testimony to the New Testament Canon being established long before any church council you may wish to name "seconded the motion."

In a very broad sense, yes. But not to the extent that an authoritative proclamation became unnecessary. Books were being disputed right up to the last half of the 4th century. And other books were wrongly considered Scripture by eminent Church Fathers.

THEREFORE, the truthfulness of any "church" must be determined by a careful comparison of its claims with the witness of Scripture.

I agree. That's one reason why I left Protestantism!

The Bible clearly states, "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20). The Bible could not make such a statement unless the Bible is perspicuous, otherwise how could any one be expected to test the truthfulness of an alleged source of spiritual truth if such a comparison with Scripture is not possible to be made?

This overlooks the fact that it is also taught in Scripture and Jewish and Christian history that the Bible and the law must be interpreted; not simply grasped in their entirety - with no need for any assistance - by the atomistic individual. You are introducing anti-communitarian and individualistic notions derived far more from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and pagan philosophy than from Judaeo-Christian Tradition. See my paper: The OT, the Jews, & Sola Scriptura.

Of course, this LOGICALLY DEMONSTRATES the necessity of PRIVATE JUDGMENT, because we are each individually (Romans 14:12, cited above) responsible to exercise it whenever we pass judgment on competing truth claims, testing such claims by the touchstone of Scripture.

See my last response.

Now, you wrote (9/8/2000):

I disagree. My argument does not break down. Whenever there is a disagreement regarding doctrine, teaching, or spiritual truth, the following possibilities occur: (1) I am right, and you are wrong; (2) you are right and I am wrong; (3) we both are wrong.  It is not possible (in accordance with the hermeneutical and philosophical/logical law of non-contradiction) if our views are contradictory over the same matter for both to be correct.

Exactly, and that is why the division in Protestantism is so wicked, because you guys calmly accept the prevalence of error, as if it is a small thing of little importance.

THEREFORE, whenever such disagreement appears, it is possible to appeal to Scripture itself for an answer as to which truth claim (if either) is correct. If the Scripture can be shown to support one view, and not the other, then it is obvious which view is correct.

Here is the circular nature of your argument. The two both state that their view is the biblical view. Now what do you do? The Catholic's way out of this is to appeal to what has always been believed by the Church (just as the Fathers did, against the heretics). We believe that God will protect His Church from error (indefectibility from truth). But since you have thrown out Tradition and apostolic succession, you sanction relativism and division as soon as every situation of equally brilliant competing exegetes differing, occurs. This entails a great spiritual bondage. I would be absolutely terrified to depend upon myself as the final court of appeal in matters spiritual and theological. I think that is the height of both arrogance and folly to do so.

The final court of appeal in Biblical Christianity is, of course, the Holy Scripture, properly interpreted according to the rules of Biblical hermeneutics.

Great statement; impossible to live by in the real world, under Protestant premises. It collapses as soon as the disagreements arise.

The question is not does he agree with me, but does he (or do I) agree with the teaching of Holy Scripture. This can only be found out by careful study of, and appeal to, the Scripture itself.

So if the other guy disagrees with you, it is because you have studied Scripture and its interpretation more than he has (a variation of the "ignorance" argument). You always have to accuse the other guy of something of that sort, given your premise that Scripture is always clear.

You will not find in anything I have yet said or written any suggestion that I assert that someone is mistaken because they are "a closet liberal, or ignorant, or stubborn" because he doesn't agree with me (i.e., the true opinion...)." I assert that the "true" opinion in matters of Bible doctrine corresponds with the teaching of the Bible, the mistaken opinion does not.

But this has no content, when closely scrutinized, and you always tacitly assume the other is deficient when there is disagreement. We simply say a person is mistaken and incorrect if they disagree with the history of Christian doctrine, passed down in an unbroken chain from the Apostles. Certain teachings were received from Jesus, and they are true. Period. What the biblical arguments supporting them may be is another issue. But they are true because Jesus passed them down, and Christians believed them (and were quite justified in doing so) even before biblical arguments could be produced.

Not really. You claimed in the article on perspicuity on your website, and complained, that no Protestant in any discussion you had yet had, ever presented an answer beyond the assertion that differing views or readings of Scripture (and the resultant multiplicity of denominations) arise solely because of the "sin problem." I addressed this one issue, by providing you WITH FIVE MORE. You will now have to revise your estimate of what a Protestant is able to tell you on this matter! You even agreed with two or more of them in this communication, so that makes the total three or more by your own admission.

No, because there are differing levels of logical complexity and many facets to the discussion, as I have already pointed out.

To the contrary, I think I have pinpointed the very root of your epistemological problem. You do not understand the importance of appealing to PRIMARY HISTORICAL SOURCES.

Yes; Jesus and the Apostles are my primary historical source. They gave me the New Testament. How do you like them credentials?

You do not understand the principles of HISTORICITY, and the strength of the argument I have confronted you with. You make claims based on secondary sources.

You make claims based on (themselves unbiblical) historiographical and Enlightenment philosophical principles concerning the relationship of the individual and the (faith-based) community, rather than on the basis of faith, revelation, and Christian Tradition. That's ultimately why we disagree, I think.

I believe on testing all truth claims against the primary source, the Bible itself, alone, and in its entirety.

Yet you can't find the Bible itself stating this criteria (i.e., the "alone" part), which would seem to be a requirement for the logical coherence of this position.

Your position involves you with an historical absurdity--you make truth claims which you claim are authoritative and binding which are NOT supported by the only PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENT we have, the written Word of God. I test all truth claims by what the Apostles and Prophets under direct divine inspiration WROTE in a book which is public information accessible to all who wish to check it out.

As I said, we believe all Catholic doctrines are harmonious with Scripture.

What do you base your truth claims upon?

Jesus, the Apostles, apostolic succession, apostolic Tradition, and the Bible (and historical and supernatural proofs for same). They all agree with each other.

Certainly not what is verifiable in the ONE PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENT we both have access to.

It is verifiable indeed from the Bible. That is the theme of my website and my upcoming book, as you well know.

Well, Dave, I did not this evening when I checked my Email anticipate that I would immediately compose another diatribe, but here it is! Enjoy!

:-) I wrote even more than you did! LOL

Thank you for your kind reply to my letter. I hope to revisit your website soon and reread your other articles regarding perspicuity.

Please do, per my challenge. We have only barely scratched the surface of this one. Frankly, I'm a bit tired of the subject, but if you walk the extra mile with me, I'll go along with ya.

You got back fast on this last epistle I wrote!

Depends on whether I am in the mood to debate, and the subject matter. I guess I was. :-)

Just letting you know I received it, read it carefully twice, and fully intend to respond as soon as it becomes possible. As you know, school has started, but so far all is going well.

Great.

Of course, if I am right (and I obviously fully believe I am) that the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture is a Biblical doctrine, then (provided I am right), your view that "Perspicuity is Clearly False" is utterly mistaken.

Can't argue with this logic, but I think you are wrong, so . . .

Should your view be in actuality mistaken, then you are in deep trouble for denying it!

And should your view be mistaken, you are in "deep trouble" also, for espousing this doctrine. Works both ways, you know!

Lord willing, I shall revisit your materials on your web site on this issue. I shall also answer what you have placed in your letter to me. It may be possible, in due time, to answer point by point any mistaken positions you may have placed on your web site on the issue of the perspicuity of Scripture.

Good! Can I answer point-by-point your mistaken positions too?

I still believe and assert that you have logically failed on my first point in this debate to maintain the distinctions of points which indeed do differ, thus involving yourself in the reductive fallacy, by trying to reduce my five answers into your one point summary.

We'll have to agree to disagree, then, because I explained myself perspicuously twice on this particular point.

You also have apparently missed the point at issue on my new point, namely, that since I appeal directly to the one PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENT that has been provided to us by God Himself in the Holy Bible, but you admit to "traditions" passed down outside and beyond the words contained in this PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENT,

It is not "outside and beyond" in the sense that apostolic Tradition is contrary to Scripture or not harmonious and consistent with it (and since Scripture itself refers to an authoritative Tradition and Church). Remember, Catholics believe in the material sufficiency of Scripture, and that all our doctrines can be shown biblically, either explicitly, or indirectly / implicitly (through exegesis and deduction).

you are faced with the serious problem that your belief is based upon secondary, not primary source material.

The Apostolic Deposit is not "secondary" material. It was received from Jesus, passed on to the Apostles and in turn passed down by them. It expands upon what we know from Scripture, and is just as valid (in terms of truth, though not inspiration). True, one must determine precisely what constitutes the Tradition. That's ultimately the job of the Church (there's your three-legged patristic stool again).

My point is, that if you do in fact have such secondary source material, NONE OF IT CONTAINS SO MUCH AS ONE ADDITIONAL WORD FROM JESUS OR ANY OF THE BIBLICAL WRITERS. Perhaps if you have an additional word from Jesus or Paul, etc., you will have to show me where this material is in print or perhaps on the Internet and I will be happy to see if it bears on the point at issue in the present discussion, THE PERSPICUITY OF SCRIPTURE.

It doesn't have to quote the biblical writers to be authoritative. It just has to be apostolic and to have always been held implicitly or explicitly by the Church universal.

Should such source material exist, and it be generally accepted by reputable scholars to be genuine, then such material might be included as further primary source material, though after my many years of study into Biblical matters, I fail to recall any scholarly mention of the existence of any such primary source materials from Jesus or the Biblical writers, especially the New Testament ones, in my own reading.

It is irrelevant to my argument.

The Bible itself tells us to test the truth claims made by others (whether individuals, churches, or supposed communications directly from the Holy Spirit as through alleged spiritual gifts, etc.) against the truths already written in the Scripture.

Amen! That's what I constantly do on my website, which almost always has Protestants and how they approach things in mind.

THEREFORE, the Bible clearly claims to itself total precedence over all other sources on any matters pertaining to Divine Revelation, Doctrine, etc.

Where does it claim this and rule out any pride of place for Tradition and Church, pray tell? I've given my positive evidence; now you must produce your negative evidence against Church and Tradition.

SINCE THIS IS SO, I therefore conclude, that the BIBLE ITSELF teaches that "the Bible alone and in its entirety" is the SOLE STANDARD by which we are to test spiritual truth, or religious truth claims.

A conclusion based on a premise not established from the Bible. This is a house of cards, of the most vulnerable sort. The slightest wind demolishes it.

This of course necessitates that we make the BIBLE our standard of truth, and requires, as the Bible itself teaches about itself, that the Scripture is perspicuous.

Within your circular reasoning, yes, but not in the context of non-circular, non-self-defeating biblical and historical argumentation. Your premise remains radically unproven. It is basically an unexamined axiom and treasured Protestant man-made tradition (originally made out of desperation in reaction to the Catholic Church: such as Luther at Worms). Luther didn't appeal to Scripture as a proof of sola Scriptura; he simply claimed "Scripture and plain reason" for himself and stated that "popes and Councils do err." He merely assumed his (false) premise, just as you are doing. Not very impressive . . .

There is a great disjunction between the source we both agree upon, THE BIBLE, and the sources you also wish (or need) to include, both as to the nature of their content (they are certainly and unmistakably contradictory, which is enough to rule them out as being entirely correct or true),

That is your burden. I assert that they are NOT AT ALL contradictory to Scripture. This is another of your premises which you assume, but which would take months of discussion to work through in its entirety (basically, every Catholic distinctive would have to be discussed and compared with Scripture). But I've done this on my site, so that saves us a lot of work, in terms of basic theological disagreements.

their AUTHORITY (unlike the Bible, they are not divinely inspired),

When Paul was preaching to the Corinthians, Galatians, Thessalonians et al, he was quite authoritative, as an Apostle. Not everything he said was later included in the Bible; therefore it was not all inspired (he was no walking Bible-machine anymore than Jesus was). But he was an authority, and acted upon this authority quite consciously. So this is yet another Protestant false dichotomy (inspiration vs. non-inspired authority, as if all authority must be possessed of inspiration).

Even in one night of preaching and teaching, Paul would have surpassed in numbers of words all his epistles. But you would have us believe that he possessed no authority till the Christian could read an epistle of his and figure out that it was part of the New Testament without the necessary aid of an authoritative Church which could declare what was Scripture and make the canon binding on all Christians. And this authority was passed down to others after the Apostles died; that's the whole point of apostolic succession, which the vast majority of Christians at all times have accepted.

their general public accessibility (unlike the Bible, not readily available for everyone to read who may wish to),

That has nothing to do with truth, but only, well, accessibility, as you state. You think your Treasury is filled with truth that you have culled from the perspicuous Bible and presented in sytematised form for others to peruse (indeed, there is much truth in it, I happily grant). Not everyone has access to it. Does that make it less true?

their relevance (granted even their existence, does their content really matter in the sense that what they contain is not essential for salvation, though what the Bible contains clearly is),

Yes, everything Jesus wished to pass down to us is important.

and their very secondary nature or status as a witness to the truth taught in the Bible (my argument about primary historicity versus secondary sources).

Already dealt with above.

So far, I may not have yet convinced you. But I will keep working on it! Thank you for your kindness and graciousness in walking "the second mile" with me.

My pleasure. Soon I will upload our discussion thus far onto my site.

You will find that I indeed will continue communicating with you on these issues. In all prior debates I have held with others who have disagreed with me, it was the other party who gave up and backed out of the ongoing debate, not me.

I will never do that as long as you truly interact. If I feel you are only preaching and not interacting at a certain point, then I will cease, as that would be a case of violation of the very definition of what dialogue is. But you seem to be willing to interact, time-permitting, even if you put a great deal of preaching in your letters in-between all the interaction.

So I anticipate that you and I will enjoy a spiritually profitable and royal time in thinking about these momentous matters.

I think so! So far so good. :-)

Thank you for your prayers. I continue to pray for your protection, health, strength, and family.

Thanks. May God bless you and yours as well.

Main Index & Search / Scripture and Tradition

Uploaded 1 October 2000 by Dave Armstrong, from personal correspondence, and with the express permission of Jerome Smith. To be continued . . .