Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Reasonability of the Bible as the Word of God

Quite some time ago (Wednesday, October 11, 2006, to be precise), Jacob Allee of To Die Is Gain posted an article titled "The Reasonability of the Bible as the Word of God." Since I agree that the Bible is the Word of God, and that one is at least partly able to arrive at that conclusion by use of Reason, I didn't bother giving it a thorough read. I'd read the initial paragraphs and said, yeah, good on him. That is, until this morning. Today, I read the entire paper and noticed not only flaws in his reasoning, but also in his historical fact, particularly as they deal with the Roman Catholic Church. As such, I am intending, again, to dissect Jacob's paper and respond to it--correcting historical error and hopefully reasoning more solidly as well.

Jacob's words will be in Green, and mine in white.

Assuming there is a God, it is quite reasonable that such a God would choose to reveal himself to his creatures.

To begin, Jacob introduces the topic with a handful of assumptions. Even his assumption about the existence of God carries with it a host of other assumptions about God. Namely, that a God exists; that that God is appropriately described by use of masculine pronouns; that He is personal, having a will; that He is able to communicate; and that He desires to so communicate. That I happen to agree with Jacob's assumptions does not therefore mean that they are reasonable assumptions. And since the last assumption that I list is Jacob's primary starting point in dealing with the issue of the Bible as God's Word, it does seem to me that assuming that if there is a God, that God would want to communicate with us needs to itself be established on more than assumption or axiom.

This fact itself is made evident in Jacob's own phrasing of his opening sentence: "Assuming there is a God, it is quite reasonable that such a God would choose..." Since Man started pondering the existence of God, he has arrived at various thoughts and opinions and theologies that often differ greatly from one to another. "Such a God" as Jacob would have us consider must be first defined for us and established as a superior alternative. Among competing theologies, we have Deism--a belief in a (possibly personal) Creator God, but one who has no desire to communicate with His creation. We have polytheists, who believe in numerous gods, who mainly communicate through the actions and courses of the natural world. We have people wishing to believe that they are themselves gods. We have a Gnostics, who believe that God refuses to communicate with evil matter, except through secret revelation that is passed down through many demi-gods and given only to a few people. And we have concepts of God common to monotheistic religions such as the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Thus, which such God "such a God" is, is no small question, since it is really only in demonstrating that the God of Abraham is the most logical candidate--since it is only He who has actually desired to communicate to His Creation in the way that Jacob describes.

With that in mind, let us revisit Jacob's initial assumption, and see if we can narrow down "such a God."

When Jacob says "Assuming there is a God," we are in fact invited to assume that there is One God. This therefore excludes polytheistic worldviews from the outset. Now, if "God" can be defined, as Socrates and Plato would have it, as "The First Cause", the "Uncaused Cause", then we find ourselves assuming a Creator. This again brings us back to either notions of Deism or Theism. But we still have a pause before we can get to the "such a God" that Jacob desires us to assume. For a Deistic God is in all other ways the same as a Theistic God, except for the key trait that He has no further interest in this planet once He made it. Therefore, if Deism is the more likely candidate for truth about "God", then Jacob's assumption that "such a God" would choose to reveal Himself is again shown to be false. Thus we must take time again to answer and decide between these two philosophies: Belief in which God is more rational?

To my admittedly biased mind, the rationale behind Deism is inherently flawed. A God who did not wish to make Himself known seems to have done a poor job of it. The design and order of the cosmos cries out for recognition of a designer. Add to that the fact that nearly every civilisation since the dawn of time has seen this truth of nature, and more, felt to ask the questions in their hearts about the nature of that nature, and of themselves, and have therefore unanimously been religious (though, of course, not all the same religion), it seems that a Deist God created us with a desire to search for Him that He is not willing to fulfil.

On the other hand, if both Deists and Theists can agree that God is infinite, and, in fact, will go along with St. Anselm's definition of "That which nothing greater can be conceived," then, by some reflection, we see that if this is in fact true of God, then I can conceive of a God who is intelligent, which is better than a God who is not. I can conveive of a God who has a will, which is better than a God who is simply passive. I can conceive of a God who is compassionate and loving, which is better by far than a stoic or worse, a hateful God. And I can conceive of a God who is so loving that He actively desires the good of His creation. And so, if God truly is "that which nothing greater can be conceived," then He is all these things, and even more.

And yes, it certainly is reasonable that such a God as that would desire to communicate with His creation.

And as human beings with an advanced intellect over that of animals, it is reasonable to assume that we would perceive such a God as He chooses to reveal himself.

I fail to see why Jacob's premise that humans are intellectually superior to animals leads to the conclusion that we are able to perceive God as He chooses to reveal Himself. Since we cannot know how an animal perceives the world around it, or whether it can at all perceive the things of God, our superiority to the animals, in my mind, can only rationally be seen as one of honour, and not necessarily of advantage.

Furthermore if mankind encounters a God who has revealed himself to us, it only makes sense that mankind would record what that God has revealed. And the most accurate and detailed way to preserve what God has revealed to man is through the written word.

Is it? Considering the subjective interpretations people give to what they read, various levels of literacy among people, and the possibility of typographical or translational error inherent in the written medium, it would seem that the written word is either not actually the most reliable way to transmit information, or, if it is, it is so not by any great degree of advantage over other forms. I would argue, rather, that no one medium is able to effectively communicate everything, but that each form of communication should and must be used in tandem to fully express so great an experience as preserving a Revelation from God.

So it is by no means unreasonable to presume that there would be a written recording of God’s revelation that is authoritative for His creatures to read and obey; as well as learn this God’s plan of redemption.

Yes, it is reasonable that a God desiring to communicate to creatures who recognise the importance of such communication, and are able to preserve and pass on that communication, would write it down. But to my mind, it is unreasonable to presume that the written revelation is necessarily superior to other forms (or, conversely, that other forms are inherently superior to the written word). In fact, it seems to me that the inherently superior mode of communication between God and Man would be direct, intimate communication. If therefore it is reasonable that there is a God who desires communication with us, and yet we note that this communication is not carried out in the most effective means possible, it must be concluded that there is some obstruction in that communication.

Jacob above assumes that Man has need of redemption, though up until now we have not touched on that need. But we see that the need is there, as evidenced by that obstruction of communication. If nothing else, redemption must involve the removal of that obstruction. Now, if reports are to be taken at face value, then God indeed has broken through that obstruction, revealing not only Himself in the process, but the nature of that obstruction (sin) and the plan to remove it forever (salvation). But there is the rub--it is precisely that obstruction in the communication between God and man that makes such questions of "what does God use to communicate with us?" necessary.

All that is to say that Jacob is not entirely reasonable to assume that the written word is the best medium of communication. Rather, it is a limited and often ineffective method of communication. If God has indeed chosen to use it, to be as effective as it can be, in delivering such an important message, it seems that other media must have been, and still are, used.

That said, given the fact that such a revelation is reasonable, let me give some reasons as to my belief that the Bible is the authoritative, revealed word of God.

Stepping back for one more moment, Jacob has again made a leap in logic. First, we have God communicating. Second, we have man recording that communication. Logically, these are two different actions. The first action is rightly called "The Word of God." The second action is perhaps better described as "Man's record of the Word of God." However, the Christian claim for the Bible is not simply that Man has recorded God's Word in a book, but rather, that this Book is itself directly God's Word. To arrive at this premise, another step must be taken that Jacob has thus far omitted. That step is either God Himself wrote and man transmitted, the Word of God; or, God Himself caused man to write the Word of God.

The first reason I will put forth for the question "Should the Bible be considered an authority concerning God and salvation?" is the fact that it claims to be such an authority.

Jacob again vacillates on his terms. Is the Bible "The Word of God", or simply "an authority concerning God and salvation"? Many things could be considered an authority on God and salvation that are not, in fact, revelations from God. By virtue of Jacob's own pastorate, he himself could be considered such an authority, but he is by no means a Word of God.

Continuing on, Jacob claims that an evidence that the Bible is such an authority is that it makes that claim for itself. This is, however, hardly an effective reason, and Jacob himself does a good job of fairly pointing that out.

Granted, this claim all on its own would not say much for the authority of the Bible. I myself could claim that I am God, all-powerful, all-knowing and almighty. However it wouldn’t take very long to unravel my claim, for someone could simply toss a stone into the air and ask me to keep it from touching the ground without using my hands and I would be found a fool and an imposter. That said, it is nevertheless important to start by noting the fact that the Bible claims this authority. For if it did not claim this authority there would really be no sense in asking the question "is the Bible authoritative?"

Again, though, that the Bible makes the claim to be such does not so much give a reason for us to accept the claim. Rather, it gives us the reason to investigate the claim. As such, I still deny that this counts as a reason, so much as a continuance of Jacob's argument for the reasonability of such a communication of revelation, and a segue into discussing what communiqué is in fact God's.

So let me start by showing a handful of verses from scripture that show the Bible itself claims to be an authority and completely true on everything to which it speaks. In the book of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 the scripture reads:

"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."

The word "scripture" refers directly to the Old Testament. Paul the apostle asserts that the scripture is "inspired by God." A more literal translation from the Greek would render it as "God breathed." So here we have a new Testament author vouching for the Old Testament as God’s word. Another scripture I would point to is 2 Peter 3:15-16 which says:

"...just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction."

Here we have the apostle Peter vouching for the writings of Paul as equal to "the rest of the scriptures." In 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul writes:

"For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe."

And finally Jesus promises in John 16:13 that God the Holy Spirit will come to the apostles and enable them to speak for God in truth.

"But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come."

Again, these Scriptures serve to introduce the idea that God has revealed Himself, given us His Word, and that word is identified with the Scriptures (though not exclusively, as will be demonstrated). 2 Timothy 3:16-17 introduces the concept that Scripture is "inspired" by God, or "God-breathed." This tells us that the Bible views itself as the second of the two options I gave above--that God caused man to record His revelation, and thus that revelation can be rightly called God's Word. The problem is that the Bible is not one cohesive document, but a collection of 73 different books, written over the span of some 1600 years, by at least 50 different authors. 2 Timothy 3:16 includes 46 of those 73 books, and 2 Peter 3:16 equates the 13 epistles of St. Paul, bringing our total to 59 out of 73 books that the Bible claims are inspired, or "God's Word." The Revelation of St. John makes that claim for itself, bringing the total to 60, but that is still half of the New Testament with no direct biblical claim to Divine Inspiration (namely, the four Gospels, Acts, Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude). In fact, the claim that St. Paul's letters are on the same level as the rest of Scripture comes from one of these books which do not claim such inspiration for themselves!

In His book "Lectures in Systematic Theology" Henry C. Thiessen says regarding statements such as "Thus says the Lord" or "the word of the Lord came to Joel" and "for the Lord speaks" that "It is claimed that statements like these occur more that 3,800 times in the Old Testament. Thus the Old Testament claims to be a revelation from God." (Thiessen 49) That said, the Bible claims to be authoritative and the word of God in both the Old and New testament.

Thiessen's statement does not resolve anything, either, since not every book in the Old Testament contains the phrase "Thus says the Lord" or other variations. The simple fact is that the books that belong to the Bible are not, strictly speaking, self-authenticating. Even if they were, it would not get us farther than a charge of "circular reasoning." But the fact is that the Bible was not given to us leather-bound with gilded pages and a table of contents. Thus, claims that the Bible calls itself the Word of God only goes so far--and not very far at that. Other reasons must be a significant factor.

Another evidence that backs up the Bible’s claim to authority and as the word of God, is its incredible unity despite the fact that "Although written by some forty different authors over a period of about 1,600 years, the Bible is one book. It has one doctrinal system, one moral standard, one plan of salvation, one program of the ages." (Thiessen 46) For this to be so, this fact in itself testifies to a divine authority guiding not only the writing of scripture but guarding it throughout the years and bringing it together into on compilation.

This is indeed a testament to the supernatural protection and transmission of the Bible, and perhaps the most logical evidence of Divine origin. Note, however, that the guided compilation of Scripture is at the same time a testament to the Word of God external to the Scriptures, functioning in the Church who compiled it. After all, what good would God's written Word be if it had never been compiled and declared to in fact be His Word? The very fact that God's Word needed compilation points to Authority outside of and encompassing that written Word.

Not one time has a supposed contradiction within scripture been brought forth that hasn’t been given a satisfactory answer. Most times it is simply a matter of false interpretation that brings forth a supposed contradiction. Sometimes it’s a lack of knowledge of what the scripture teaches. For instance I was once challenged by a self proclaimed atheist by these two verses.

Psalm 97:2 "Thick dark Clouds and darkness surround Him;
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne."

1 John 1:5 "This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all."

The supposed contradiction was that in one place the Bible teaches that God dwells in the midst of darkness, but then says that God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. The explanation is actually fairly simple however. Psalm 139:7-12 says:

"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night," Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You."

The Bible teaches the omni-presence of God or in other words that God is everywhere all at the same time. Other supposed contradictions sometimes come from a lack of understanding the poetic language of certain parts of the Bible (like the book of Psalms for instance). Others are yet more technical and it takes word studies of the original languages of the Bible in order to sort it all out. Yet it can always be sorted out.

While this is, of course, true, it is not so much a reason to accept the Bible as a rebuttal against those who reject it on the grounds of contradiction. And of course, each example would have to be tried on a per example basis to effectively demonstrate the truth of Jacob's claim and keep it from remaining an unproven assertion. The burden is, of course, on those who would offer the objection, to demonstrate the alleged contradiction.

Now that we have looked at some arguments for the Bible as being an authoritative book using the Bible’s words itself, let us look at some more "outside" arguments as well. One such argument that can be made for the authority of the Bible is the apparent indestructibility of the Bible throughout the years. "When we recall that only a very small percentage of books survive more than a quarter of a century, that a much smaller percentage last for a century, and that only a very small number live a thousand years, we at once realize that the Bible is a unique book." (Theissen 45) The Bible is a book that has been the object of affection for millions who have known it to be the word of God, while at the same it has been the object of wrath from those who have viewed it as anything but.

While this is indeed true, the same case could be made for the Hindu and Buddhist scriptures and the Qur'an, all of which claim to be authorities on God, and at least one of which claims for itself Divine Inspiriation.

There has been multiple attempts throughout the last 2,000 years to wipe the Bible out of existence. There was an attempt by Roman emperor Diocletian who "by a royal edict in 303 A.D., demanded that every copy of the Bible be destroyed by fire."(Theissen 45) The persecution was so intense many Christians were killed and so many copies of the Bible were destroyed that the emperor actually claimed victory and thought that he had destroyed Christianity forever. Indeed all that he effectively did was drive the Christians into hiding for a time, but the Bible was preserved.

In fact, it was in response to this persecution that Christianity really seriously began examining the question of the inspiration of the New Testament. While the four Gospels, Acts, and the thirteen epistles of Paul, as well as 1 John, had been accepted quite early on, the remaining books were viewed more spuriously, along with other books, such as the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas. As well, there were other devout books that were never regarded as Canonical, but were still used widely in the Church. When the Emperor demanded that the Scriptures be turned over and destroyed, the question on the minds of the Christians were "Which books are okay to give up, and which ones will I be in danger of Hell for allowing to be burned?" Thus we again see the authority of the Church on this issue after Diocletian, in determining exactly what was in fact "God's Word", and what was merely devout reading.

Fast forward to the middle-ages, the state church was corrupted to the point that the Bible was not allowed to be read by anyone who wasn’t approved by the church.

And here we have the major problems with Jacob's treatment of the facts of history that prompted me to respond to this paper. Jacob asserts that the "State Church" was corrupted. Which "state church" was that? The Catholic Church? What evidence of corruption was there? And how does that tie in to the fact that the Bible was "not allowed to be read by anyone who wasn't approved by the church"?

The fact is that throughout history, the Bible was not arbitrarily forbidden to the public, except in those times when the Church viewed it as being dangerous--namely, in the face of various and influential heresies.

(1) During the course of the first millennium of her existence, the Church did not promulgate any law concerning the reading of Scripture in the vernacular. The faithful were rather encouraged to read the Sacred Books according to their spiritual needs (cf. St. Irenaeus, "Adv. haer.", III, iv).

(2) The next five hundred years show only local regulations concerning the use of the Bible in the vernacular. On 2 January, 1080, Gregory VII wrote to the Duke of Bohemia that he could not allow the publication of the Scriptures in the language of the country. The letter was written chiefly to refuse the petition of the Bohemians for permission to conduct Divine service in the Slavic language. The pontiff feared that the reading of the Bible in the vernacular would lead to irreverence and wrong interpretation of the inspired text (St. Gregory VII, "Epist.", vii, xi). The second document belongs to the time of the Waldensian and Albigensian heresies. The Bishop of Metz had written to Innocent III that there existed in his diocese a perfect frenzy for the Bible in the vernacular. In 1199 the pope replied that in general the desire to read the Scriptures was praiseworthy, but that the practice was dangerous for the simple and unlearned ("Epist., II, cxli; Hurter, "Gesch. des. Papstes Innocent III", Hamburg, 1842, IV, 501 sqq.). After the death of Innocent III, the Synod of Toulouse directed in 1229 its fourteenth canon against the misuse of Sacred Scripture on the part of the Cathari: "prohibemus, ne libros Veteris et Novi Testamenti laicis permittatur habere" (Hefele, "Concilgesch", Freiburg, 1863, V, 875). In 1233 the Synod of Tarragona issued a similar prohibition in its second canon, but both these laws are intended only for the countries subject to the jurisdiction of the respective synods (Hefele, ibid., 918). The Third Synod of Oxford, in 1408, owing to the disorders of the Lollards, who in addition to their crimes of violence and anarchy had introduced virulent interpolations into the vernacular sacred text, issued a law in virtue of which only the versions approved by the local ordinary or the provincial council were allowed to be read by the laity (Hefele, op. cit., VI, 817).

(3) It is only in the beginning of the last five hundred years that we meet with a general law of the Church concerning the reading of the Bible in the vernacular. On 24 March, 1564, Pius IV promulgated in his Constitution, "Dominici gregis", the Index of Prohibited Books. According to the third rule, the Old Testament may be read in the vernacular by pious and learned men, according to the judgment of the bishop, as a help to the better understanding of the Vulgate. The fourth rule places in the hands of the bishop or the inquisitor the power of allowing the reading of the New Testament in the vernacular to laymen who according to the judgment of their confessor or their pastor can profit by this practice. Sixtus V reserved this power to himself or the Sacred Congregation of the Index, and Clement VIII added this restriction to the fourth rule of the Index, by way of appendix. Benedict XIV required that the vernacular version read by laymen should be either approved by the Holy See or provided with notes taken from the writings of the Fathers or of learned and pious authors. It then became an open question whether this order of Benedict XIV was intended to supersede the former legislation or to further restrict it. This doubt was not removed by the next three documents: the condemnation of certain errors of the Jansenist Quesnel as to the necessity of reading the Bible, by the Bull "Unigenitus" issued by Clement XI on 8 Sept., 1713 (cf. Denzinger, "Enchir.", nn. 1294-1300); the condemnation of the same teaching maintained in the Synod of Pistoia, by the Bull "Auctorem fidei" issued on 28 Aug., 1794, by Pius VI; the warning against allowing the laity indiscriminately to read the Scriptures in the vernacular, addressed to the Bishop of Mohileff by Pius VII, on 3 Sept., 1816. But the Decree issued by the Sacred Congregation of the Index on 7 Jan., 1836, seems to render it clear that henceforth the laity may read vernacular versions of the Scriptures, if they be either approved by the Holy See, or provided with notes taken from the writings of the Fathers or of learned Catholic authors. The same regulation was repeated by Gregory XVI in his Encyclical of 8 May, 1844. In general, the Church has always allowed the reading of the Bible in the vernacular, if it was desirable for the spiritual needs of her children; she has forbidden it only when it was almost certain to cause serious spiritual harm Catholic Encyclopedia--Scripture
As such, it is not true at all that in the Middle Ages, the Bible was forbidden from the laity. It was, in fact, only certain people in certain regions who were forbidden, for a brief time. After the Middle Ages, in the Modern Church, there were further rules regarding who could read the Scriptures--but again, reading wasn't forbidden.

The church claimed that only the priests could interpret scripture and it was not for laymen.

This again is a slight mischaracterisation of Catholic understanding of Scripture. First of all, it is true that the Church reserves the right to Authoritatively Interpret the Scriptures to itself. It claims this right for a few reasons: 1) Because it is the Church that Christ founded in order to propagate the Gospel and be His Witness. 2) It is to the Church that Christ gave His authority to do so. 3) Scripture itself teaches that it is not to be interpreted by just anyone (2 Peter 2:20; 3:15-17). Since it is the Church which is the Body of Christ, and the pillar and foundation of the truth (Ephesians 4:15-16; 1 Tim 3:15), and since it is the Church that compiled and declared canonical those very Scriptures, it is evident that the Church also has authority to interpret those Scriptures aright. That does not mean that the Bible is "not for laymen" but simply that the interpretation of the Bible is not for laymen.
At any rate, such is the case. Protestants read the Bible; Catholics do not: and why? "We need not go far for a reason," say the Protestants; "the Protestant religion is in the Bible, the Catholic is not; therefore Protestants are urged to read the Bible to confirm them in the truth of Protestantism, while Catholics are forbidden to read it; lest they should discover the falsehood of Catholicism." This theory certainly accounts for the facts in question, and in the way most satisfactory to those who have framed it; it overlooks, it is true, the strange improbability that the Church should watch over a certain volume from age to age with jealous care, loudly proclaiming to the world that that volume is the inspired word of God, and yet all the while consciously persist in teaching a doctrine contradicted by that inspired word...

Some, however, there my be who really wish to be candid and to see the truth; and to such it may be worth while to explain, one for all, that if Catholics do not read the Bible in the same way as Protestants do, it is not, as Protestants assert, because the teaching of their Church is such as to dread being confronted face to face with Scripture, nor because they less fully believe than any Protestant can do in the inspiration of Scripture; but simply because they do not believe in their own individual inspiration as interpreters of Scripture. Scripture they well know can make no mistake; but they are in no way sure that they themselves can make no mistake as to what Scripture means. They believe that there is one authorized interpreter of Scripture, and one alone,--the Holy Catholic Church, which is divinely guarded from all possibility of error, being informed by the same Holy Spirit by whom Scripture was inspired, and therefore alone able to penetrate its real meaning. Her interpretation of it he trusts with unhesitating certainty; while to trust any crude theories he might himself be tempted to form respecting it, would seem to him simply ridiculous. Thus he never dreams of reading Holy Scripture with the view of gathering from it the articles of his belief; indeed, to do so would be to cease at once from being a Catholic in heart; and any one reading Scripture in this spirit, or in danger of doing so, would certainly be forbidden to read it at all, if he desired to continue in the communion of the faithful; for he would be virtually denying that the Church is the sole infallible interpreter of Scripture, whereas the acknowledgment of her as such is the very fundamental principle of Catholicism. Catholics, then, do not study the Scripture to learn their faith, but to grow in holiness; and for this purpose selections from Scripture, or meditations, and devotional works on Scriptural subjects (in which Catholicism is rich beyond what Protestants can imagine), are found to be more useful, and also to give more insight into the real spirit and meaning of Scripture itself, than the unaided study of the entire Bible. It is surely, then, nothing very wonderful that the Bible, as a whole, should be found less frequently in the hands of Catholics than in those of Protestants, whose principle in this matter is altogether opposite. While Catholics acknowledge but one authoritative interpreter, Protestants hold that every man is his own interpreter; that from "the Bible and the Bible only" every man is bound to learn all that he must believe in order to be saved; that if he prays for the help of God's Holy Spirit, this alone, without human aid, will guard him from all material error; that no church, no body of men, no teacher whatever has any Divine authority to interpret Scripture for him; he must do it for himself, and he can. If, then, Protestants must gather for themselves from the bare text of the Bible, the knowledge of those truths which they must believe if they wish to be saved, what can they do, what must they do, but pore and ponder over that text from day to day, and from year to year, so long as life endures? To do this is but to be consistent; but they should not find fault with Catholics for being consistent also...

[W]e must remark, that nothing can be more unjust than the way in which it [this principle of authority] is usually stated by Protestants, as though the parties are opposed to each other were the Bible and the Church. "I hold by my Bible," they say, "and you hold by your Church;" thus representing the Church and the Bible as two hostile fortresses, as it were, flanking the battle-field on either side, to which the contending parties respectively betake themselves. It is no such thing: the real question lies between the Church and the individual, the Bible being the subject-matter common to both; and the point at issue, Who is to interpret the Bible? which the Catholic believes to be the Church, and the Protestant himself; so that "the Church" and "himself" are the parties opposed, not the Church and the Bible. That the Bible is the inspired word of God, Protestants and Catholics are perfectly agreed in believing (Library of Controversy - The Clifton Tracts: Volume 1, How Do We Know What The Bible Means? The Brotherhood of St. Vincent of Paul [pp.5-9]. Emphasis mine).
Only those who were trained to read Latin were even capable of reading the Bible because it had not been translated into the common language of the day.

This again is untrue, as the Scriptures were wont to be translated into the languages of the people as soon as a nation was converted. Even a brief look at the history of the Bible would demonstrate that point.
I have said that people who could read at all in the Middle Ages could read Latin: hence there was little need for the Church to issue the Scriptures in any other language. But as a matter of fact she did in many countries put the Scriptures in the hands of her children in their own tongue. We know from history that there were popular translations of the Bible and Gospels in Spanish, Italian, Danish, French, Norwegian, Polish, Bohemian, and Hungarian for the Catholics of those lands before the days of printing, but we shall confine ourselves to England, so as to refute once more the common fallacy that John Wycliff was the first to place an English translation of the Scriptures in the hands of the English people in 1382.

To anyone that has investigated the real facts of the case, this fondly-cherished notion must seem truly ridiculous; it is not only absolutely false, but stupidly so, inasmuch as it admits of such easy disproof; one wonders that nowadays any lecturer or writer should have the temerity to advance it. Now, observe I am speaking of the days before the printing-press was invented; I am speaking of England, and concerning a Church which did not, and does not, admit the necessity of Bible-reading for salvation; and concerning an age when the production of the Scriptures was a most costly business, and far beyond the means of nearly everybody. Yet we may safely assert, and we can prove, that there were actually in existence among the people many copies of the Scriptures in the English tongue of that day. To begin far back, we have a copy of the work of Caedmon, a monk of Whitby, in the end of the seventh century, consisting of great portions of the Bible in the common tongue. In the next century we have the well-known translations of Venerable Bede, a monk of Jarrow, who died whilst busy with the Gospel of St. John. In the same (eighth) century we have the copies of Eadhelm, Bishop of Sherborne; of Guthlac, a hermit near Peterborough; and of Egbert, Bishop of Holy Island; these were all in Saxon, the language understood and spoken by the Christians of that time. Coming down a little later, we have the free translations of King Alfred the Great who was working at the Psalms when he died, and of Aelfric, Archbishop of Canterbury; as well as popular renderings of Holy Scripture like the Book of Durham, and the Rushworth Gloss and others that have survived the wreck of ages. After the Norman conquest in 1066, Anglo-Norman or Middle-English became the language of England, and consequently the next translations of the Bible we meet with are in that tongue. There are several specimens still known, such as the paraphrase of Orm (About 1150) and the Salus Animae (1250), the translations of William Shoreham and Richard Rolle, hermit of Hampole (died 1349). I say advisedly ‘specimens’ for those that have come down to us are merely indications of a much greater number that once existed, but afterwards perished. We have proof of this in the words of Blessed Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England under Henry VIII who says: ‘The whole Bible long before Wycliff’s day was by virtuous and well-learned men translated into the English tongue, and by good and godly people with devotion and soberness well and reverently read’ (Dialogues III). Again, ‘The clergy keep no Bibles from the laity but such translations as be either not yet approved for good, or such as be already reproved for naught (i.e., bad, naughty) as Wycliff’s was. For, as for old ones that were before Wycliff’s days, they remain lawful and be in some folks’ hand. I myself have seen, and can show you, Bibles, fair and old which have been known and seen by the Bishop of the Diocese, and left in laymen’s hands and women’s too, such as he knew for good and Catholic folk, that used them with soberness and devotion.’ But you will say, that is the witness of a Roman Catholic. Well, I shall advance Protestant testimony also.

The translators of the Authorized Version, in their ‘Preface’, referring to previous translations of the Scriptures into the language of the people, make the following important statements. After speaking of the Greek and Latin Versions, they proceed:

‘The godly-learned were not content to have the Scriptures in the language which they themselves understood, Greek and Latin... but also for the behoof and edifying of the unlearned which hungered and thirsted after righteousness, and had souls to be saved as well as they, they provided translations into the Vulgar for their countrymen, insomuch that most nations under Heaven did shortly after their conversion hear Christ speaking unto them in their Mother tongue, not by the voice of their minister only but also by the written word translated’ (Where We Got the Bible. Henry G. Graham (Chapter 11
Because of this the corrupt leaders in the so-called church there were all kinds of false teachings and heresies floating around with the truth. It wasn’t until the early 1500's when Martin Luther nailed the 95 thesis to the door of the Wittenberg church that the reformation of the church began. That would set off a chain of events that would lead to the division of the protestant’s and Roman Catholics and start the road back to Biblical theology.

There are so many inaccuracies with that paragraph, I hardly know where to begin.
First of all, according to the selfsame Bible which we are defending, Jesus declared His Church to be indestructible (Matthew 16:18); and that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15). What then can Jacob mean when he calls the Church, the "so-called church"? Did the Church cease to be the Church? That would mean Jesus failed to keep His promise! And, when did the Church therefore cease to be the Church? Jacob tells us that it was the corrupt leadership that allowed false teachings and heresies in this time. But that would make Scripture in error in its description of the Church, since it would no longer be the foundation of truth, if it is teaching and permitting heresy!

That there were many heresies then is certainly true. But there have been heresies and false teachings in every age--even Luther's and even our own! That some of the heresies were reactions to the corrupt worldly attitudes of many Church leaders (such as was the motive with the Catharis) is also true. However, the Catholic Church never promulgated heresy, it never approved of the corruption in its ranks, and instead, through all this time it actually worked to defeat the heresies that were ever-present! That Jacob disagrees with many of the Church's teachings is not itself proof that the Church teaches heresy, any more than it is ipso facto proof that Jacob believes heresy. The question is, who has the authority to define what is and what is not heretical? Jacob answers, The Bible. Hence his claim that Luther's reformation began the process of returning to "biblical theology." But does the practice of Sola Scriptura advocated by the Reformers really lead to "Biblical Theology"? I would say that history over the last 500 years has shown that no, in fact, it has not. Rather, Sola Scriptura in practice has led to exactly what the Catholic Church had always warned that it would: Division and Error. For with thousands of Protestant denominations all claiming to practice "Biblical Theology", whose theology based on the Bible are we to believe?

The Bible began to be translated into the language of the common people and the Roman Catholic church attempted to thwart this action by instituting strict punishment on those who would read the scripture or copy it into the common language. Despite such attempts the Bible today is the number one published book in the world of all time. It has been translated into nearly every known language on earth.

This again is simply not true, as Graham quotes St. Thomas More above:
The clergy keep no Bibles from the laity but such translations as be either not yet approved for good, or such as be already reproved for naught as Wycliff's was. For, as for old ones that were before Wycliff's days, they remain lawful and be in some folks' hand. I myself have seen, and can show you, Bibles, fair and old which have been known and seen by the Bishop of the Diocese, and left in laymen's hands and women's too, such as he knew for good and Catholic folk, that used them with soberness and devotion.
It was not in attempt to keep the knowledge of Scripture from the people, but to keep erroneous translations from the people, that prompted the Church's sanctions against translating. This is still the case today, as well, even in Protestant churches. What pastor wants any member of his congregation reading the Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Translation, or the Mormon translation of Scripture? The Church, the pillar and foundation of the truth, is indeed charged with making sure reliable and accurate translations of the Bible are passed down. And in ages past where literacy and education were low, and heresy and deception were high, the Church conducted itself in the only way it knew to keep its faithful safe from error.

Since attempts to destroy and suppress the Bible have failed, the more recent tactics by those who hold no regard for the Bible as God's word have been to attempt to discredit its worth.

While technically not a false statement, lumping The Roman Catholic Church (accused above of trying to conceal or destroy the Bible) together with those who would deny its identity and worth as God's word is an incredibly false notion.

Liberals have made it out to be no more than another book of fairy tales that teach morality. Nevertheless millions around the world continue to uphold the Bible as God’s word and even lay down there lives in communist countries for the truth that it proclaims.

True enough. But to return to the issue, what does the above have to do with the reasonability of the Bible as the Word of God? The mere fact that people don't believe it does not somehow bolster its claims, and neither necessarily does the fact that others are willing to lay down their lives for it.

In my own life I would testify to the Bible as God’s word and final authority regarding truth. The very words leap off of the page as I read about the hopeless situation I am in with my sin and as God reveals His love for me as I read on about what he has done through His son Jesus Christ to rescue me from my helpless state. Since trusting in Christ, who is God revealed to me by the Bible, the words of the Bible have brought me courage, comfort, and conviction. Sometimes its words chastize me when I am in sin, but it also leads me to repentance and forgiveness in my Savior. I would like to think that I too (like countless other Christians before me) would lay down my life for not only my faith in Jesus, but to uphold and protect the words of the living God. In my heart and mind the Bible is beyond any doubt the word of the God who created everything that is, and I believe every word.

Jacob Allee

Jacob's moving personal testimony of how the Bible has and continues to impact his life, beautiful as it is, is not therefore further compelling reason to see it as God's Word. There are many who might agree with his experience (myself included), but many who do not. I could make similar claims about my reading of "The Imitation of Christ" and other devout literature, without at the same time desiring to call it Scripture or God's Word. Martin Luther rejected the Epistle of James, viewing it no better than straw, while John Calvin considered it "divine". Mormons frequently challenge potential converts to prayerfully read the Book of Mormon in the hopes that they will receive "the burning bosom", a similar subjective experience. Subjective experience is not a determinant of truth, least of all a rational one.

As such, Jacob's argument for the reasonability of the Bible being the Word of God begins with the assumption that God, if He exists, would desire to so communicate, and that the written word is the most effective means through which to do that. His specific evidence that the Bible is in fact that communication is that:

A) the Bible says so
To which I replied that this is circular reasoning, and incomplete at that, since not all of the 73 books are so named in the Scripture itself as the Word of God, and so it is not even therefore a complete circle!

B) All 73 books are cohesive despite the multitude of time and authors involved in its writing
Jacob himself would not even own to 73 books, but 66! This raises another question, related to this topic, of not simply How do we know the Bible is God's Word? but How do we know what belongs in the Bible? Other than that question, Jacob's reason for Scripture as God's Word is compelling of itself, especially when supplemented by other reasons.

C) It's indestructibility
When Jacob actually has his historical facts correct, this too is another compelling argument--though not as much as the last, since other books have survived the centuries, and many have had persecutions of their own (such as the Qur'an and the Gnostic Gospels).

D) Personal subjective experience
Again, not a compelling logical reason, and rather on par with the first.

In writing an argumentative essay, it is customary to order one's arguments based on their relative strengths. One's second strongest argument typically appears first, the weakest arguments are usually in the middle, and the strongest argument is saved for last, to give a concluding punch to one's case.

Perhaps Jacob had attempted to follow this format, giving what he felt were his strong and weak points in the appropriate order, yet, on closer examination, he led and concluded with his weakest points, and tucked his relatively stronger ones in the middle.

I have above offered criticisms of Jacob's weaker points, not because I disagree that the Bible is God's Word, or because I believe that it is irrational to believe that, but rather because an irrational defense of rationality is itself irrational. My desire is to bolster faith in God and in His Word, and to demonstrate that such faith is indeed based--nay, firmly entrenched in reason.

Having said so, if indeed there is a God, who is defined as "that which nothing greater can be conceived", then that God would in fact desire to communicate with us, out of love for His creation, in order that we would be able to live according to His Will, that is to say, according to the purpose for which He made us, so that we would be most fulfilled. This, it seems to me, is much greater than a God who is aloof, giving no direction to His creation--allowing them to suffer and struggle through life with no purpose or reason.

This God would communicate with us in the most effective means possible. Ideally, that would be face to face, intimate communication. But we see that this is not the norm in reality. We must therefore conclude that this ideal form of communication is hindered. Now, if God can indeed do anything, then this hinderance must be one more to do with permissiveness than with restraint. That is to say, God must be allowing the barrier to continue. It seems reasonable that the only barrier preventing communication between an Omnipotent God and His Creation is simply the creation's refusal to listen, to respond. It is from this refusal that communication has been hindered.

Through the Original Sin of Adam, he chose to cut communication ties with God. It is not, perhaps, that he wanted this result. It was rather the inevitable result of disobedience to a God who is completely Just (for a Just God is greater than an Unjust God). Through sin, Adam forfeited the life of Grace, of intimacy with God that he once knew. But a Just God who is also Loving would continue to try to reconcile with His Creation, to remove the barrier. And so He continued to communicate to men throughout history, who were willing to respond to Him.

Above, Jacob argues that the most effective way to communicate is through the Written Word, and so evidently God chose that medium. What this fails to take into account, though, is that initially God did not communicate through Scripture. It was, instead, through more direct means of communication. That these moments of communication were later recorded (by God's guidance), does not nullify the fact that God Himself did not begin there, and has never relied exclusively on written text to communicate. As I note above to Jacob's argument, God would most effectively communicate by utilising a variety of media--which, in fact, He has: God has revealed Himself through nature, through verbal conversation, through miraculous signs, through rites and ceremonies, through the arts, as well as through written text. And this list is by no means exhaustive. And all these limited means of communication were simply to help set up and prepare His ultimate plan: to communicate as directly and as ideally as we would let Him, by becoming one of us, to communicate intimately, face-to-face, in the person of Jesus Christ--and, in so doing, to remove the hindrance to communication caused by our continued sin. And it was Jesus again, who commanded that God's Communication to us should be spread, so that all the world would be able to know it.

That the Bible is God's Word follows in part, therefore, from the fact that God desires to communicate with us, and that He desires His communication to be preserved and spread. Setting the Bible apart from other alternative texts claiming to be that communication is its internal cohesiveness, which Jacob has described--the fact that over 50 authors over a span of some 1600 years could write 73 books containing one message, one truth, one plan for the Human Race, and one God who saves from Sin, in such a consistent fashion. Unfortunately, however, the various genres and cultural expressions contained throughout the Bible, as well as the progressive development of God's revelation throughout, gives rise to the accusation of contradictions. This accusation points us to a need unmet in the written text.

That the Bible has survived throughout the eras before Christ, through many persecutions, wars, and exiles of the Jewish people, and, after Christ, survived further persecutions and wars aimed specifically at the destruction of its text--right down to various cultures in our modern age--gives another impressive proof of the supernatural quality of the biblical text. However, though its competition in this arena is far fewer in number, other ancient texts still exist, though they are not in any way supernatural. Further, the fact that the Bible survived not simply because of a supernatural "force field", or any particular divine intervention, but mainly because the people charged with its preservation performed their tasks admirably well, even in the face of such persecutions and death, speaks at least as much for the Bible's protectors as it does for the Bible itself.

What then satisfies these two hanging questions in the above proofs, and gives those proofs their stability in proclaiming the Bible as the Word of God? The answer has already been hinted at--and is mainly this: God has never communicated with His creation exclusively by the Written Word. When Jesus commanded the propagation of the Gospel Message, He did not do so by commanding Scriptures to be written, preserved, or disseminated. Rather, He created a Church, which He identified with His Own Body, and sent them out on His behalf, entrusted with His Authority in order to define, proclaim, and interpret His Word.

It is this Church, therefore, that brings the Word of God to the world, in various forms, as the Body of Christ. Just as God never limited His communication to the world to one medium, neither does His Body. It is the Church that determined what was, and what was not the Word of God--as evidenced by the creation of the Biblical Canon. A lengthly and difficult process, accompanied by prayer on the one side and persecution on the other, finally led to the Church's proclamation that God's Revelation was given in the 73 books which comprise the Bible today. In this action, the Church demonstrated that "The Word of God" contains the Bible, but is itself greater than the Bible, but includes the entire Sacred Tradition passed down by the Apostles and entrusted to the Church as the Body of Christ. This Church, as unified and as indestructible as the Bible it preserves. This Church, as universal as the authors of Scripture, and historically founded by Christ Himself, as His Body. This Church, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
"I would not believe the Gospel unless moved thereto by the Church."
-St. Augustine of Hippo
Gregory Watson

Works Cited:

Theissen, Henry C. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979

New American Standard Bible. Eugene: Harvest House, 1995

Allee, Jacob. The Reasonability of the Bible as the Word of God.

The Brotherhood of St. Vincent of Paul. Library of Controversy - The Clifton Tracts: Volume 1, How Do We Know What The Bible Means? New York: Excelsior Catholic Publishing House, 1854).

Catholic Encyclopedia: Scripture.

Graham, Rev. Henry G. Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church.

(Category: Theology Proper: God in general.
The Scriptures: Scriptural Authority.)


risen_soul said...

don't you have anything better to do with your time? The whol reason I no longer dialouge with you about such things is because you chop up my statements, make assumptions about what I meant and take me out of context, and then refute what you think I'm saying. The "so-called" church I was talking about was the higher archy that called itself the church but didn't reflect the church because of the heresies it was teaching. That doesn't mean that the true church was dead, but what was oftened paraded around as the church was not the true church. I'm not going to get into this any further, it's genuinely not worth the time.


Gregory said...

Well, Jacob, thanks for your harsh words.

Do I have anything better to do with my time than defending the Catholic Faith? Not especially ;)

You claim that the official leaders (the hierarchy) of the Church were teaching heresy, but that the Church still existed, in another form. But there was no other form of the Church then, other than the Catholics, the Orthodox, and the multitude of heresies which the hierarchy combatted! If the Church wasn't the true Church, but there was a true Church, then what was that true Church?

As for chopping up your statements and taking them out of context, I don't see what you mean. All of your words are there, and while I at times took a sentence at a time, it was always with the context of your statements in view.

The fact that I nevertheless disagree with your reasoning has nothing to do with my approach.

As for making assumptions, all I have to go on are your words, and your words, I felt, spoke for themselves in certain areas. If you don't want people to make assumptions about what you meant, then be prepared to be more thorough in your self-expression.

God bless

Hidden One said...

"The whol reason I no longer dialouge with you about such things is because you chop up my statements, make assumptions about what I meant and take me out of context, and then refute what you think I'm saying."

You know, risen_soul, you could make serious progress if you went through and listed all of the spots where Gregory made innaccurate assumptions about what you meant and took you out of context. You see, then, if Gregory is arguing in bad faith, we the readers will know. And if not, he'll take the time (whenever that may occur)to fix up his response, you can have a constructive dialogue. Etiher way, you can't lose...moral support, or constructive dialogue. I know that you probably do not have to much time on your hands, but I, for one, would like to know what you really meant by your original post.

As An Aside: I think that it is a shame when disputes between Christians get personal.

Sincerely in Christ,
Hidden One.

Gregory said...

Hidden One, I completely agree with your sentiments. It's one thing to claim that someone misrepresented you, but another thing to demonstrate it.

If Jacob is right, then I apologise--but since I don't know in what way I have, in fact, done this, there is no way to fix my error and further dialogue.

As it is, I believe my points speak for themselves, even without Jacob's paper. It served primarily as the jumping-off point.

gavin said...

Hey Gregory,
Perhaps the problem is that in your writings you have a style that does not easily demonstrate grace. There is something to be said for supporting brothers and sisters in the faith for the common goal of seeing people won to Christ. Instead this rebuttal you have posted could be construed to suggest that there is no unity between believers.
I'm not trying to bash you here, but as you grow in your apologetic ministry, your ministry will grow in grace as well.

Gregory said...

Grail! Nice to see you around here still.

Your points on grace are well-taken, friend. I was perhaps a bit harsh at points. However, that harshness itself was prompted (as well as the suggestion that there is no unity among believers?) by the fact that in his defence of Scripture, Jacob himself engaged in an unwarranted attack on the Catholic Church, based more on myth and presupposition than on actual historical facts.

I do in fact believe that there is much unity across the Christian world, but that there is also much disunity, as well.

I hope and pray that my apologetic ministry will indeed continue to grow in grace.

Thank you again for your wise comments.
God bless

Christopher J. Freeman said...

Contra Gavin, correction is always a grace. The fact that Jacob is a poor historian does not require that Gregory infuse his writings with enough apologetic tact to prove gracefulness. The grace is conveyed in the truth of the statements, not the stylistic decorations of the article. It doesn't hurt to have a style that renders the truth more easily appreciated, but if that style is not there it does nothing to detract from the grace inherent in the truth of the message.


Gregory said...

Thank you, Christopher.

I will, however, be man enough to admit that my response to Jacob was not always one of love, and since we are to speak that truth in love, my response, all throughout, is not entirely graceful.

It is not entirely graceless, either, but it is not full of grace. For that, I accept Gavin's correction, and yet thank you for your defence and encouragement.

God bless

Phillip Davis said...

I posted a comment on Jacob's blog, and he has to approve it to put it up. I'm wondering if he'll even put it up.

Gregory said...

Hello Phillip! Thanks for visiting the Barque of Peter!

Jacob has, in fact, put up your post (he tends to put up most things that aren't vulgar, even if they disagree with him). Thanks for your thoughtful post and efforts.

His anti-Catholicism certainly is distressing, and while Dave Armstrong (whom I see you're familiar with as well) refuses to engage such persons, I'm still new and have still got the patience to take them to task.

As such, I'll be building on your arguments and replying in detail to Jacob's little tirade.

I should be finished today, and may incorporate your own comments into my paper. Keep a lookout for it!

God bless,
Stop by more often!