R. Scott Clark on "All Heretics Quote Scripture"

R. Scott Clark today responded on his blog to the comment that “all heretics quote Scripture.” It’s a true statement that simply testifies to the universal recognition of the authority of Scripture. It does not prove what its advocates seem to want to imagine that it proves. R. Scott Clark explains:

According to the Reformed churches, the Bible is the Word of God. It norms all norms. Even though it is contrary to the spirit of the modern age we still hold that the Bible is sovereign over the church (contra Rome) and the reader (contra rationalism and subjectivism). We say that the Scriptures produced the church (not the reverse). The Scriptures fundamentally are the Word of God. That Word was given through human authors but that process of revelation was superintended by God the Spirit. It was Spirit speaking through prophets and apostles. There is a real humanity to Scripture but that humanity does not norm the divine authority, inspiration, integrity, or truthfulness of Scripture.

The churches do not create the canon or the Scriptures. Rather the churches simply receive the Scriptures and the canon. The Scriptures are divinely formed. Contra Rome the authority of the church is ministerial not magisterial. The same principle applies to the autonomous modern rationalist or subjectivist.

It’s true that the Bible must be read. This is where the church enters. Who gets to say what the Scriptures mean? Is it the sovereign rationalist or the sovereign subjectivist? No, it is the divinely instituted and constituted community of interpretation. Does that community (the church) norm the revelation? No. The revelation norms the community. At the same time we are not skeptical. The Scriptures can be understood because they are meant to be understood and interpreted and we are constituted to read and interpret Scripture. We do so, the Spirit helping us, illuminating the Word for us and witness to us that what the Scriptures teach is true.

I would only tweak his statement “the Scriptures produced the church” by pointing out that strictly speaking it was revelation that produced the church, and that the revelation that produced the church has been inscripturated now, though it was in the process of being inscripturated during the apostolic age.

As far as the origin of the quotation goes, Vincent of Lerins was one of the early people to use a line like that one in his Commonitory. But the phrase is used (in a very different sense) today by apologists for Rome, such Bryan Cross, who wrote:

Because the essence of Scripture is not the letter but the meaning, it is not enough to have Scripture as support for one’s doctrine, since “all heretics quote Scripture.”

But this statement presupposes that the letter of Scripture does not convey the meaning of Scripture. Otherwise, it should be sufficient to have the letter of Scripture as support, if the letter and the meaning are harmonious and the letter of Scripture is not ambiguous.

Bryan does not plainly state that he thinks Scripture is ambiguous, but David DeJong in the comment box at Called to (Roman) Communion express the matter straight:

As soon as you recognize that Scripture is ambiguous and that there is not going to be interpretive agreement on every issue (e.g. baptism) and that sincere Christians can sincerely disagree, then you need to account for that in your construal of “essentials.”

It is an old error, one Irenaeus identified with the Gnostics in his “Against Heresies,” as we’ve previously seen (link).


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