Archive for the ‘Arguments’ Category

Worst Argument Against Sola Scriptura

July 18, 2009

There are many bad arguments against Sola Scriptura. There are many terrible arguments made to suggest that none of the early church fathers taught or practiced Sola Scriptura. But there is, in my opinion, one worst argument.

That worst argument is this:

1) Reformed apologist demonstrates that early church father X taught Sola Scriptura.

2) Person opposed to Sola Scriptura responds: Oh, so you think that ECF X got “Y” from Scripture alone? Where “Y” is some belief allegedly held by ECF X, but one that we don’t accept.

3) The enhancement of this terrible argument is when it turns out belief “Y” is not actually what ECF X taught.

4) The further enhancement is when the person opposed to Sola Scriptura elsewhere makes the claim that Sola Scriptura leads to doctrinal diversity.

There are several ways we can respond:

1) We can point out that just because we have the same rule of faith doesn’t mean we agree on every single doctrine.

2) We can point out that there is no logical connection between Sola Scriptura, as such, and doctrine “Y”.

3) We can ask the person to try to demonstrate to us how ECF X got doctrine Y.

We could also

* dispute that ECF X taught “Y”, where appropriate (obviously, if they did teach Y, then this is not an option), but that gets the argument off on a tangent (which may be what some of the folks who use this worst argument may hope);

* point out that the ECFs were not perfectly consistent with themselves (sometimes they contradicted not only other ECFs but also themselves); and

* ask what alternative to Sola Scriptura they think the particular ECF actually practiced/believed/taught (this is not a direct rebuttal, of course, but it does provide an opportunity to learn from the critic – after all, it is possible that our claim was mistaken, as God nowhere promises that all the teachers of the church will teach all the truth all the time).


Response to Nick Regarding Spiral Argument and Private Judgment

March 5, 2009

Nick has provided a response to my rebuttal of Karl Keating’s “Spiral Argument” (link).

Nick wrote: “I think you should distinguish between private judgment and a circular argument. Each of those terms correspond to different issues.”

That’s true. They do often correspond to different issues. The come together, however, because the spiral argument employs private judgment.

Nick wrote: “Private judgment involves looking at some data and coming to a personal conclusion. You are right to point out that everyone must engage in private judgment.”


Nick wrote: “A circular argument is when something that is trying to be proven true is in fact (re)stated as it’s own evidence/witness.”

That’s more or less the case. It could be worded other ways.

Nick wrote: “Private judgment, at least to some degree, is necessary and alright. A circular argument, which is not the same thing, is neither necessary nor alright.”

ok …

Nick wrote: “The “spiral argument” is not circular, but does require private judgment.”

I explained why it is circular in my original article. Unfortunately, your comment does not address the explanation found there.

Nick wrote: “Basing the Bible’s inspiration on it’s own testimony is circular and no different than what a Mormon does with the Book of Mormon.”

a) The reason why the Bible says that it is inspired is so that we will believe it. Any other reason for why the Bible says it is borderline irrational. The reason that the Bible makes statements is so that they will be believed, as can be seen for example, from John’s Gospel:

John 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

b) Believing that the Bible is inspired because the Bible says it, isn’t employing a circular argument. It’s not an argument at all. It’s a proclamation. The Bible proclaims the truth, and it can be believed or not.

c) If one calls that a circular argument, though, then – as I pointed out in my post, it turns out that similar circularity exists within the spiral argument.

d) The comparison to the Mormons is irrelevant. We don’t accept things based on whether Mormons reject them, and we don’t reject things based on whether Mormons accept them. Getting into what Mormons actually believe to dispute this is a waste of time that I won’t bother with, right now.

Nick: “When you said: “Rather than simply accepting the Bible as Inspired Word of God based on one private judgment, this “spiral” argument requires one to employ private judgment over and over and over again.” This is a mixing of circular argument and private judgment.”

No, it’s not. It’s a comment that focuses on the advantage of a “smaller circle” if a “circle” must be used and if “private judgment” is bad.

Nick: “Catholics are not deriving Church authority nor Scripture’s inspiration from a circular argument, but we are engaging in private judgment.”

I explained how circular reasoning is used in the original article.

Nick: “We are looking at the historical evidence and coming to a conclusion.”

The Bible is itself the primary historical evidence relied upon. Why not just say, “We are looking at the Bible and coming to a conclusion”? I think it is partly because that is what “Protestants” are being faulted for.

Furthermore, the Bible (or equivalent evidence) as historical evidence doesn’t lead one to the issue of infallibility/inspiration. What I mean to say is that the Bible as historical evidence can substantiate a claim that Jesus told the apostles to found churches. Even if we assume (for the sake of the argument) that the Bible disclosed Jesus founding a single, globally-scoped institutional church, that doesn’t get us to infallibility/inspiration of that entity – and it cannot. The infallibility/inspiration is not, strictly speaking, a question of history.

Nick wrote: “We could be very wrong in our conclusion, either because the evidence is bad or we miscalculated, or both, but that is not at all the same as a circular argument.”

No, the circularity comes in as I stated in my original article.

Nick wrote: “The real issue is who can present the stronger argument and that usually rests upon who’s argument requires us to assume the least.”

One real issue is whether the Bible requires an infallible interpreter in order to be reliably understood.

Another real issue is whether the Bible anywhere teaches that “the church” is infallible.

The truth of the matter is the real issue, not the “strength of the argument.”

Nick: “An element of faith (private judgment) is certainly always present, but not all arguments are equal.”


Nick: “A Mormon accepting the Book of Mormon on ‘burning in the bosom’ is not as strong an argument as a Christian looking to historical evidence that the Scriptures were preserved (among other factors).”

There is some faulty parallelism here. The historical evidence of the Scripture’s preservation tells us that we know what it said when it was written. It doesn’t tell us whether the Scripture is inspired or not. Since the Book of Mormon was only recently written, that’s essentially a non-issue. There’s no historical way to investigate the golden plates claim to any earlier authorship date than Joseph Smith’s own life.

But this “strength of the argument” issue is rather subjective. Some people find one argument strong (i.e. it persuades them better) and another weak – for others it is reversed.

Certainly, we could probably agree on certain defects that make arguments less persuasive in general. If reliance on private judgment is bad or if faith is bad, we can evaluate two arguments to see whether one of the two arguments uses “more” faith or “more” private judgment.

Nick: “Moving onto a specifically Catholic-Protestant issue, the canon of Scripture, each side must engage in private interpretation.”

Each person must exercise private judgment. It’s not necessarily a question of interpretation, as such.

Nick: “The ‘deciding issue’ is which side presents a more coherent case for why one canon is accepted over another.”

The deciding issue should be “which side is right.” The argument is the demonstration of that issue.

Nick: “Pointing to Fathers and Councils who share a particular canon is far more of an argument/evidence from which to based your private judgment on than claiming the various books give a inner conviction of their inspiration.”

The argument on the canon is virtually never “I have an inner conviction.” So, again, there is faulty parallelism being employed. I assume that you intend to address “Protestant” position from the context of your comment, but your comment doesn’t actually address the arguments used by “Protestants” regarding the canon.

Additionally, there is conflation of categories here. The ultimate answer to the question, “How do you know that Isaiah is canonical?” for the Reformed believer is that the Holy Spirit persuades him. On the other hand, the ultimate answer to the same question from the perspective of someone within Catholicism would seem to be, because Trent said so. But if we then pressed that issue back further, we start running into the same problem (if it is a problem), that some things are accepted by faith.

Nick wrote: “Again, a Catholic could be totally wrong when it comes to interpreting evidence, but that does not make it circular.”

That was never my argument in the original article.


2 Thess 2:15 – Comments Answered

April 2, 2008


“Reginald de Piperno” has provided a post that appears to be aimed at objecting to my previous post on 2 Thessalonians 2:15, available here. I appreciate that he read my post and took the time to respond.


As best I understand, RdP grants 1(a) and seems to grant 1(b) although he wants to define “gospel” broadly. RdP makes a claim of apparent self-contradiction, but RdP appears to have overlooked that an area can be defined other ways than by its boundaries. We may not know the precise content of Paul’s preaching that is referenced, but we know the topic and the topic is the gospel.

RdP also appears to grant (2). RdP doesn’t seem to directly engage (3), although he goes on to discuss Impacts (a)-(d).

RdP appears to grant (a)-(b). It’s unclear whether RdP grants (c) … he says he doesn’t see its relevance. Perhaps we should presume he does grant (c), as he doesn’t provide any reason not to accept it. Finally, with respect to impact (d), RdP says that Catholics wouldn’t say it that way … but I suppose that RdP doesn’t directly disagree with (d).

RdP seems to try, in the course of mostly agreeing with what I had written, to insert various contentions that Catholicism does not abuse the text, because (apparently) Catholicism doesn’t disagree with what I had written. However, RdP ends his consideration of the post, with the Impacts, without getting to the three specific abuses. It would be interesting to hear whether RdP would agree that those identified abuses are actually abuses or not.

I’m not overly worried about the inserted dialog provided by RdP. Presumably the underlying concerns expressed in RdP’s dialog may be set aside by reference to several concrete examples of how the verse is put to use by “traditionist” commentators.

Concrete Examples

I provide the following example abuses of the verse. I know that some of these are from fairly popular Catholic sites, so hopefully no one will think I picked only the most obscure or atypical Catholic presentations. In one or two instances, the person may even be a non-Catholic … I was focused more on the content and error than on the person presenting it:

1. “Well for starters, look in your Bible in Thessalonians: [quotation of 2Thes 2:15] This verse is telling you to honor the traditions which have been handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation.” (Source)

Antidote: No, it’s telling the Thessalonians to hold fast to the gospel preached to them by Paul. See “Specific Abuse 3.”

2. “Well I guess if Sola Scriptura is correct then II Thessalonians 2, 14 would be incorrect then. [quotation of 2Thes 2:14/15, depending on your version] We all know that St. Paul is correct though.” (Source)

Antidote: Paul is correct, but 2 Thessalonians 2:14/15 doesn’t indicate that the Thessalonians are to hold to any extra-scriptural doctrine. See “Specific Abuse 2.”

3. “Divine Revelation “By Letter” (2 Thess 2:15): The Bible … The Bible itself does not define what it includes; nor does it claim to contain all that God revealed. Paul affirms that some of what is handed on–the way Jews passed on revelation–was “by letter,” in writing.” (Source)

Antidote: Paul is not distinguishing between Scriptural and oral traditions, but between his preaching and written admonitions. We’re passing over the canon issue for now, and we agree that the Bible does not claim to contain all that God revealed. That sentence is just provided for context. See “Specific Abuse 2.”

4. “2 Thess. 2:15 – the fullness of the Gospel is the apostolic tradition which includes either teaching by word of mouth or by letter. Scripture does not say “letter alone.” The Catholic Church has the fullness of the Christian faith through its rich traditions of Scripture, oral tradition and teaching authority (or Magisterium).” (Source)

Antidote: There’s simply no way to a get a tripartite division from 2 Thess. 2:15, even with the most violent of abuse. Furthermore, Paul does not in any way suggest that Scripture does not itself of itself contain the entirety of the fullness of the Christian faith. Instead, Paul’s direction is specific to the brethren to whom he preached the gospel at Thessalonica. One interesting aspect of this particular explanation is that it appears to recognize the relationship between the gospel and “traditions” mentioned in the verse. If you try to make “the gospel” to broad a category, you are going to run into difficulties in another area: something that may or may not be appreciated by this comment’s author. This comment doesn’t fit neatly into one of the example specific abuses mentioned in my original post.

5. “FACT: There is something in Scripture advocating reliance on both Scripture as well as oral Tradition [citation to 2 Thess 2:15 among other verses]. … the same Scripture which testifies that Christian truth comes to us in two ways: through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (2 Thess 2:15). ” (Source)

Antidote: This one is more subtle. It’s actually not wrong until you understand that the author is suggesting that “oral Tradition” is as reliable as Scripture, and that Paul is speaking of oral Tradition in the abused verse. Of course, the verse says neither of those things, though it is the case that we can and do rely on the preached word and on oral traditions. We do not rely on them as though they were a rule of faith, but then again we are not preached to by apostles. See “Specific Abuse 2.”

6. “This means that Scripture itself is tradition and it is part of the greater category of Tradition (cf. 2 Thess. 2:15). Both means of transmitting the deposit of faith, Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, are bound closely together and communicate one with the other.” (Source)

Antidote: In fairness, again, this one is rather nuanced. For one thing, the author uses the “cf.” tag, which means we shouldn’t necessarily assume that he’s saying the verse says just what he’s claimed. On the other hand, considering the page as a whole, it seems to be what the author is trying to convey. If so, then he’s abusing the text – because it does not establish the Roman Catholic categories that the article presupposes in much of its discussion. Again, this doesn’t neatly fall into one of the specific examples of abuse mentioned in my original post.

7. “The point, however, is that the things taught – not merely written – are deemed to be of equal authority with the epistle. And it is nothing but question-begging to insist that their content is the same.” (Source)

Antidote: The verse doesn’t say that the things taught are of equal authority with those written. It says that the Thessalonians should hold fast to the Gospel Paul taught, whether he did so by word or epistle. It does not say that Paul was creating general categories (such as the Roman Catholic categories) or that Paul was contrasting all things written with a separate category of all unwritten things. Reading those “traditionist” categories into the verse is question-begging. Furthermore, the question that is raised is not whether what Paul preached was coterminous with what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. Instead, the question raised is whether Paul preached some “gospel” that expands beyond the 4-in-1 gospel, the acts of the apostles, and the rest of Scripture. To assert that the “traditions” commended by Paul in anyway exceed the content of Scripture would also be question-begging. This particular comment seems closest to “Specific Abuse 2,” in my original post.

Conclusion / Warnings

As a general caveat, I encourage skeptical readers to click through to the pages linked as “source” material for the quotations provided. Perhaps you will disagree about the way that I’ve quoted the material.

Furthermore, just because the people who made the comments above are (or some of them are or were or called themselves) Catholic, doesn’t make any of their positions “the Catholic position.” That’s not how Catholic theology works. Nevertheless, they are arguments that Catholics try to use to justify acceptance of what are – upon a reasonable inquiry into the historical data – traditions of men.

Love God – Don’t Sin – and Don’t Make Excuses

March 28, 2008

I read some rather feeble responses in letters to the editor at PSU today, on the topic of the Bible’s testimony against homosexuality. (link)

Let me summarize the flaws in the letters.

1. Misuse of “Love one another.”

Apparently the author of the first letter thinks that convicting others of sin is unloving.

But Scripture says:

Revelation 3:19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

We can show our love for one another by correcting one another’s faults. Of course, we must do so in a loving manner, but the command to love one another is qualified this way:

John 13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

Jesus called people to repentance, and we can show love by humbly following in his footsteps.

2. Failure to Distinguish Between Moral and Ceremonial Old Testament Law

Oddly, the author of the first letter groups homosexuality (which he apparently recognizes is condemned in the Old Testament) together with “eating pork or shrimp, wearing linen and wool at the same time, commingling crops and premarital sex.”

Except for the “premarital sex” item, all those items are ceremonial law restrictions. In contrast, the prohibition on extramarital sex (including both premarital sex generally, and homosexual sex in particular) is a feature of the moral law, summarized in the Decalogue under the heading, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

The ceremonial law has passed away, having been fulfilled in Christ.

3. Argument from Silence / Argument from Failure to Appreciate Christ as Logos

The author of the first letter argues, “Jesus never spoke of homosexuality.”

Presumably the person meant that none of Jesus’ recorded speeches in the gospels deal with homosexuality. But Scripture notes, first of all, that not everything Jesus said is recorded:

John 21:25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

But, Jesus did speak against sexual lust:

Matthew 5:28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

It would seem odd to imagine someone so presumptuous as to argue that Jesus meant only that heterosexual lust was inappropriate.

4. Argument from Human Weakness

The author of the first letter concludes: “Humans are incapable of being perfect. That goes same for those who are in the Bible — both teaching and being taught. Those who taught also failed in some parts of their biblical life.”

This is mostly true (the perfect teacher, Christ, excepted). It’s quite irrelevant to the issue, though. We ought to be careful not to be puffed up with pride because the sin of homosexuality is not alluring to us, because we should be aware of our own failures in other areas. Nevertheless, homosexual desires and behaviors are sinful. Nobody’s perfect – true; which proves the high standard of the moral law.

5. Argument from “Some/Many Scholars Say”

The author of the second letter promotes a tenuous theory that the Old Testament prohibition on homosexuality (as well as many of the ceremonial laws) were added around 7 B.C. He claims that “many religious scholars” accept this theory. I would be mildly surprised if the number of such scholars couldn’t fit in a phone booth. There are some “scholars” who will write anything in order to get published. If such scholars (who make the 7 B.C. claim) even exist, their scholarship is laughable in the extreme. The ancient origin of the Old Testament is well and abundantly established.

6. Argument from “You believe the wrong parts of the Bible”

The author of the second letter shows his true colors pretty quickly when he says: “I do not have a problem with Christians who preach the major themes of love and the golden rule, but when a person rashly adopts every thought presented in the Bible without any questioning, they will face judgment from me.”

The problem is, Scripture as the rule of faith is a central tenet of Christianity. If the Bible says it, then we believe it, and that ends the matter. That doesn’t mean that we don’t search thoroughly to determine what the Bible says. We do search. But, when we follow what Scripture says, as best we understand it.

That’s how we submit ourselves to God’s revelation in Scripture. That’s how we love God. After all, as Scripture says:

Exodus 20:6 (and Deuteronomy 5:10) And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;

Deuteronomy 11:1 Therefore thou shalt love the LORD thy God, and keep his charge, and his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments, alway.

Deuteronomy 11:22 For if ye shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you, to do them, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, and to cleave unto him;

Deuteronomy 19:9 If thou shalt keep all these commandments to do them, which I command thee this day, to love the LORD thy God, and to walk ever in his ways; then shalt thou add three cities more for thee, beside these three:

Deuteronomy 30:16 In that I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the LORD thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it.

Joshua 22:5 But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Daniel 9:4 And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments;

John 14:23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.

1 John 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.

1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

Or, most simply of all:

John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

May God give us grace to keep his commandments,


TurretinFan, the Dead, Homeless Atheist

March 26, 2008

One frequent tired argument that one hears from atheists, is that we monotheists are basically atheists, because we reject all of the gods, except one.

The problem for the atheist is that this is rather like saying that a person is homeless who has only one home, because he lacks all the other homes that there are. It’s worse than that, though, because there is no other god besides God, the other “gods” are just mute idols, demons, and figments of imagination.

In a way it’s rather like saying that we are dead, because the only thing that differentiates us from being dead is that we are alive.

According to such reasoning, I would be a dead, homeless atheist, though I live, have a place to lay my head, and trust in the true and living God. It’s a throwaway argument, but its been thrown enough times that we must be ready to bat it away.


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