Archive for the ‘Perspicuity’ Category

The Positive and Negative Claims of Sola Scriptura

April 1, 2013

I’ve noted a number of Roman Catholics who seem to think that the advocates of Sola Scriptura need to prove that Scripture teaches “Scripture alone is the infallible rule of faith and life.” I understand (I think) this mindset – if you’re advocating “Sola Scriptura” you should be able to prove it. Part of the problem is that some Roman Catholics don’t seem to understand that “sola scriptura” is a name for a bundle of doctrines. There are both positive and negative positions within that bundle.

The primary positive claims of Sola Scriptura are that:

a) Everything we need to know for salvation is taught in Scripture. (Sufficiency)
b) Everything necessary for salvation is taught clearly in Scripture. (Perspicuity)

We could summarize these as simply “sufficiency.”

The negative claim of Sola Scriptura is that there is nothing else like it. This is a universal negative. But there are also specific negative claims, such as:

c) Teachers that teach contrary to Scripture should be rejected. (Primacy)
d) The Bible does not err. (Inerrancy)

That the Scripture teach (a)-(d) really should be enough for anyone who properly understands Sola Scriptura. The general negative claim of “and there is no other like it” does not have the same kind of burden. In other words, having established that the Scriptures are an infallible rule of faith, we can be content to let all comers try to prove that their supposedly supplemental rule of faith is also one. It’s not strictly necessary for us to remove that possibility antecedently.

Indeed, it is illogical for people to suppose that the position of sola scriptura would be defeated, simply because the negative part of the claim were unproven. Until some other infallible rule is established, Scripture alone is the default position.

I mention all of the above without getting into the question of whether the general negative claim can be established from Scripture, but rather simply observing the lack of consequences in the case that it could not. In short, sola scriptura is not discredited until either the sufficiency of Scripture is disproven or some other rule of faith established.



A Half Century for the Emergence of the Council

February 17, 2013

One of the supposed benefits of Rome’s councils is that they allegedly provide a clarity that is missing from Scripture. But those who think this should consider Benedict XVI’s comments on Vatican II:

I would now like to add yet a third point: there was the Council of the Fathers – the real Council – but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council apart, and the world perceived the Council through the latter, through the media. Thus, the Council that reached the people with immediate effect was that of the media, not that of the Fathers.

We know that this Council of the media was accessible to everyone. Therefore, this was the dominant one, the more effective one, and it created so many disasters, so many problems, so much suffering: seminaries closed, convents closed, banal liturgy … and the real Council had difficulty establishing itself and taking shape; the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council. But the real force of the Council was present and, slowly but surely, established itself more and more and became the true force which is also the true reform, the true renewal of the Church. It seems to me that, 50 years after the Council, we see that this virtual Council is broken, is lost, and there now appears the true Council with all its spiritual force.

(Original Link: Benedict XVI, “The Second Vatican Council, as I saw it” Updated Link: Meeting with the Parish Priests and Clergy of Rome, 14 February 2013 – the second ellipsis is part of the official text, the first is mine)

If a council is so easily misrepresented and so widely misunderstood, even when its writings are all easily obtained, how is that supposed to be a solution to the problem of alleged ambiguity in Scripture?


Luke the Evangelist vs. Postmodernism and their Roman Allies

July 24, 2012

Luke 1:1-4

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

Notice that the purpose of the Scripture, particularly of the gospel of Luke, was to provide certainty that could not be obtained simply based on the prior oral tradition that Theophilus had received.

You can have the same certainty Theophilus did, by reading the same Scriptures that were given for that very purpose to him. Scriptures that are superior to the instruction he received before receiving the Scriptures, because they are based on the perfect understanding that comes, though not stated explicitly here, from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.


Jason Sabalow Partially Affirms Perspicuity

May 25, 2012

It’s always nice to hear one of Rome’s apologists confessing the perspicuity of Scripture on matters that are necessary for salvation: “the Gospels testify and testify clearly to who Jesus is, and who he is is God.” Jason Sabalow is correct about that, and the post-modernistic folks within Rome’s communion who try to suggest that the Scriptures are not clear about this or any other item necessary for salvation are wrong.

So that Mr. Sabalow does not get in trouble with his colleagues, I will note that he has not completely affirmed perspicuity, as he has not stated that all things necessary for salvation are found clearly in Scripture, nevertheless, he has affirmed a point that I have seen others in his communion attempt to deny, namely that the divinity of the Son is clearly taught in Scripture.

– TurretinFan

Perspicuity Perspicuously Presented

February 22, 2012

Ephesians 3:3-4  How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)

It’s not the whole doctrine of perspicuity, but it does at a minimum suggest the formal sufficiency of Scripture.  On top of that, it’s just common sense that the reason the Bible was written was to be read and understood by the common men to whom it was addressed (for example, the Ephesians, Galatians, Colossians, Romans, Corinthians, and so on).


What Should be Spent on Wine and Gambling?

January 8, 2012

Others have noted that there is inconsistency in the Koran regarding alcohol.  One of these passages comes from Surah 2.  The particular ayah is 219

219. They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: “In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit.” They ask thee how much they are to spend; Say: “What is beyond your needs.” Thus doth Allah Make clear to you His Signs: In order that ye may consider-

The usual point is that here there is no command toward total abstinence, and there is an indication that there is some profit in them.  That is, they are not simply sin.  There is another point that can be made, though.  Suppose we ask how much should be spent on wine and gambling?  This ayah seems to indicate that the answer that should be given by Muslims is “Your disposable income” (that is, what you have beyond what you need).

In analyzing this point, of course, one has to assume that the context interprets the text — an assumption that is not necessarily valid.  We know, for example, that order of the ayat in the Koran is not the order in which the ayat were allegedly revealed to Mohammed.

Nevertheless, in order to avoid making the sentence (They ask thee how much they are to spend; Say: “What is beyond your needs.”) a floating maxim, we need to try to interpret it contextually.  After all, the object of this spending is not identified in the sentence itself and so need to be supplied from the context.  There are basically two options for context.  Context precedent and context subsequent.  Context precedent suggests that the Koran is talking about spending on wine and gambling.  This approach makes sense, particularly because the very next sentence alleges perspicuity.  (“Thus doth Allah Make clear to you His Signs: In order that ye may consider-(Their bearings) on this life and the Hereafter.”)

Some may point out that “They ask thee…” may introduce a subject change.  After all, in the next Ayah, we see this:

220. (Their bearings) on this life and the Hereafter. They ask thee concerning orphans. Say: “The best thing to do is what is for their good; if ye mix their affairs with yours, they are your brethren; but Allah knows the man who means mischief from the man who means good. And if Allah had wished, He could have put you into difficulties: He is indeed Exalted in Power, Wise.”  

Notice that “They ask thee concerning orphans …” seems to introduce a new topic.  Yet this is not a rigid rule in the Koran, even in this Surah.  For example, only a few ayat earlier, the Koran states:

215. They ask thee what they should spend (In charity). Say: Whatever ye spend that is good, is for parents and kindred and orphans and those in want and for wayfarers. And whatever ye do that is good, -(Allah) knoweth it well.

216. Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not. 

217. They ask thee concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: “Fighting therein is a grave (offence); but graver is it in the sight of Allah to prevent access to the path of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its members.” Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter. Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith if they can. And if any of you Turn back from their faith and die in unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life and in the Hereafter; they will be companions of the Fire and will abide therein.

Notice that here there is a shift from discussing spending on charity to fighting.  Note in particular that “They ask thee concerning fighting …” does not introduce a new topic.  It provides a specific detail about the immediately preceding topic.  Moreover, notice that the new topic of fighting was introduced without the use of “They ask … .”

Others may point out that in this Surah, spending often refers to charitable or devotional spending.  For example:

3. Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them;

177. It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West; but it is righteousness- to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah.fearing.

195. And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah, and make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction; but do good; for Allah loveth those who do good.

215 (already presented above)

261-265 The parable of those who spend their substance in the way of Allah …

270. And whatever ye spend in charity or devotion, be sure Allah knows it all. But the wrong-doers have no helpers.

274. Those who (in charity) spend of their goods by night and by day, in secret and in public, have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.

This larger context certainly might seem to lend credibility to the idea that spending is not spending on wine and gambling, but on charity.   On the other hand, 215 already answered the question about what should be spent on charity.  So, interpreting 219 as referring to spending on charity seems to make it redundant with 215.

Moreover, there is another pattern that emerges from a study of this Surah.

The expression “Thus doth Allah make clear His Signs to men” is introduced to wrap up one topic and move on to a different topic in 187.  Then a similar expression is used in a similar way in 221 and then again in 242 and 266.

A similar approach is also used in 3:103, Surah 4 ends in that way, and 5:89 uses the expression to separate a discussion on how to cure the moral damage from breaking an oath from a discussion on gambling and drinking.


90. O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination,- of Satan’s handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.

91. Satan’s plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer: will ye not then abstain? 

What was previously some profit and great sin is now an “abomination” from Mohamed’s followers must abstain.

Of course, the above understanding isn’t the understanding of the Sunni.  They don’t interpret 2:219 as suggesting that people should spend only their disposable income on wine and gambling.  They likewise are reluctant to see “abomination of Satan’s handwork” (5:90) as being in conflict with “some profit” (2:219).  That isn’t their view of the Koran, and their scholars do not (to my knowledge) agree with my analysis above.

But the Koran calls itself the “Qur’an that makes things clear” (15:1) and claims “We sent down the Book to thee for the express purpose, that thou shouldst make clear to them those things in which they differ, and that it should be a guide and a mercy to those who believe.” (15:64)


Carl Beckwith on Sola Scriptura and the Arian Controversy

September 16, 2011

Carl Beckwith in Hilary of Poitiers on the Trinity: From De Fide to De Trinitate (New York and Oxford, 2009) provides a number of interesting comments in relation to Hilary of Poiters and the Scripture, particular in the context of the Arian controversy. One of the first passages of this book that caught my eye is the following:

The Homoian appeal to scripture alone in these debates should not be misconstrued as resembling the same appeal made by the Reformers. For example, Martin Luther expresses the need for extra-biblical words or phrases in such disputes as the Trinitarian debates. Note Luther’s appeal to Hilary’s understanding of scripture. He writes: ‘It is certainly true that one should teach nothing outside of Scripture pertaining to divine matters, as St. Hilary writes in On the Trinity, Book I, which means only that one should teach nothing that is at variance with Scripture. But that one should not use more or other words than those contained in Scripture—this cannot be adhered to, especially in a controversy and when heretics want to falsify things with trickery and distort the words of Scripture.’ See ‘On the Councils and the Church’, Luther’s Works, general editors Helmut Lehmann and Jaroslav Pelikan (St Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1957– ), 41: 83

(p. 66, fn 41.)
In the passage above, we see an interesting point.  Both the Homoians (the folks that Mr. Waltz would prefer I didn’t call “Arians”) and the Niceans agreed that Scripture alone is the rule of faith.  If we take Beckwith’s comment at face value, the difference between the two is that the Homoians practiced (or claimed that they practiced) a rigid rule by which there was no need for extra-biblical words.  The Niceans (like Hilary), however, saw value in the use of extra-biblical terms.

Moreover, as Beckwith explains, what Hilary saw as the problem was that the words of Scripture were being interpreted arbitrarily.

Before commenting on the analogy, Hilary predictably begins with a number of comments on the limitation of human speech. Although we should by ‘faith alone’ (sola fide) adore the Father, venerate the Son, and abound in the Holy Spirit, conflict and dispute over the Trinity has forced Hilary to address a subject that cannot be described by human words.[FN12 De Trinitate, II.2.3–9.] Although human speech is limited in what it is able to communicate about an infinite God, the distortion of the scriptural witness to the Triune God and the consequent threat to the faithful force Hilary to enter the discussion. He writes: ‘Many have appeared who received the simplicity of the heavenly words in an arbitrary manner and not according to the certain meaning of truth itself, interpreting them in a sense which the force of the words did not demand.’[FN13 Ibid. II.3.1–4: ‘Extiterunt enim plures, qui caelestium verborum simplicitatem pro voluntatis suae sensu, non pro veritatis ipsius absolutione susciperent, aliter interpraetantes quam dictorum virtus postularet.’ On Hilary’s use of simplicity, see SC 443, p. 278, n. 2.] Hilary repeatedly charges his opponents with interpreting the words of scripture in an arbitrary manner because they ignore the unity of God’s revelation, the progressive disclosure of Christ’s person and work, and the context of the heavenly words. He continues: ‘Heresy comes not from scripture, but from the understanding of it; the fault is in the mind [of the interpreter], not in the word.’[FN14 De Trinitate, II.3.4–5: ‘De intellegentia enim heresies, non de scribtura est; et sensus, non sermo fit crimen.’] At this point, he makes reference to Basil’s analogy.

He asks:

Is it possible to falsify the truth? When the name Father is heard, is not the nature of the Son contained in the name? Will he not be the Holy Spirit who has been so designated? For, there cannot but be in the Father what a Father is, nor can the Son be wanting in what a Son is, nor can there not be in the Holy Spirit what is received. Iniquitous men confuse and complicate everything and in their distorted minds even seek to effect a change in the nature so that they deprive the Father of what the Father is and take away from the Son what the Son is. They despoil him, however, since according to them he is not a Son by nature. He does not possess the nature if the one born and the begetter do not have the same properties in themselves. He is not a Son whose being (substantia) is different from and unlike (dissimilis) that of the Father. In fact, how will he be a Father if he does not recognize in the Son the substance and nature (substantiae adque naturae) that belong to him? [FN15 Ibid. II.3.5–19.]

(pp. 101-02)

Hilary explains that the way to avoid this hermeneutic of capriciousness is to attempt to understand the Bible according to the author’s original intent.  Look for the reason the words were spoken or written and you will discover the meaning of the words more easily.

The heretics, however, are not really concerned with this question. As Hilary observes, they undermine the co-equality of the Spirit with the Father and the Son by focusing on the questions quid sit and qualis sit.[FN73 De Trinitate, II.29.23–4.] Hilary charges his opponents with obscuring the true nature of the Spirit by not properly distinguishing between God qua Spirit (John 4: 24) and God the Holy Spirit. Hilary proceeds, then, with a discussion of how we properly read and interpret scripture. He writes: ‘There is a cause for every statement being made as it is [in scripture] and the meaning of what is said will be understood from the purpose for which the words were spoken, lest because of the response given by the Lord, God is spirit, the name Holy Spirit, his use and gift be denied.’[FN74 Ibid. II.31.3–4: ‘Omne enim dictum ut dicatur ex causa est, et dicti ratio ex sensu erit intellegenda dicendi: ne quia responsum a Domino est: Spiritus Deus est, idcirco cum sancti Spiritus nomine et usus negetur et donum.’] Hilary has already given similar advice at the beginning of Book Two. His opponents deliberately neglect the circumstances of particular verses in scripture and offer interpretations which the force of the words does not warrant.[FN75 Cf. ibid. II.3.1–4.] They distort the meaning of passages because they separate the circumstances that occasion Christ’s words from the words themselves. The faithful interpreter, however, will make the words dependent on their circumstances.[FN76 Cf. ibid. I.18.14–16 and I.30.4–5.]

Hilary’s opponents fail to answer properly the questions quid sit and qualis sit about the Holy Spirit, because they refuse to approach scripture free from their preconceived ideas about God. Hilary’s concern for how to read scripture properly reinforces his statements from the preface to Book Two: ‘heresy comes not from scripture, but from the understanding of it; the fault is in the mind [of the interpreter], not in the [divine] word.’[FN77 Ibid. [i.e. De Trinitate] II.3.4–5: ‘De intellegentia enim heresies, non de scribtura est; et sensus, non sermo fit crimen.’] His opponents take the Lord’s comment, God is Spirit, out of context in order to deny the name Holy Spirit and, as a result, his use and gifts. Since the Holy Spirit has been promised to us that we may know the things that have been given us by God (1 Cor. 2: 12), the denial of the Spirit is the denial of the light of knowledge. If the soul does not breathe in the gift of the Spirit through faith, it will, explains Hilary, ‘have the natural faculty to perceive God, but it will not have the light of knowledge’.[FN78 Ibid. II.35.11–13.]

Hilary ends by insisting that this gift, the Holy Spirit, is everywhere and available to all who are willing to receive it. When we approach scripture free from preconceived ideas, and when we allow faith to guide us in our search for understanding the mystery of God, we demonstrate our willingness to receive the gift of the Spirit. This gift not only brings the light of knowledge, but it brings us ‘the assurance of our future hope’.[FN79 Ibid. II.35.18–19: ‘hoc [munus] . . . futurae spei pignus est . . .’] Hilary ends Book Two, and his discussion of St Matthew’s baptismal formula, by emphasizing the certainty and comfort the soul receives when it confesses the catholic and apostolic faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

(pp. 124-25)
Notice how, in the passage above, Hilary (like us) affirms the perspicuity of Scripture whilst blaming the errors of heretics not on the Scriptures but on the heretics.  They neglect the “circumstances” of the text, that is to say – they don’t consider the context.  In short, their problem is that they are not letting the text be its own interpreter.

For whatever reason, Hilary chose to write what purports to be an autobiographical narrative describing his intellectual journey to the Christian faith. According to this autobiography, Hilary’s soul, troubled with thoughts of death, began to search for answers about God and his involvement with creation. He turned first to popular philosophy, and discovered numerous opinions that he thought contradicted one another. Frustrated with these diverse and uncertain teachings, Hilary turned to scripture and discovered, as he puts it, ‘God’s testimony about himself’. He learned who God is and the salvation won by Jesus Christ, who, according to scripture, is both human and divine. Amidst the comfort and certainty of the saving promises of the Gospel, Hilary next encountered people professing an adherence to scripture but denying the divinity of Christ and consequently, in Hilary’s estimation, his saving work. These people rejected the very teaching that calmed Hilary’s anxious soul, yet claimed to accept scripture, the very source of Hilary’s assurance. He ends his narration with a pro-Nicene statement on the Trinity, which, he tells the reader, he has learned from his own private reading of scripture.

(p. 152)

Notice how Beckwith reports that Hilary is claiming to have arrived at the Nicene view not by simply bowing down to the Nicene fathers, but rather through a journey through Scriptures.  He is providing a sola scriptura defense of Nicaea.

It should be noted that Beckwith quotes (with disagreement) from E.W. Watson:

Scholars addressing the historical reliability of the narration fall into three groups. The first group takes a traditional approach that follows the Church Fathers and uncritically accepts the narration as it reads: an account of Hilary’s journey to the faith.1 For example, E.W. Watson writes: ‘It was, then, as a man of mature age, of literary skill and philosophical training, that Hilary approached Christianity. He had been drawn towards the Faith by desire for a truth which he had not found in philosophy; and his conviction that this truth was Christianity was established by independent study of scripture, not by intercourse with Christian teachers; so much we may safely conclude from the early pages of the De Trinitate.’2 The problem with Watson’s straightforward reading of Hilary’s narration …

1 Jerome and Augustine both think Hilary converted to Christianity because of the narration in Book One. See Jerome, Commentariorum in Isaiam prophetam, XVII. 60 (PL 24: 594–5), and Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana, II.61. On the other hand, Hilary’s biographer, Venantius Fortunatus, flatly states that Hilary was Christian from infancy: Venantius Fortunatus, Vita S. Hilarii I.3 (PL 9: 187A). For a discussion of these sources, see E. Boularand, ‘La Conversion de saint Hilaire de Poitiers’, Bulletin de Littérature Ecclésiastique, 62 (1961), 82–6, 95–104.
2 Watson, ‘Introduction Chapter 1, The Life and Writings of St. Hilary of Poitiers’, NPNF, 2nd ser., IX, p. v.

(p. 153)

While we may disagree with E. W. Watson taking Hilary at face value, Watson is correct about what Hilary is conveying to the reader.  In other words, Hilary is portraying his journey in a way that is almost solo scriptura.  That is to say, almost as though it were just Hilary and his Bible without the aid of Christian teachers.

Beckwith provides an excellent analysis of Hilary’s view about the relationship between Scripture, philosophy, and certainty.

At this point in the narrative Hilary’s troubled soul encounters scripture, and begins to find an answer to its questions. Hilary reads, ‘I am that I am’ (Exod. 3: 14), and discovers God testifying about his most characteristic property, his being (esse). What reason rightly suspected, scripture made certain and expressed, continues Hilary, ‘in language best adapted to human understanding, an incomprehensible knowledge of the divine nature’.[FN20 [De Trinitate] I.5.7–9.] Indeed, it was worthy of God to reveal his existence, ‘as the testimony (ad protestationem) [FN21 Hilary always uses protestatio in reference to the testimony given in scripture. It is either the testimony given by God about himself (I.5, I.18), by Jesus (I.27, I.31, IX.58, IX.66, IX.67, X.49), by Wisdom (XII.35), or by the Apostle (XI.45). Only once does Hilary use protestatio in reference to our testimony. But even here he is talking about our confession of faith which is derived from scripture (X.70). Since it is God’s testimony or the Holy Spirit’s testimony through the Apostle, it brings assurance and certainty. Philosophy never achieves this kind of certainty, no matter how correct it might be in its assertions.] of his everlasting eternity’. [FN22 De Trinitate, I.5.15–16. In his Commentary on Matthew, Hilary uses aeternitas to designate the ‘community of substance’ shared by the Father and Son. See In Matt., 5.15, 16.4–5, 23.5 and esp. 31.2–3. Cf. CaP B II.10 (CSEL 65: 151–2). On this point, see Smulders, La Doctrine trinitaire, 75.] When the soul is guided by natural reason, it fails to achieve the certainty brought about by God’s own testimony. Reason finds nothing to confirm its ideas, guide its thoughts, or limit its speculations. However, when the troubled soul encounters scripture, it encounters God’s testimony about himself, and in that testimony finds certainty.

A third point established by Hilary in the opening of his narrative is that certainty is found only in scripture. That is to say, certainty is found not within the individual (natural reason) but beyond the individual (God or scripture).

(pp. 160-61)

The key point to take away from the passage above is that the certain comes from Scripture.  For our friends at the Roman blog “Called to Communion,” Scripture is not sufficient to provide certainty.  Indeed, the folks there have even alleged that – in essence – Nicaea rendered things heretical that Scripture could not or that Scripture alone was not sufficient to address the Arian heresy.

Rather than allowing God to descend to them, and ascending to an infinite knowledge of God with their boundless faith, they ‘confined infinite things within the boundary of their own understanding and made themselves judges of religion’. [FN37 De Trinitate, I.15.3–6.] These people sought to be masters of religion, while the work of religion, explains Hilary, is a work of obedience (opus oboedientiae): faithful obedience to what God has revealed about himself. By seeking knowledge of God from themselves rather than from God, Hilary charges his opponents with making their own natural reason, instead of scripture—God’s own testimony about himself—the ultimate standard of judgement on theological matters.

(p. 166)

Notice that this is something of an identical problem that is presented by our friends of the Roman communion in their role as skeptic (a role they don in order to attempt to persuade us of our need for Rome).  In their role as skeptic they attempt to make natural reason the ultimate standard of judgment on theological matters.  Once you are a member of their communion, of course, that will no longer be your standard, but for purposes of alleging the insufficiency of Scripture, they must adopt the position of those who Hilary bravely fought.

At this point in the treatise Hilary is not interested in refuting the claims of his opponents, only in exposing their faulty approach to the evangelical faith. According to Hilary, they correctly look to scripture for answers, but are misled because they do not depend on faith in their reading of scripture. Instead of being obedient to God’s word, they make God’s word obedient to their natural reason: rending it from its context, pitting one revelation against another, and allowing their limited human reason to guide their interpretation and to form the acceptable content of their faith. The correct interpreter, continues Hilary, will make use of the ‘regenerate intellect’, and ‘not measure God’s nature by the laws of his own nature but judge God’s assertions by the magnificence of God’s testimony about himself’.[FN40 [De Trinitate] I.18.14–16.]

(p. 167)

How many times have we seen happen just what Hilary describes above!  When we point out Paul’s teaching on justification by faith alone in Romans and Galatians, replete with context, instead of a contextually driven analysis, we are simply provided with a comment from James ripped out of its context!  There is an attempt to pit James against Paul. 

Hilary continues by describing the best method for approaching scripture:[FN42 Hilary’s method, briefly stated here, is frequently cited and used by the Reformers. See e.g. Martin Luther’s comments in Luther’s Works, general editors Helmut Lehmann and Jaroslav Pelikan (St Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House), 1: 263, 32: 194, 33: 205, 41: 53, quoting De Trinitate I.18 directly at 31: 276 and offering an interpretation of it at 41: 83–4; Calvin, Institutes, 1.7.4, 1.11.1, 1.13.21. Martin Chemnitz also made explicit use of Hilary’s comments on scripture in his treatise De Coena Domini. See Martin Chemnitz, The Lord’s Supper, trans. J. A. O. Preus (St Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1979), 31–3, et passim.] ‘For he is the best reader who allows the words to reveal their own meaning rather than imposing one on them, who takes meaning from the text rather than bringing meaning to it, and who does not force a semblance of meaning on the words that he had determined to be right before reading them.’[FN43 De Trinitate, I.18.14–16: ‘Dei naturam non naturae suae legibus metiatur, sed divinas professiones secundum magnificentiam divinae de se protestationis expendat. Optimus enim lector est, qui dictorum intellegentiam expectet ex dictis potius quam inponat et rettulerit magis quam adtulerit, neque cogat id videri dictis contineri quod ante lectionem praesumpserit intellegendum.’ Cf. In Matt., 7.8: we must not accommodate the scriptures to our thoughts but our thoughts to scripture.]

(p. 168)

It’s hard to present the principle of “Scripture is its own interpreter” more clearly than Hilary has done in the passage above.  Beckwith is exactly correct in saying that this is the approach that the Reformers used. It’s the same approach that we, the spiritual heirs of Hilary and the Reformation, use today.

Once a person acknowledges that he is an imperfect and finite creature seeking to understand a perfect and infinite creator, he needs to know where to find authoritative knowledge about God and his mysteries. The person will ask, explains Hilary: ‘From what books shall I take words to explain such difficult mysteries?’[FN3 De Trinitate, II.12.5–6.] The answer is, scripture. From the very beginning of the treatise, Hilary informs the reader that he will have recourse only to God’s words when discussing God. He writes: ‘Since our treatise will be about the things of God, let us leave to God knowledge of himself and let us in pious reverence obey his words.’ Indeed, argues Hilary, God is ‘a fitting witness to himself who is only known through himself’.[FN4 Ibid. I.18.21–3. Cf. II.6–7, III.9, IV.1, IV.14, V.20, VIII.43, IX.40, IX.69.]

(p. 188)

Notice how Beckwith correctly arrives at “only to God’s words” from the whole body of Hilary’s writings.  Even if Hilary does not use the exact expression “sola scriptura,” it is plain enough that Hilary is using that principle.

Hilary will maintain throughout De Trinitate that our thoughts about God must be governed only by scripture. At the same time, Hilary is aware that this is insufficient to overthrow the assertions of his opponents. They, too, appeal to scripture and use God’s testimony about himself. Indeed, Hilary repeatedly acknowledges their reliance on scripture and laments their ‘deception’, as he calls it, of promoting anti-Nicene theological positions under the guise of scripture alone.[FN6 Cf. Ibid. IV.7–9; IV.11; V.1.23 ff.] Although both parties appeal to scripture, the difference rests, argues Hilary, with how scripture is approached and the normative role assigned to scripture in forming the content of a person’s confession about the mystery of God.

(p. 189)

Notice what Hilary doesn’t do.  Hilary doesn’t say, “one has to read Scripture the same way the Nicene fathers did.”  Hilary instead says that the problem of the heretics is that they don’t let Scripture decide its own meaning.  They are right to appeal to the authority of Scripture, they have just misused Scripture.

The first point to be noted when it comes to the language of scripture, insists Hilary, is that God speaks to us, not to himself, and therefore his speaking is done with words most fitting to our finite and created nature. Hilary writes, ‘we must first of all know that God has not spoken to himself [in scripture] but to us and has adapted the language of his declaration to our understanding such that the weakness of our nature is able to grasp his meaning’.[FN9 De Trinitate, VIII.43.1–4. Cf. Tract. in Ps., 126.6 (CSEL 22: 617): ‘Sermo enim divinus secundum intellegentiae nostrae consuetudinem naturamque se temperat communibus rerum vocabulis ad significationem doctrinae suae et institutionis aptatis. Nobis enim, non sibi loquitur, atque ideo nostris utitur in loquendo.’ This last sentence summarizes Hilary’s understanding of the language of scripture well: ‘he [God] speaks to us, not to himself, and therefore makes use of our language in speaking.’] God’s revelation is for us and is meant to be understood by us. Hilary’s comment echoes the very beginning of his treatise. God gives testimony about himself, he explained, ‘in language best adapted to human understanding’.[FN10 De Trinitate, I.5.7–9. Cf. VIII.16; XII.9; Tract. in Ps., 126.6.] Since the purpose of God’s testimony is to disclose who he is and what he has done, he necessarily accommodates his revelation to the words most easily grasped by us. Hilary writes: ‘The Lord expressed the evangelical faith in words as simple as possible, and adapted his language to our understanding to the extent that the weakness of our nature could grasp them; nevertheless, he did not say anything that was unworthy of the majesty of his nature.’[FN11 De Trinitate, IX.40.14–18. See also VI.16.20–6.] Since scripture discloses who God is in words best adapted to our limited understanding, if we fail to grasp God’s word the fault ‘lies with our faith’, not scripture.[FN12 Ibid. VII.38.]

(pp. 190-91)

Hilary’s argument above is key.  Scripture is perspicuous on the essential doctrines of the faith, because the purpose of Scripture is soteriological.  Scripture is designed by God to be read and understood – heard and obeyed – proclaimed and believed.  With this teleology, of course Scripture is written well for that purpose.  It is not written to be a gem of the most magnificent complexity and intricate grammatical craftsmanship.  Instead, it is a communication piece.  Thus, it is written in a manner that is accommodated to the reader.

Hilary’s emphasis on the unity of scripture allows him to negotiate any argument that is grounded in isolated verses of scripture and not in scripture as a whole or unit. When individual texts are used to overthrow the larger narrative or sense of scripture, Hilary argues that the Spirit is undermined by breaking the word of God and by pitting one verse against another.[FN20 Cf., [De Trinitate] V.23, VII.24, and XII.3.3–6.

When theological argument focuses on particular verses or passages, the best interpreter, argues Hilary, must consider the larger scriptural context. By discerning the reason or motive (causa) of the verse, a proper understanding of its meaning (ratio) will follow.[FN21 Ibid. II.31.3–4.] It is this attention to context that, Hilary argues, his opponents neglect. From his perspective, they arbitrarily accept various words of scripture but neglect the circumstances of those words. They take words spoken in one context and for one purpose, and arrange them so as to understand them in a different context for a different purpose.[FN22 Hilary’s criticism here is reminiscent of Irenaeus, who complained that the Gnostics ‘contradict the order and the continuity of the scriptures, and, as best they can, dissolve the members of the truth. They transfer and transform, making one thing out of another and thus lead many astray by the badly constructed phantom that they make out of the Lord’s words they adjust’ (Against Heresies, I.8.1). Irenaeus proceeds with the well-known description of the disfigured mosaic of a king. The good image of the king is rearranged by heretics into that of a dog or fox and used to deceive simple believers. Hilary’s point throughout this section and his earlier discussion of his opponents’ show of piety is very similar to the concern expressed here by Irenaeus. See Irenaeus of Lyons, trans. Robert Grant (London: Routledge, 1997), 65–6.] For example, they deny the equality of the Father and Son by citing ‘The Father is greater than I’ (John 14: 28) whenever confronted with such verses as ‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10: 30) or ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me’ (John 14: 10). Therefore, conclude Hilary’s opponents, when Christ is called God, the name is only a title, not a true description of his nature. When scriptural verses are used in this way by his opponents, they fail, argues Hilary, to grasp their meaning because they do not ‘discern the circumstances of time, or apprehend the mysteries of the Gospel, or understand the force of the words’.[FN23 De Trinitate, IX.2.28–30.] They pass over the reasons that prompted these verses by neglecting the words that either precede or follow, and in the end undermine the unity of scripture and its progressive disclosure of God’s saving work.

(pp. 192-93)

Of course, the principles of Irenaeus and Hilary above are fully correct.  One of the problem of heretics is a fondness for taking Scripture out of context and rearranging it.  Irenaeus mosaic illustration is gripping – one can take a mosaic of a king and rearrange it into a fox – and the heretics attempt to do the same with Scripture.  The only proper way to understand the verses of Scripture is in their context – in their original relationship to one another.

There’s a lot more to Beckwith’s book than the points I’ve raised above.  These were, however, points that particularly piqued my interest, and answered some of the frequent objections we hear from Rome’s advocates.  While Cardinal Newman may have claimed that to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant, depth in history continues to confirm that history is no friend of Rome.  Was Hilary a “Protestant”?  Of course not.  Nevertheless, an adherence to fundamental aspects of sola scriptura can be seen in his writings, as has been demonstrated above.

– TurretinFan

Benedict XVI, Parables, Perspicuity, and Freedom

July 18, 2011

The Vatican Information Service provided the following partial account of Joseph Ratzinger’s (aka Benedict XVI’s) remarks from 10 July 2011:

“Yet this Gospel narrative also highlights the ‘method’ of Jesus’ preaching; in other words, His use of parables”, the Holy Father added. “His disciples ask Him: ‘why do you speak to them in parables?’ Jesus replies by distinguishing between the disciples and the crowds: to the former, who have already chosen to follow Him, He can speak openly of the Kingdom of God, but to others He has to use parables in order to simulate [sic] a decision, a conversion of heart. This is because parables, by their nature, require an effort of interpretation, they appeal to our intelligence but also to our freedom. … In the final analysis the true ‘Parable’ of God is Jesus Himself … Who, in human form, both hides and reveals divinity. Thus, God does not force us to believe in Him; rather, He draws us to Him with the truth and goodness of His incarnate Son. Love, in fact, always respects freedom”.

(ellipses in VIS’s report)

I. Parables

Ratzinger (B16) is wrong about the reason why Jesus spoke in parables, with respect to the crowd. Jesus himself explained his reason for speaking to them in parables:

Matthew 13:10-17
And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.

Likewise, in the parallel account in Mark:

Mark 4:10-12
And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

And in Luke:

Luke 8:9-10
And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.

The point, therefore, of the parables was not either to “simulate” [sic] or stimulate a decision or to convert their hearts. The point was not provide the crowd with an intellectual challenge, but to leave them in ignorance. The point wasn’t to free the people, but to leave them bound up in their blindness.

II. Perspicuity

It is interesting, though, to reflect on B16’s apparent view of perspicuity, in which even Jesus’ parables are sufficiently clear that human reason/freedom is sufficient to divine their meaning. That goes beyond the Reformed view of perspicuity, in that we maintain that Jesus’ explanation of the parables was necessary for us to understand their meaning. Moreover, one expects that B16 is not consistent in this principle of perspicuity, since consistency would leave no room for an infallible magisterium as a necessity.

III. Love Respects Freedom

B16’s final comment sounds familiar to those who frequently deal with non-Calvinist presentations on God’s love: “Thus, God does not force us to believe in Him; rather, He draws us to Him with the truth and goodness of His incarnate Son. Love, in fact, always respects freedom.”

The idea that “love always respects freedom” is not a Biblical tenet. Biblical love seeks what is best for others. Thus, for example, the good Samaritan is not praised because he respected the freedom of the robbed man, but because what he did was in the robbed man’s best interest – and specifically because he put the robbed man’s interest ahead of his own interest.

While we would not insist that God forces people to believe against their wills, it is by God’s mercy and grace that our wills are changed, that we are converted, so that we love God and believe on His name. Thus, it is true that we are drawn with the truth and goodness of Christ.

Nevertheless, we are hard pressed to say that the love of God always respects freedom. After all, we must not forget that the gospel message has a coercive edge to it. If you will not repent and believe on the Son for salvation, you will perish. Thus, those to whom we preach are not threatened with merely physical death (like a bandit pointing a gun at someone’s head) but with the eternal torment.

Moreover, there is even a constraining aspect to God’s love for those of us who love God:

2 Corinthians 5:10-15
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences. For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart. For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.

But remember, that the service of the Lord is true freedom, for it is written:

Matthew 11:28-30
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

And again:

John 8:36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

Therefore, we ought not to say that “Love always respects freedom,” but that that the Love of God produces freedom in men who were all their lives in the bondage of sin.


Grace in Cyril’s Commentary on the Book of Exodus (First Discourse)

June 2, 2011

The Orthodox Research Institute has published an English translation of the first discourse of Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on the Book of Exodus. It’s not a massive volume (about 50 pages of English text). Nevertheless, it serves to illustrate some aspects of Cyril’s teachings on topics related to the doctrines of grace. Most of the following will be quotations from this single work. Any bolding is my own, whereas material in brackets is added by the translator:

The State of Fallen Man
The following interestingly seems like some form of recognition of original sin, at least of concupiscence, and its universal applicability to the human race, as well as its source in God’s withholding grace:

But let the word of the narrative pause at this point. Let us say presently bringing the mind into the innermost spectacles, that because the thought of man is persistently devoted to evil things since his youth because of lack of good things from above, the whole human race, so to speak, was being corrupted and something like a famine was devouring the heavenly lessons; It was exactly as we could observe the prodigal who is also drawn as a model of a parable, who devoured the paternal fortune in foreign lands, and wished to satisfy his hunger with the fruit of the carob tree from which the pigs were eating.

(Chapter 3 at p. 13)

Bondage of the Will
In the following, Cyril appears to argue that it is the knowledge of God that brings true freedom of will.

“But God,” he says, “considered them, and looked upon the children of Israel, and was made known to them.” When, therefore, we live in ignorance of God {ignoring God or being ignored by God} then we all will also fall under those who do us injustice, and we roll around into the mires of sin, having as bitter and raw {cruel} supervisors of such things the unclean demons. But the grace of freedom will always follow the knowledge of God (knowing God will always be followed by the freedom of will}.

(Chapter 8, at p. 75)

Justification of the Impious by Faith in Christ

In the following, Cyril appears to argue for justification by grace through faith:

For {the fact that} those who do not move away from the worship according to the law are being held under the power of corruption, Christ himself will make clear. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink the blood, ye have no life in you.” And this was the mystery, not from those under the law from some place or other, but from those who have accepted the faith and have been justified in Christ and {have accepted} the education which is better than the one under the law, and I mean the evangelic one. Those, therefore, who did not become free of the burden through faith, or under the {power of} corruption, and as in a mall, {which is} the mother of death, and I mean, indeed, the same, and they are away from Christ. But if they would wish to untie the sample, that is the corruption, which {corruption} does not have the power to justify them, and {if they would wish} to approach the grace which truly produces life, then they will approach the one who justifies the impious one, {they will approach} Christ, that is, through whom and with whom the glory belongs to the Father together with the Holy Spirit to the centuries of centuries. Amen.

(Chapter 8, at p. 87)

Plain and Direct Style of Scripture
Finally, here is one quotation from Evie Zachariades-Holmberg, editor/translator, which is of interest as it relates to the perspicuity of Scripture:

There are, of course examples in the early Christian literature, where the authors achieve masterpieces with the use of the simple or the sophisticated / artificial style in the language. St. Paul’s mode of expression for example in chapters 12 and 13 of the first epistle to the Corinthians is amazing in its directness, vivacity, power and simplicity, especially when compared to the epistle of Clement of Rome who is also addressing the Corinthians on the same subject.

(p. xv)

– TurretinFan

James of Edessa on Scripture

March 5, 2011

Roger Pearse recently posted on-line a translation (Original to French by Francois Nau and then French to English by Roger Pearse) of James of Edessa’s Letter to John the Stylite on the genealogy of the Virgin Mary. I’m not sure the precise date of the letter, but James of Edessa (aka Jacob of Edessa) was a Syrian who lived from about A.D. 633 to 708.

The letter itself deals with a relatively minor problem. The minor problem is this. There were stories that alleged that Mary was of the tribe of Levi. Moreover, there was some minor corroboration of these stories in that Elizabeth was Mary’s cousin, yet Elizabeth is described this way:

Luke 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.

In the letter, James of Edessa’s response is essentially one of sola Scriptura. Rather than addressing the matter via tradition, James of Edessa begins from a very simple syllogism.

1. Jesus descended from David.
2. Jesus descended from Mary.
3. Therefore, Mary descended from David.

I would say he mistakenly analyzes the gospel genealogies in saying that neither of them is Mary’s, but nevertheless, his fundamental approach of relying solely on Scripture to answer the question is correct.

He provides extensive documentation from the Old Testament to prove that the Messiah was the Son of David. From that, using the syllogism I identified above, he provides Mary’s Davidic genealogy (with a lacuna from David to Mary) by simple logic.

Along the way, some of his comments about Scripture are quite fascinating – they are the sort of thing one would expect to hear from Calvin:

1. The divine apostle Paul when he wrote to men like those today, who were interpreting with great difficulty the mysterious words of the Gospel of Christ, said with wisdom and profundity: If there are men for whom our gospel is hidden, it is so for those who are perishing, for the unbelievers whose minds the god of this world has clouded, so that they do not see shining the light of the Gospel of the glory of the Messiah who is the image of God [2 Corinthians 4:3-4]. — But all of us, he said, who behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same shape, that is to say into the same image, from glory to glory, when we believe without hesitation in the words of the Gospel as (coming) from the Lord who is the Spirit [2 Corinthians 3:18]. So your Fraternity will know that, if someone interprets with great difficulty, finds obscure the words of the Gospel and does not believe it, or wants to oppose it with insidious and treacherous subtleties, this is one of those for whom the Gospel is hidden, one of those who are perishing, and one of those whom God has abandoned and, so that their minds are darkened by the shadows of the god of this world, and that the light of his Gospel does not shine in their eyes, because they are not worthy of being saved, because of their disbelief and the lack of rectitude of their spirit.

2. For we who — in the words of the apostle who knew and taught the mysteries of the Messiah — see and look at the words of the holy book as in a mirror, there is nothing in the Gospel that lends to difficulty or disbelief, but we are informed by the mysterious words it contains; we look at these words like one who looks at his reflection in a mirror, and they show clearly the picture of the truth. We learn from it that the Messiah has truly come, and we say that if he has truly come he was born, in the flesh, of the seed of David, as the prophets said of him; if he came and if he was born of the seed of David, he must necessarily also come at his time; if he came and he came at his time, and if he is born in the flesh of the seed of David, then the woman who gave birth is also by absolute necessity of the seed of David, as all these things depend on each other and are attached like (the rings) of a chain; they are combined and established by a necessary sequence of ideas and there is no (possible) hesitation on this subject.

– James of Edessa, Letter to John the Stylite, Sections 1-2

The quotation provides a very typical sola Scriptura contrast between those who don’t understand the Scriptures because their minds are darkened and those for whom the Scriptures are perspicuous – at least on certain subjects.

But James of Edessa goes on:

3. So by a firm and conclusive syllogism we must show to a Christian or Arab interlocutor that the Blessed Virgin Mary and Mother of God is of the seed of David, although this is not shown by the (holy) Books. This cannot be demonstrated by providing “evidence” from strange and superfluous stories that are brought forward by many and is written and read, but are not part of the holy books. Know indeed, O friend of truth, that I know the stories written by men of zeal, based on their own ideas without any testimony of the (holy) books. The Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of the Messiah, is the daughter of Anne and the just Joachim; the latter, according to the authors of these stories, was the son of Panthir, and Panthir was the brother of Melchi; the latter was the son of Iani, who was descended through his family from the tribe of Levi. They were based in Galilee, near the place where Tiberias was built.

As I said earlier, I do not want to demonstrate the matter with a superfluous demonstration taken from strange things, but using this firm and conclusive syllogism as I did earlier, O friend of God and the truth, that I want the truth to be upheld and not using words (learned) from superfluous stories; whoever the man may be who speaks with you and asks you or presses you on this issue, whether a Christian or a Mohammedan, if he is intelligent and has a reasonable soul, he will understand what the syllogism from which he will understand and will gladly testify to the truth without discussion. What I have said is enough to show clearly to a Christian or to a Mohammedan who talks about this subject, that the Blessed Virgin Mary is of the seed of David.

4. I must now quote for you the words of the prophets. They will show you evidence that the Messiah is, in the flesh, of the seed of David; it will then be shown you, in order to refute the Jews, that the Messiah has come in his time as it was written about him. Thus the expectation (of the Jews) is pointless, for because of their wickedness and blindness of heart, they were led to believe in a lie and not in the truth. The (holy) Spirit (by the) psalmist, testifies to you that the Messiah comes from David, when he says:

I have found David my servant and I have anointed him with my holiness (with my holy oil) [Psalm 89:20];

and speaking of the Messiah who is to come from him, he adds further:

I will make his seed eternal, and his throne like the days of heaven [Psalm 89:29 Peshitta].

The prophet Micah said:

And you Bethlehem, house of Ephrata, you’re are not the (most) little among the thousands (the major cities) of Judah, because from you I will make come a ruler, who will command over Israel, and his outgoing (his origin is) from the beginning of the days of the world [Micah 5:2 (Unknown version)].

— Isaiah said:

And I’ll make with you an eternal covenant: the holy things (the virtues) promised to David [Isaiah 55:3].

— Jeremiah said:

Behold, the days come, says the Lord, and I will raise unto David a just offspring, and a King shall reign and be wise; he will make judgement and justice on the earth. In his days (during his reign) Judah will be saved, and Israel shall dwell with confidence and the name that the Lord will give it will be: our righteousness [Jeremiah 23:5-6].

— And after something else:

I will break the yoke on their necks and I will cut their chains, and foreigners shall not subjugate them any more, but they will serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom he has established [Jeremiah 30:8-9].

— And further on again:

Thus says the Lord: If you can make pointless my covenant that I have made with the day and my covenant that I have made with the night, so that day and night no longer have a place in time, then my covenant that I made with David my servant also will be pointless, and he shall have no son to reign on his throne [Jeremiah 33:20-21].

— Ezekiel says in the name of the Lord:

I will make a covenant together with David, I will kill every wicked animal on earth [Ezekiel 34:25 (LXX)].

By “animal” he means, in my opinion, the devil. — And further on:

I will purify them and they shall be my people, and I will be their God; and my servant David shall be their king and they shall have only one shepherd [Ezekiel 37:23-24].

— And again:

My servant (David) will be their leader forever [Ezekiel 37:25].

These are the testimonies of the prophets, to show you that the Messiah is descended from the seed of David, and there are others like them.

– James of Edessa, Letter to John the Stylite, Sections 3-4

Notice How James of Edessa does not want to build any doctrine on those books. What you will find interesting, perhaps, is that it is from that class of books that Rome finds its earliest evidence for some of its doctrines about Mary. May I suggest that whatever you may think of James of Edessa’s conclusions, his approach is better than theirs. He builds his theology on necessary inferences from Scripture, they build theirs without such evidence.

There is one final item from James of Edessa that I wish to bring to your attention:

So now, everyone: the true Christians and the bold heretics, the Muslims and the Jews in spite of themselves, all confess truly and necessarily that the Messiah has indeed come, that he came in his time, and he is descended from the seed of David, and if all these things are necessarily satisfied (are linked), Mary, the Blessed Virgin who gave birth to him, is also descended from David, although that is not explicitly written in the Holy Book, and that we are not able to produce what is not written. Because that which the truth (the reasoning) states, without allowing anything to be added or subtracted, shows much better the truth to our spirit and to our faith than if we were gathering superfluous words which are not written (in the Bible) and that we can not demonstrate from the sacred books.

– James of Edessa, Letter to John the Stylite, Section 6

That last portion really shows the force of James of Edessa’s comment. His operative principle is sola Scriptura. If he can’t show it from the Bible, he can’t show it. He treats extra-scriptural tradition as unnecessary and extraneous words, and basically denigrates them to the point of their not being worth considering (although he knows what they say).

It would have been nice for James of Edessa to explicitly state the principles of sola Scriptura, but I believe we can fairly clearly see them at work in this letter. The entire letter may found at the following link (link).


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