Sola Scriptura Part Three
Steven Robinson and Bill Gould · July 24, 2007
Part three of the four part series on "Sola Scriptura".
Steve: Christ is risen!
Bill: Truly, He is risen.
Steve: You are listening to Our Life in Christ. I am your host, today, Steve Robinson. I am in the studio today with Bill Gould, who spent last Sunday in the hospital.
Bill: Yeah, well part of it. I’m feeling pretty good right now.
Steve: Well, that’s good. I’m glad you are. We’ve actually had to put in some prerecorded shows for the last week.
Bill: It’s good to be back online again.
Steve: Yes, it is. This is Orthodox Easter. Or actually, we’re in what is called the Pentecost Season, because we’re looking forward to the Ascension of Christ – the fifty days between the Resurrection and the Ascension. And so during this time, we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.
So Bill, we have a ton of things. We’re going to pick up on our series we began four weeks ago on Sola Scriptura. And this is a huge, huge topic, because this is the foundation of the Protestant Reformation. This is almost a battle cry of Martin Luther and the Reformers against the abuses and traditions they were entrenched in within the context and framework of the medieval Roman Catholic Church.
Bill: Just for those who haven’t been listening over the last several weeks, we’ve decided to go again to a source of teaching on the Web called the Christian Research Institute.
Steve: Yeah, Han Hanegraaff’s website.
Bill: We all know Hank Hanegraaff.
Steve: The Bible answer man.
Bill: And we have a series from the CR Institute, What Think Ye of Rome Part Three, which is penned by Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie. And we’ve been going through that point by point. So we would answer some of their objections to what they consider to be an improper use of church tradition as opposed to the authority of the Scripture. And so we’re answering that. We’re going to be our own answer men.
Steve: Yes, but not from a Roman Catholic perspective. And this is something we constantly reiterate on this show. We’re bringing to our listeners the Christian East, which has been in existence for 2,000 years now; that began with the Apostles during Christ’s ministry; and has continued virtually unknown in the Western world, getting a little more notoriety now with some historical events that have happened in the United States in the last couple of decades.
But, there is a third perspective. One of the things we constantly have to battle both in listener comments and email from our listeners is this Rome-aphobia and also this sense that we are somehow crypto-Roman Catholics or something like that. And basically, we’re here to say that we are not Roman Catholic, and we’re not Protestant.
Bill: We are catholic with a small c, but we’re not Roman Catholic, and there is a difference.
Steve: Yeah, big difference. And so this is the teaching of the Christian East that has been in existence for 2,000 years, and this is what we’re bringing to the table. There is a third perspective on a lot of theological issues and a lot of things that the Western world, Catholicism and Protestantism, have historically wrestled with.
And what we would say is that if everyone would come back to the beginning to the first nine, ten, eleven centuries of Church History that we could avoid almost all of these controversies. But it’s bringing us back to the early Church; to the purity of the Apostolic Tradition as it was handed down and preserved in the Christian East for all those centuries and has still been preserved in the Christian East up until today.
So Bill, last week we left off with St. Cyril.
Bill: Yes, the last time we were here we started going through the points. We got through points one through four. We did leave off with St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Cyril of Jerusalem is often quoted by Protestants because he gives a great defense of the authority of Scripture, which we of course totally agree with.
Steve: Now, this is from St. Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures. Now, these were teachings that he gave to people as they were being brought into the Church; as they were being taught the fundamental doctrines and dogmas of the Church. And so this was his statement about the authority of the Scriptures.
Bill: “No doctrine containing the Divine and saving mysteries of the Faith, no matter however trivial, may be taught without the backing of the Holy Scriptures.” I think that’s something we all agree on.
We must not let ourselves be drawn aside by mere persuasion or cleverness of speech. Do not even give absolute belief to me, the one who tells you these things, unless you receive proof from the Divine Scriptures of which I teach. For the faith that brings us salvation acquires its force not from fallible reasonings but from what can be proved out of the Holy Scriptures.
Steve: Amen. Amen. Amen. This is a statement by a saint of the Orthodox Church This is one of our guys.
Bill: Have our Protestant listeners remember that.
Steve: Now the big question, Bill, is how he can say this in the context of the Church that has given us where we are as the Orthodox East today, because we believe in things that we have discussed in this program like praying to the Saints.
Bill: Communion of the Saints, the Real Presence of Christ.
Steve: The authority of the bishop, the structure of the Church and hierarchy, infant baptism. All of these things were things that St. Cyril taught. Yet, he says a statement like that. And the reason he can say this and the reason he can teach all of these things is because he saw those things in the Scripture.
And if anybody goes back to our archives and goes back and listens to our shows that we have given on any topic, you’ll hear that we do give Scriptural basis and Scriptural teaching for everything that we discuss on this program.
They may not be the Scriptures that you like. They may not be the ones that you’ve underlined. They may not be the ones that you’ve ever even thought about in terms of doctrine, dogma, and practice.
Bill: And that maybe you have never quite looked at them in the same way.
Steve: Yes, exactly. And so we’ve talked in a lot of programs about the framework or I guess the culture or the hermeneutic (to be a technical word), which you bring to the Scriptures.
Bill: That’s right. Everybody has a tradition which they bring with them when they open the Bible to try and find out what’s in it. And of course, that goes without saying that we all have our teachers and all have our people that we listen to. There are those that like to think that they don’t pay any real attention to outside individuals, third-party individuals, or the churches they attend. But the truth is, we know that that really isn’t possible.
Steve: We’re going to talk more and more about this as we go through this outline. So Bill, we’re going to be coming up on our first break in a few minutes. So let’s finish point four. This is from Geisler and MacKenzie. They state:
There is not a shred of evidence that any of the revelation God gave them to express was not inscripturated by them in the only books — the inspired books of the New Testament — that they left for the church.
So basically, they’re saying that there is nothing the Apostles taught that is necessary or required for the Christian life that is not inscripturated or contained in the New Testament. So, how do we respond to that?
Bill: Well, this is an incredible statement, and all we have to do is go to a couple of Scriptures to see that in fact there were things that the Apostles taught that they did not write down.
Steve: 1 Thessalonians 2:15 is one that just blatantly states that Paul delivered to the Thessalonians both an oral tradition and a written tradition. You go to Galatians 1:7 and Paul talks to the Galatians. And he says, “Do not be so quickly removed from the Gospel that I have delivered to you.” And the word there is traditioned to you; that you have heard from me.
The Galatians had not received a written document from Paul, but they were taught personally by him. And they were to hold up all the other teachings about the Gospel to the oral teaching that they had received from Paul. And then Galatians was a writing by Paul to correct them on things that they had fallen short of in just that.
Bill: Yeah, the New Testament itself makes reference to teachings that were not included in any of the letters that we have in the New Testament. So it’s a very unfortunate statement by Geisler and Mackenzie here.
Steve: Yeah, a total red herring. And the other thing that we have to look at, Bill, is the fact of the matter here is that adopting a posture of Sola Scriptura has not lessened the struggle of trying to discern what it is the Scriptures teach. You can take an anti-tradition position, but you still end up with a problem interpreting Scriptures. And that’s evidenced by the tons and tons of different teachings that we have about what the Scriptures teach.
Bill: Right. And again, we call the Scriptures authoritative. That’s not a problem for the Orthodox Church, but again you need the right interpretation of Scripture. And that’s what St. Vincent of Lérins says that Tradition is Scripture rightly interpreted.
Steve: Okay, Bill. When we come back from the break, we’re going to talk more about how does one rightly interpret the Scripture in the context of the life of the Church and in the context of Tradition.
Steve Geisler and MacKenzie make the claim that the Apostles did not write down all of God’s revelations to them because they were not obedient to their prophetic commission to not subtract a word from what God revealed to them.
Bill: That’s again a very difficult statement. I’m not aware of anywhere in the New Testament where it specifically states that they received a prophetic commission to write down everything.
Steve: Right. Now, we understand that they had a prophetic commission to preach the Gospel and to teach the Gospel to all nations.
Bill: Matthew 28 is pretty clear about what they were supposed to do.
Steve: And Acts 1 reiterates that they actually accomplished that beginning in Jerusalem and to all Samaria and Judea and on to the ends of the earth. Now, how does this fit to say that if they didn’t write it down, they were being disobedient to their prophetic commission; that they subtracted words from their prophetic commission if they didn’t write it down?
Bill: Well, there were several Apostles who come up short and who were apparently disobedient, because we don’t have books from all of the Apostles.
Steve: That’s a good point, Bill, because we don’t have books by Thomas, Bartholomew, Thaddeus, Judas. There’s a number. And we do have books from people who weren’t Apostles.
Bill: The book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke.
Steve: So what we have here then is another red herring. To say that they somehow failed in their prophetic commission if they didn’t write down their teachings is totally ridiculous. It’s without basis in Scripture or in common sense. Because that’s exactly what the Apostles did. They went out and they taught and they preached and they grounded people in the Faith that Jesus Christ had taught them, long before they ever penned a book.
Bill: That’s right. Their first responsibility was to preach, and that’s what they did. Thank God.
Steve: So the prophetic commission was not to write. It was to preach. And what we are saying is that preaching and teaching was preserved as Paul commanded Timothy, “to teach faithful men who would be able to teach others also.”
Bill: That’s right. That process is outlined in the Scriptures, and it doesn’t necessarily include writing everything down.
Steve: That’s why we have teachers. That’s why we have presbyters and evangelists is because part of the commission that we have, even to us today, is to orally deliver the Gospel message to those that will hear. How will they hear unless someone preaches? That’s Romans 10:10. It’s not how will they understand unless somebody writes them a book. These statements are incredible to me, Bill, that somebody would say something in light of Scripture.
Bill: Again, unfortunate. Number Five from Geisler and MacKenzie: The Bible Does Not State a Preference for Oral Tradition. “Who would not prefer a face-to-face talk with a living Apostle over a letter from him? But that is not what oral tradition gives. Rather, it provides an unreliable oral tradition as opposed to an infallible written one. Sola Scriptura contends the latter is preferable.”
Steve: So basically what they’re saying here is that oral tradition by its nature is unreliable as opposed to Scripture, which is infallible and thus reliable. Now, again Bill, why the opposition here? Why do they set these two things at odds? Why do they call oral tradition unreliable and Scripture infallible and completely and totally reliable?
Well, it’s because they have, as we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, a low view of ecclesiology. We take a high view of Scripture and a high view of the Church as its guided and as its protected and as its taught by and preserved by the Holy Spirit in its life in Christ. The Church has the mind of Christ. Christ is the Head of the Church, and so to us, the Church is not unreliable because it is protected by and taught and preserved by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So we can hold a high view of Scripture and a high view of Tradition, because Tradition exists within the life of the Church, which is protected and guided and taught by the Holy Spirit.
Bill: Well, it’s kind of like throwing the baby out with the bath water. We have a situation in history in the Reformation where in fact there were some legitimate concerns, as we said earlier, about what Rome in fact had invented concerning indulgences and some of these other things.
And we’re sympathetic to those who would want to come back and say, “No, bring the Scriptures back. And look at the Scriptures and see that they don’t teach those things.”
Steve: Which is why we can say that the Orthodox Church never went there because we understood that the Scriptures never taught those things.
Bill: Well, that’s right. But there have been times in the history of the Orthodox Church where there have been problems within the Church.
Steve: We’ve had heresies.
Bill: But the Holy Spirit works to correct those over time with the influence of men and prophets who are raised up inside the Church. Even the laity has a voice
Steve: And we’re going to talk about that later on in this outline – St. Vincent of Lérins and his test of what is true within the life of the Church. But let’s continue with this point here, Bill, because again Geisler and MacKenzie say the Bible has perspicuity. That’s a big word. Hank uses that too. The Bible has perspicuity apart from any traditions to help us understand it. The main message is clear.
Basically what they’re saying here is the Bible needs nothing. It is self-interpreting. We don’t need a tradition in order to interpret the Scripture correctly.
Bill: There’s sort of a high rational view here. We have good study aids. We have concordances and all kinds of different tools to look at the Scriptures. And so the thought is if you have your concordance and you pray and study hard enough and cross-reference enough Scriptures, you’re going to arrive at the correct interpretation of what God is saying in the Scriptures.
Steve: The Scriptures do in fact self-testify to their sufficiency, but they also self-testify to their lack of clarity. We have a passage beginning in 2 Peter 3:15 and Peter is talking to the saints, and he says:
Regarding the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as also our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you; as also in all of his letters, speaking in them of these things. In those, there are some things that are hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.
So the Scriptures also self-testify, through the writing of an Apostle, that the Scriptures are capable of not just leading people in truth, but they’re capable of being distorted, of being misunderstood, and of being twisted to the destruction of somebody’s soul.
Bill: That’s right. There’s other references to the idea that young Christians, those that are new in the faith, should not wade into the deep waters, because they can be deceived and led astray. And so here’s a perfect example of that.
So we don’t have a handle necessarily on the Scriptures by ourselves.
Steve: And this statement that you don’t need a tradition in order to interpret the Scriptures, it really begs. The truth of the matter is that everybody brings a tradition to the Scriptures and interprets it through that.
Just something as simple as a sacramental view of the world. If we take a sacramental view of Creation; if we take a sacramental view of the mysteries of God, then we read the Scriptures, and we see things like baptismal regeneration. We see the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We see the anointing of oil having true healing and curative properties.
Bill: And these are things that the early Church believed.
Steve: Yes, but if you take a non-sacramental view, then you are going to read a passage that is as plain as John 6 where Jesus says, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life,” and you’re going to rationalize that away and say that Jesus said He was a door, and He’s not really a door, so He’s not really talking about His flesh and blood.
What we come to the Scriptures with really drives how we’re going to understand a specific passage. We really can’t get away from that. The fact of that matter is that everything that is plain in the Scriptures; everything that everybody and anybody thinks is just clear as glass has been challenged by somebody else using the Scriptures.
It doesn’t matter how plain you think something is. Somebody else has come along and made it unplain or challenged it or said that it doesn’t teach what you think it teach by using Scripture.
Bill: Even the core doctrines. I would tend to agree with the statement that the Bible is pretty clear that Christ rose from the dead on the third day. I would be pretty firm in asserting that the Scriptures plainly teach that Christ was born of a virgin. But there’re people out there who will take the Scriptures and try to prove just the opposite.
Steve: So Bill, when we come back, we’re going to talk about the hermeneutic of the Early Church. We’re going to talk about Scripture and Tradition and the right interpretation within the life of the Church.
Steve: Before we start back on our outline, I’d like to encourage our listeners to check out our supporting congregations. I know that there are ongoing events and classes and things that are happening there that we’d encourage our listeners to attend, if they are inclined to want to investigate further.
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Bill: And you can go to our website www.ourlifeinchrist.com, and you can click on sponsors, and you can see the churches that do in fact support us. And feel free to visit any of those, and while you’re there, feel free to download any of our programs archives.
Steve: Yes, absolutely. So Bill, before the break we were talking about interpretation of Scripture and one of the things that we always talk about is the fact that the Orthodox Church has in fact had heresies that have sprung up in the life of the Church.
And this is evidenced by the presence of the Ecumenical Councils over the centuries. And the First Ecumenical Council was in fact a response to a heresy that was going around in the Church and was pervasive. The saying was that the entire world had gone after Arius. And Arius was the proto-Jehovah’s Witness.
This is kind of interesting because the modern evangelical world in the early 1900s had been in tune with Church History, then everybody would have seen that Charles Russell was not teaching anything new but was teaching the same old garbage that had been drug up in the earlier centuries of the Church, had been dealt with in an Ecumenical Council, and had been rejected.
So this is the life of the Church. This is what has happened within the Church. People like Arius and like Nestorius and like Manes and all these early heretics actually challenged what was called the rule of faith or the Apostolic Tradition and said that this is not what is true. But the way they did it was through Sola Scriptura. If you go back and read the writings of Arius, he challenges the life of the Church, what had been understood within the life of the Church, the Tradition of the Church, to be the proper and right understanding of the person of Jesus Christ, and he challenged that using the Scriptures.
Bill: Right, so instead of relying on the collective mind and the collective wisdom, the Tradition, which includes the Scripture, he went straight to the Scriptures on his own and rejected the counsel of God through the Church, and he was branded a heretic.
Steve: And this brings us to a quote by St. Hilary of Poitiers. This is a great quote, Bill, because it kind of nails things down for us. He says, “Scripture is not in the reading, but in the understanding.” And this is also quoted by Jerome. So hermeneutics or Biblical interpretation was the issue in the Arian controversy.
Bill: And in that also, St. Basil appeals to a proper interpretation of the Scriptures as it has been expressed within the prayers and worship of the Universal Church. So he himself again puts his authority not only in the Scriptures but as it’s expressed in prayer and worship in the Church.
Steve: Well, all of the Church Fathers appealed to the Liturgical life of the Church and the sacramental life of the Church as evidence of what they call the rule of faith, which was the oral Apostolic Tradition and framework from which we understand what the Apostles really mean within the Scriptures that were written down.
This is so mysterious to a modern person, because they don’t have those traditions, those Liturgies, those prayers. They don’t have the Baptismal ceremonies; they don’t have the Eucharistic Prayers in which the proper understanding of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, the Eucharist, and all of these things are expressed through the prayers.
And so St. Basil and St. Cyril and St. Jerome and all of these saints go back and say that this is not true because our Baptismal prayers say this. But they also coincide with Romans 6 and John 3. Our prayers say this, which coincide with John 6 and 1 Corinthians 11. And this is how the Church understood the marriage of Scripture and Tradition.
Scripture was properly interpreted within the framework of the entirety of the life of the Church, which encompassed not just the writings of the Apostles, but also that which was delivered by all the Apostles who never wrote a word and that faithful men had passed on faithfully from generation to generation.
Bill: Well again, we come back to this issue of the Reformation being born out of a severe conflict in the Church. And when we look at the Orthodox Church and the history of the Church and the early centuries, we see conflict, but we see the Church resolving that conflict within itself.
It’s not that the Church sits as an external authority over the top of the Scriptures and acts as this third party magisterium over these things. But they actually have to go to them and submit to them and work out the issues within the Church instead of breaking off.
We don’t find Athanasius or Basil or anyone saying, “Well, all those people who believe in Arius, we’re just going to break away from them and move in our own direction.” No, they work it out and take the authority that Christ gave them as the Church, using the Scriptures, and work this out.
Steve: I think you made an important point, Bill. The Church submitted to the Scriptures as well as to the Apostolic doctrine and teaching that was handed on. And so the Church didn’t see themselves as the arbiter over these things but as the body that preserved those things.
Bill: Well, one thing we can agree with the Protestants on is that Apostolic teaching is in fact contained in the Scriptures. So, we can appeal to the Apostolic authority in the Scriptures, but it’s not the only place where that authority resides.
Steve: And I think the point that we’re making here is that all of the Church Fathers saw the right interpretation of the Scripture to be contained within the life of the Church. And something that is really interesting is if you read Tertullian, Tertullian wouldn’t even study the Bible with someone who wasn’t in the Church, because he said:
How can somebody understand the Scriptures apart from the Church? They don’t have the proper tools. They don’t have the proper mind. They don’t have the proper framework to even look at the Scriptures and rightly understand them, because they are outside of the Church.
Well, that’s kind of a mysterious thing too, because you’re like, “Well how do they get into the Church if you can’t study the Bible with them?” Well, that’s again coming into the Church is somebody submitting themselves to it. And when you submit yourself to the Church and to the Body of Christ, then you’re submitting yourself to the Scriptures in the light of the Church.
The Scriptures don’t stand outside of the Church. The Scriptures aren’t the doorway into the Church. Christ is the doorway into the Church. You come to Christ, and you come to the Church, and the Scriptures within that life and within that Church open the mysteries of Christ to you, and it teaches you about Christ.
So again this is a whole different way of understanding where the Scriptures actually function within the life of a Christian and how we use them.
Bill: Well, we continue on with Geisler’s point here, and this is pretty incredible. I’ve been chomping at the bit for this one. It’s pretty interesting.
Indeed, to assume that oral traditions of the apostles, not written in the Bible, are necessary to interpret what is written in the Bible under inspiration is to argue that the uninspired is more clear than the inspired. But it is utterly presumptuous to assert that what fallible human beings pronounce is clearer than what the infallible Word of God declares. Further, it is unreasonable to insist that words of the apostles that were not written down are more clear
than the ones they did write. We all know from experience that this is not so.
Now, interesting how he appeals to experience here.
Steve: But what if our experience says that it is so? Whose experience are we talking about? We have the experience of 2,000 years of Christian existence and a Christian Church that says that it isn’t that way, Mr. Geisler and Mr. MacKenzie.
Bill: Let’s go back to the quote. “But it is utterly presumptuous to assert that what fallible human beings pronounce is clearer than what the infallible Word of God.” What are you taking to mean by this, Steve?
Steve: Well, this is such an incredible statement because what he’s setting up here is the oral teachings of the Apostles over and against the written teachings of the Apostles. It’s the same people that spoke the Tradition and wrote the infallible Word of God. He calls them infallible people in one place. And yet these fallible people who are passing on what he calls unreliable and uninspired oral teaching were the ones who wrote the infallible Word of God. Which is it? Are they fallible human beings or are they infallible in what they deliver to us in writing?
Bill: And this brings up an important distinction again that we have to continue to say, and that is that the Orthodox Church does not ascribe infallibility to any one single individual, even the Apostles. The Apostles can be fallible. We know that from the Scriptures. The Scriptures tell us that.
What is in fact infallible is the Scripture and the Tradition that lives within the Church by the Holy Spirit. So would we say that the Church is infallible?
Steve: We would say that the Church through the Holy Spirit is infallible, but no single person within the Church can infallibly interpret Scripture.
Bill: That’s right. It’s collectively. And so historically, the Church is infallible, but no single individual in the Church is infallible.
Steve: But again, as we stated before Bill, what we end up with by rejecting the authority of the Church; by rejecting the ability for the Church as the Body of Christ with the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit, to deliver to us as fallible human beings the truth of the Gospel, we set ourselves up de facto as mini-popes and that we become the ones who infallibly interpret Scripture for ourselves through concordances and books and learning Greek or whatever our hermeneutics are and what we bring to the table.
And as one of the people who emailed us said, “We sit down with the Bible, and we study it and we discern for ourselves what is true and then we go out and find a Church that agrees with us; that agrees with what we have discerned to be truth in the Scriptures.”
Well, what if you got it wrong? We have a crisis of authority, and that’s really ultimately what it comes down to is a crisis of really who truly is authoritative, and who is truly infallible, and who truly can rightly discern Scripture for us? So we don’t have a crisis of whether or not Scripture is true. We don’t have a crisis of whether or not the Bible is right and true and infallible. What good is an infallible Scripture if you don’t have an infallible interpreter of it?
Bill: Right. Is Christ the Head of the Church?
Steve: Or not? And does the Holy Spirit guide the Church?
Bill: Or not?
Steve: And that’s really ultimately what we’re coming down to.
Bill: Well speaking of guiding and so on, maybe we could discuss a little bit about whether the Bible is a map or a blueprint?
Steve: Well, that’s a good question, Bill, because a lot of times when we look at the Scriptures, we hear it talked about as a blueprint. We hear it talked about as all-sufficient for everything. Now, I’m in construction, so I know blueprints. There are actually two different things in construction. You have blueprints, which if you take a blueprint, you can build a building. And if you take that blueprint, you can follow the lines and all the dots and all the drawings and everything, and you can construct a building from that.
Now, is the Bible a blueprint? Is it intended to be a blueprint? Now, we would say, “No,” because the Bible is in fact part of what was delivered to the Church. It is not the entirety of it. Now, in construction, there’s a thing called addendums. Addendums are the things that get you. Because you have the blueprints, and as the architect goes along, he’s drawing the blueprint for the building and things happen.
Fallibility happens. The fallen world happens. You find out things don’t work quite the way that you thought they would. The framers didn’t follow your instructions, or the plumbers put something in the wrong place. So what the architect does is he goes backs and corrects those things with what’s called an addendum. These are corrective.
Bill: And so, a lot of the New Testament in fact is corrective.
Steve: Yes, it’s the addendums.
Bill: It assumes that there’s been a lot delivered ahead of time, prior to the letter arriving.
Steve: Well, the Church was actually built and under construction before the New Testament was written. The Apostles had in fact laid the foundation for the Church and were building the body of Christ. This is clear from the New Testament in Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Corinthians, etc. You just go right through the Scriptures, and yes the Apostles and the Prophets were the foundation of the Church with Jesus Christ being the cornerstone.
Now, as the New Testament was being written, these addendums, because of the fallibility of human beings and because things didn’t quite go the way the Apostles intended for them to go, they started correcting the things that were misunderstood. And you cannot build a building from the addendums. You cannot build an entire structure from addendums. If you tried to do that in construction, it just wouldn’t happen.
And so what we look at the Scriptures as is a part of the big, big picture of the life of the Church. It is part of it. It is not the entirety of it. And so we have to understand again, the issue is not the infallibility of Scripture. It’s using Scripture for what it was intended to be used for within the big context and the big picture of the life of the Church.
Now, this is interesting. Bill, we’re going to run out of time. We’re not going to take our third break today. But St. Iranaeus has an illustration that I think really pulls this together for us, and he talks about heretics, and he talks about the truth. He uses the illustration of a man who has a mosaic of the king, and a mosaic is a picture that is made up of little bitty tiles. And there’s a beautiful mosaic of the Baptism of Christ over at Assumption Orthodox Church, and you can look at it anytime. It’s in their baptistery in the front of their building. It’s gorgeous.
So you have this mosaic, and then St. Iranaeus says that someone comes along and takes all the pieces out and arranges those same pieces into another image. Now, he’s used all the same pieces, but now has a picture of a dog or a fox. Such is the heretic who uses the Scripture without the picture of the King that the Church knows. The heretic does not know the order and the connection of all the parts in order to reproduce the true image of Christ as the Church knows Him.
Bill: That’s a great illustration.
Steve: What he’s talking about here is what we’re saying. Scripture has to be rightly interpreted within the context of the life of the Church. It has to be understood within the context of the life of the Church as it was established, founded, taught, affirmed, and handed down by the Apostles of Christ to the Church.
And apart from that, we’re shooting in the dark. We have the mosaic. We have all the pieces, but we don’t know how to put them together. We don’t know what the big picture is supposed to look like. So Scripture without interpretation is really not Scripture. It’s just words. It’s just sentences.
They might be spiritual words. They might be words on a page. And they might be talking about a lot of lofty things, and a lot of philosophical and theological things, but until they’re interpreted and given flesh, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4, in the life of the human being and is rightly interpreted, it really isn’t Scripture. I mean, it is Scripture, but it hasn’t done its job.
Bill: You’re going to make people upset, because there’s that Scripture that talks about the Word of God being alive and powerful and able to accomplish all that it’s able to accomplish and sort of removes that issue of having it have to be applied in the Church or applied in a person’s life for it to be of any use.
Steve: Well, it is powerful. It is alive, and it does do those things. But what does it do it to? Who does it do it to? If it’s just hanging out there in space, you can have all that power and all that aliveness sitting on the shelf of a Christian bookstore, but until a human being reads it, it’s just sitting on the bookshelf. The purpose of the Scriptures is to transform human beings. It’s not to sit on a shelf and just be words hanging out there in space.
Bill: And this is why Basil goes into saying that this is really about not only what’s written down in the letters, but it’s also about what the Church sings and prays and performs in terms of growing up in Christ and being a part of His Body and being connected to Him, the Head of the Church.
Steve: Right, and Scripture plays a role in establishing that relationship and growing in that relationship and nurturing us in that relationship. We have to understand Scripture as having the capacity and the ability and the study of Scriptures to really bring us to conforming ourselves to the Image of Christ within the life of His Body. This is what the Scriptures were intended for. This is what they’re given to us for.
And again, we cannot stress enough that the authority of the Scriptures is respected and the infallibility of the Scriptures is respected, except we have to understand that if we don’t get the Scriptures right; if we don’t understand what they really mean to say to us, then they have that same capacity to lead us astray.
Bill: Just like Arius.
Steve: Just like Arius.
Bill: Just like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Just like others that we could name.
Steve: Yes, everybody could name all the heretics they want to name, and they all use the Scriptures. And so as Hilary of Poitiers says, “Scripture rightly interpreted is Scripture.” This is how we approach it. It’s not an either or. It’s a both and. And this is what the historic Orthodox Church for 2,000 as preserved. We don’t need to sit in opposition the notion of tradition and Scripture within the life of the Church.
Bill: Do we have time to cover any more points today?
Steve: We’ve got two minutes, Bill.
Bill: Okay, how about one more then? As soon as the Apostles died, it became imperative for the written record of their infallible teaching to be available. What do you think of that?
Steve: And again, this is the Protestant take on Church History, but as soon as the Apostles died the whole Church went to Hell in a hand basket. And the only thing that could have prevented that from happening is to have an infallible Word of God – the infallible Scriptures. But the fact of the matter is that infallible teachers did not alone keep people from heresy.
Even during the lives of the Apostles, while the New Testament was being penned and while the Apostles were living, breathing, and teaching, there were heretics within the Church. And the fact of the matter is that for five centuries, the churches were not in unanimous agreement on what constituted canonical Scripture.
Bill: I think that’s an important point. We really didn’t have the whole canon declared for hundreds of years.
Steve: Right, until the sixth century.
Bill: There’s the assumption that at 100 A.D. poof, there’s the Book.
Steve: There it is, leather-bound with our name on it. Yeah, that didn’t happen. And yet, for those five centuries, Bill, the Church was still able to condemn heretics. They were still able to keep, to teach, and to die for the faith of the Apostles that was handed down to them.
And so Bill, next week, we’re going to have a program with Monk Damascene. And when we come back the following week, we’re going to wrap up this discussion of Sola Scriptura. We’re going to talk about the canon. We’re going to talk about how the Church was able to condemn heretics and to discern heresy without having the New Testament as we know it today.
Thank you for listening today. I know we’ve challenged you, but hang in with us. Have a blessed week. We’ll see you next week.
Bill: God bless.