Sola Scriptura Part Two
Steven Robinson and Bill Gould · July 20, 2007
Part two of a four-part series on an Orthodox response to the doctrine of sola Scriptura.
I have sinned against thee, O good one, more than the adulterous woman, and have not offered thee a flood of tears, but silently and calmly, I kneel, asking, kissing thy pure feet with longing, that thou mayest grant me, O Savior, remission of my sins. Deliver me from the mire of my deeds, O my Savior.
Good afternoon and welcome to this edition of Our Life in Christ. I’m your host today, Steven Robinson, in the studio with Bill Gould. Welcome, Bill.
Mr. Gould: Hi, Steve.
Mr. Robinson: This is a prayer that we opened with. We are officially out of Lent.
Mr. Gould: That’s right. We finished this morning.
Mr. Robinson: And we are into Orthodox Holy Week. The Orthodox calendar coincides with the Jewish calendar, and the Passover of the Jewish faith is next Friday. And the Orthodox calendar always says that Easter has to be after Passover and not before. So we will be celebrating Easter, or Pascha as we call it, this coming Saturday night at midnight.
Mr. Gould: That’s right. It actually spills over into Sunday morning until about two-thirty in the morning.
Mr. Robinson: Bill, this is one of the liturgical weeks of the year that we really encourage our listeners to try to attend an Orthodox service. All of our supporting congregations will have nightly services, nightly Liturgies and prayer services.
Mr. Gould: There’s a flavor… Just about everything happens in one week, this week. We have the highs and the lows.
Mr. Robinson: It’s a microcosm of the entire liturgical year. The prayer that we opened with I purposely brought in today because our program gets a lot of email from our listeners, and one of the things that we most often get from listeners is: “Are you born again? Do you believe that we’re sinners? We never hear you preach that people are guilty of sin and need a savior and need Christ.”
Mr. Gould: Of course, they do. Of course, we do.
Mr. Robinson: We do. Sometimes I wonder what program they’re listening to, but I think this is one of the things that we have to wrestle with in communicating the message and the teachings and the prayers of the Orthodox faith, that we use our own language, in a sense, to express the message of the Gospel. This prayer that I prayed is one of the prayers at what is called the Bridegroom Services, which happen tonight, Monday night, and Tuesday night. This is one of the services that we’ll be saying—one of hundreds, actually.
Mr. Gould: Yes. Hours and hours’ worth.
Mr. Robinson: This is what the spirituality of the Church is about. If you really want to feel like a sinner, if you really want to hear what it is to be a sinner and to be caught up in sin and to betray Christ and to come to Christ destitute of good works, attend the Bridegroom Services. Attend Holy Thursday.
Mr. Gould: Holy Thursday, yes.
Mr. Robinson: These will give you a sense of how the Orthodox Church approaches the sinfulness of the human being and the salvation that we have in Christ. If you want to hear the Gospel preached, we encourage you to go to Holy Thursday service because there will be three hours of Gospel reading during that service, the Passion narrative specifically.
These are the things that the Church brings to the table to us in our spiritual walk. The liturgical calendar is not by accident, and these things, over the course of a year, really do ground us in the faith of the Apostles, in the apostolic teaching and tradition of what the Gospel means to the Christian, to us in our Christian lives and our walk with Christ.
Mr. Gould: This stuff is not just meant for one time a year. We’re to carry this out as we progress through the rest of the year, and, of course, start the new liturgical year.
Mr. Robinson: There are recurring themes throughout the year. This isn’t the only time of the year we get hammered with being a sinner. We just particularly get it this week.
Mr. Gould: And it’s because, of course, Christ bears the sin of the world in history this week.
Mr. Robinson: Like I said in my homily this morning, Bill, we’ve come to what is called Palm Sunday today, and we are like the multitudes: we’re lauding Christ and we’re saying, “Hosanna!” and we praise him and we welcome him into our city, and yet within hours we’ll be betraying him, we’ll be spitting on him, we’ll be pounding nails into his hands and feet. This is what we see in the journey through Holy Week, that we are the crowd, we are the disciples, we are the Pharisees and the scribes in the Sanhedrin and the high priest. We find ourselves in all of those roles.
Mr. Gould: We are the chief of sinners.
Mr. Robinson: And we are the ones who mock, scourge, crucify, pound the nails. We’re the ones who run, betray, kiss, sell him out for thirty pieces of silver—or often less—and this is what we experience through the journey of Holy Week.
We encourage you: take about three hours out one evening this week and attend one of the services. Experience Holy Week in the Orthodox tradition.
Mr. Gould: Last week.
Mr. Robinson: Last week we began a series on sola Scriptura. This is a huge, huge topic, because this really, in a very real sense, strikes to the very heart and the very core of the Evangelical spirituality of modern America. This is the thing that is almost foundational—well, it is foundational—in the life of the modern Christian, and that is: what is the sole and final and complete and total authority for a Christian life? And, of course, the modern Evangelical and all this would say, “It’s the Bible.”
Mr. Gould: Sola Scriptura means exactly that: Scripture alone.
Mr. Robinson: Now, is there a problem with that? I guess the big question people would be saying is: What’s the problem with that, Bill?
Mr. Gould: We read a little statement last week from John Whiteford.
Mr. Robinson: Former Protestant Evangelical, now an Orthodox priest.
Mr. Gould: He writes:
Protestants frequently claim that they just believe the Bible, but a number of questions arise when one examines the actual use of the Bible. For instance, why do Protestants write so many books on doctrine and the Christian life in general if indeed all that is necessary is the Bible? If the Bible by itself were sufficient for one to understand it, then why don’t Protestants simply hand out Bibles? And if it is all-sufficient, why does it not produce consistent results, i.e. why do all Protestants not believe the same thing? A very important point.
And the answer is that though they will usually not admit it, Protestants instinctively know that the Bible cannot be understood by itself, and, in fact, every Protestant sect has its own body of traditions, though, again, they will generally not call them traditions.
They won’t call them that because that smacks of something other than Protestantism. That smacks of Roman Catholicism, and you can’t have have any traditions, and there’re some Scriptures about that that kind of get people hung up, too.
Then, of course, we get down to the question. It’s not really just whether we’re going to believe the Bible or whether we will use tradition, but which tradition are we going to use to interpret the Bible?
Mr. Robinson: Well, Bill, this is really the crux of the issue, because when it comes down to biblical interpretation—and we’re going to talk a lot about this over the next couple of weeks—is that nobody really comes to the Scriptures sola. We always come with some preconceived notions, or we come with somebody who has taught us a framework or a way to interpret the Scriptures.
One of the emails we got last week was talking about Hank Hanegraaff and how this person wished that Hank Hanegraaff would just tell people to “read the Bible” instead of trying to tell them what it means. That’s why Hank is on the air, because people have tried to do that, and they’re confused.
Mr. Gould: It’s sort of ironic, isn’t it?
Mr. Robinson: Yes, but I think this comes down to a real meaty issue, Bill, in that we look at the Book of Acts, we see the Ethiopian eunuch traveling along, he’s reading the Book of Isaiah, and Philip comes alongside him and says, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” And what does he say?
Mr. Gould: He says, “I need somebody to help me understand it.”
Mr. Robinson: Oh, I thought he said, “Wait a minute. I had the Holy Spirit. I can understand Scripture. I read English. What’s so hard about the Bible? It’s plain. It’s simple. It says what it means, means what it says. God said it; that settles it.”
No, he didn’t say that. He said, “How can I unless someone guides me.”
Mr. Gould: He had the Old Testament, so he expounded Christ from the Old Testament, and helped him to understand exactly what he was reading.
Mr. Robinson: But then we come into the New Testament, and we see the office of prophet, teacher, and evangelist, all of which have a teaching ministry, a person who expounds the truth of the Scriptures, expounds the truth of God to somebody else. That’s the crux of the issue, that we all really do need teachers. We all do really need assistance in understanding the word of God. The question is: who is that someone and who has the authority and who has the proper framework and who has the mind of Christ in order to properly understand and teach the Scriptures to us? That’s the question we’re going to address after the break.
So, Bill, [when] we come back from the break, we’re going to launch into a discussion of sola Scriptura and how do we interpret the Scriptures, how do we view tradition, how do we view the relationship of the Church to the Scriptures in the Orthodox faith.
Mr. Robinson: Bill, before the break we were talking about the series that we were embarking on, on sola Scriptura, and I want to say, “This is your captain speaking. We’re going to be experiencing some turbulence in the next few moments, so buckle up, keep your seats in the locked and upright position, and stay in your seats until the warning light goes off. Thank you very much.”
Mr. Gould: Well, we started this last week, and we downloaded a tract from the Christian Research Institute, which is in fact Hank Hanegraaff’s website. The series is “What Think Ye of Rome.” This happens to be Part Three by Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie. They are, of course, tackling the issue of sola Scriptura versus tradition or Church tradition, and we started with the first statement.
We talked about this. We want to make sure that everyone realizes that we’re offering, not the Roman Catholic apology here, but we’re coming at this from the Orthodox East perspective and offering sort of a third view on this commentary offered up by the Christian Research Institute.
Mr. Robinson: Yes, and their piece is specifically directed against a Roman Catholic apologist concerning their view of tradition and Church authority and papal infallibility and all of those things. Again, as you said, we’re arguing the third position which is the Orthodox Church which historically goes back to the very beginning of the Church, in which we understand that Rome, in fact, deviated from in the later tenth, eleventh, twelfth centuries, and continued on down a path that we do not go down.
Mr. Gould: We did mention or get to the statement that said, “There was no longer a living apostolic authority since only those who were eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ could have apostolic authority.” That’s where we left off last week. We answered that by saying that in order to pass on tradition faithfully, you didn’t have to have an Apostle alive in every age in order to be faithful to apostolic authority or have the apostolic authority.
Mr. Robinson: I think that comes down to some modern heresies and modern false teachings like the Mormons and some of the modern churches that claim you have to have some kind of God-ordained, God-anointed apostolic authority to preach apostolically. We just say what Paul tells Timothy to do is to teach faithful men who’ll be able to teach others also, and to be faithful to the message which has been handed down to you, which we understand has happened through Church history: faithful men have taught faithful men who have been faithful and kept that going.
Mr. Gould: That’s been uninterrupted since the first century.
So now we’re on to statement number two. Again, this is Norman and Ralph talking here:
Because the New Testament is the only inspired, infallible record of what the Apostles taught, it follows that since the death of the Apostles, the only apostolic authority we have is the inspired record of their teaching in the New Testament.
Skipping down a little bit:
What it does mean is that all apostolic teaching that God deemed necessary for the faith and practice (morals) of the Church have been preserved. It is only reasonable to infer that God would preserve what he’d inspired.
Mr. Robinson: This is basically the position that all apostolic teaching on faith and practice is contained solely within the pages of the New Testament, that there is nothing outside the New Testament that is necessary, valid, or authoritative in the life of the Christian.
Is this the case, Bill? Well, we have to go back to our trick question that we had last week, and that is the question: What is the pillar and foundation of the truth?
Mr. Gould: Most Protestants would answer, “Of course, the Holy Scriptures.”
Mr. Robinson: Yes, the Bible, and in fact we find that phrase used over and over in the Protestant apologetics about the Scriptures, and they say, “It is the pillar and foundation of the truth.” When we go to the Scriptures on the Scriptures, we go to the Scriptures about the Church, I Timothy 3:15, Paul says:
The church is the pillar and foundation of the truth.
This is essentially the question that we have to ask ourselves: the Church or the Bible? The Bible came within the life of the Church. It is a product of the life of the Church.
Mr. Gould: We would say, to be accurate, that the Old Testament certainly existed before the New Testament Church existed, but the New Testament Scriptures, this is where this question really comes into play. The problem with this viewpoint is that it sets Scripture in a tension with the Church, and this is something that the Orthodox Church just doesn’t even know anything about: a tension between the Church [and Scripture], almost as if the Scriptures are preserved in spite of the Church, in spite of fallible human beings in the Church, just that God is going to make sure that all of the right Scriptures get preserved.
Mr. Robinson: That’s a huge topic, because I think what we have here is the problem is not that the Orthodox Church has a low view of Scriptures and Protestants have a high view of Scriptures, because we have a very high view of Scriptures. We quoted some Church Fathers last week that talk about the Scriptures being the rule of the faith and all the good things you can say about the Scriptures.
Mr. Gould: And we have more of that today, that say the same thing.
Mr. Robinson: But the point is that the Orthodox Church has always held a high view of Scripture. The problem is that the Protestants have a low view of the Church. What we have here is not a crisis of Scripture. We have a crisis of ecclesiology.
Mr. Gould: The fact is that many writings from the first few centuries of the Church were “preserved” in the sense that they were available and that they in fact were circulated and even used by believing Christians. There were a lot of different writings that existed.
Mr. Robinson: Tons of documents that claimed to be apostolically inspired.
Mr. Gould: Not all of them made it into the canon of Scripture, so preservation, just having it, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s inspired.
Mr. Robinson: It was the Church that preserved all of those writings, including the canonical ones. These things were all within the life of the Church.
Mr. Gould: That’s important to say, because it’s the Church that made the decisions about what Scriptures actually made it into the canon of the New Testament. So what 27 books made it in was largely the decision of, in fact, the body of men who were alive in the Church.
Mr. Robinson: The Holy Spirit, working through the Church was the agency that threw out the writings that didn’t end up in the canon. They were the ones that looked at all of the writings that were being written within the life of the Church, including the apostolic writings which were written within the life of the Church, and they discerned, and they said, “These are Scripture. These are inspired. These are authoritative, and these are not.” This came out of [the Church itself]. It wasn’t some third party; it wasn’t some consultant, a Jesus seminar of some kind that they convened and said, “We’re going to hire you to figure this out.”
Mr. Gould: God did not use some extraordinary providence outside of the Church to preserve the Scriptures that were finally considered the canon. He used the Church. The Church was the preserving agent and the discerning agent. As a matter of fact, think about it this way: if the Church had decided that there should only be three gospels instead of four gospels, we would only have three gospels.
Mr. Robinson: And if they had only decided that there were 22 books of the New Testament, instead of all 26, then we would…
Mr. Gould: 27.
Mr. Robinson: 27. Thank you, Bill!
Mr. Gould: Actually, there is a story about Revelation, getting in at the last minute. We’ll talk about that some other time.
Mr. Robinson: The point is that exactly what you said is true: if the Church of the second, third, and fourth centuries was corrupted, if it was apostate, if it did go to hell in a handbasket right after the last Apostle died, then what confidence can we have that that Church that put together the canon of Scripture that we have today did that competently or did that through the guidance of the Holy Spirit? How can we have confidence that the Holy Spirit guided this apostate Church that had abandoned the Holy Spirit, abandoned the Gospel, abandoned Christ, and had denied the power of the Spirit…
Mr. Gould: How can they deliver something that is, in fact…
Mr. Robinson: ...authoritative and infallible…
Mr. Gould: ...and what we, in fact, call the written reference. We do hold the Scriptures in high esteem. It is interesting, because even today we have authors like Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code calling up the past and calling up these esoteric writings that didn’t make it into the canon of Scripture and saying, “Well, wait. Everybody ought to check these out because they have really cool things in them that we don’t know, nobody knows about.”
Mr. Robinson: “These were suppressed by the Church.”
Mr. Gould: They were suppressed by the Church! They were kicked out by the Church.
Mr. Robinson: That’s interesting, because every modern Christian today will appeal to the canon of Scripture to say people like Dan Brown are all wet and the books that they’re touting as having authority, as having something valid to say about the Christian life, are not worth looking at. And by what authority can they do that? Why do they appeal to the Church that they believe went apostate and the books that that Church has recommended that we use?
Mr. Gould: They believe that somehow, through divine providence, that God has maintained the Scripture as the authority in spite of the “fallible” Church. Of course, we would say that, yes, as individuals, we’re all fallible, but collectively together, Christ said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Talk about preservation! This is what God was really interested in doing: preserving the Church. His promise to the Church is that he would, in fact, do that in the face of all obstacles.
Mr. Robinson: One of the things that he did to preserve the Church was preserve the Scriptures, the authoritative writings of the Apostles, within the life of the Church.
These are really grass-roots questions, Bill. We can’t escape the idea that the early Church preserved the writings that they viewed as authoritative. If these people believed all these heresies, then it would made sense [that] they would have cut out and edited all the things that went contrary to the things that they believed were [right], but they didn’t.
Mr. Gould: Emphatically, the Holy Spirit works through the Church to keep and preserve the truth and, in fact, the truth of the Scripture.
Mr. Robinson: Yes. Bill, when we come back from the break, we’re going to talk about the Apostles. We’re going to talk about the difference between oral tradition and written tradition, and is one more authoritative than the other.
Mr. Robinson: Bill, we’re featuring Holy Week music today. Speaking of Holy Week, again we want to encourage our listeners to try to attend one of our local Orthodox churches during Holy Week and get a real taste of what Holy Week in an Orthodox tradition is like.
Bill, before the break, we were talking about the Church and the Scriptures and the fact that the Church is the agency and was the medium and the guarantor and the preserver of the Scriptures, and ultimately, if we cannot trust the Church, if we cannot trust the early Church, then we can’t trust the Bible, which was written, delivered, and preserved by that early Church. If we believe that the early Church were all heretics, they all went to hell in a handbasket, then how can we trust the Scriptures that they delivered to us out of the hundreds of documents that were circulated in those early centuries as being the authoritative, God-inspired group of writings from that huge pool of writings to be authoritative for the Christian life today? That’s really the question.
Point number three from the Christian Research Institute.
Mr. Gould: It says
The fact that Apostles sometimes referred to “traditions” they gave orally as authoritative in no way diminishes the Protestant argument for sola Scriptura. First, it is not necessary to claim that these oral teachings were inspired or infallible, only that they were authoritative.
Now, that’s kind of odd stuff there.
Mr. Robinson: Keep going.
The believers were asked to maintain them and to stand fast in them, but oral teachings of the Apostles were not called inspired or unbreakable or the equivalent unless they were recorded as Scripture.
Mr. Robinson: Well, Bill, I guess that the question that pops into my mind right out of the gate is: Where’s the Bible verse that proves this? Where’s the Bible verse that says the oral teachings were inspired but not infallible, or that they were inspired, authoritative, but not…
Mr. Gould: Merely authoritative, but not inspired.
Mr. Robinson: And why does Paul say, “Maintain them and stand fast in these oral teachings”? I guess the question… I’m sitting here thinking, “Okay, ‘stand fast in them and maintain them’ until when? Until an Apostle says, ‘Stop’? Until the Church said, ‘Stop’? Until somebody who just feels like stopping stops?” If you’re supposed to maintain and stand in an apostolic, oral tradition, who’s going to tell you when to stop maintaining it and when to stop standing in it?
Mr. Gould: That’s certainly problematic.
Mr. Robinson: On Paul’s deathbed, does he jot a quick note and say, “Remember that thing I said? Well, it’s time to let that go, folks”? That’s almost ridiculous.
Mr. Gould: It is ridiculous.
Mr. Robinson: Ultimately, if we read II Thessalonians 2:15, and that’s the passage that’s referenced here in the CRI article, Paul doesn’t make any distinction between the authority or the inspiration of his oral teaching and his writings. He says, “Hold fast to the traditions which I have delivered to you, both in writing and by word of mouth.” So he doesn’t make a distinction between his written tradition and his oral tradition.
Mr. Gould: In fact, it is the authority of Christ that is the claim of the Apostles regarding both their oral and written authority. That’s where they get it from; they get it from Christ and the Holy Spirit. They’re saying here that only the stuff that the Apostles actually wrote down were authoritative because that’s what God told them to do. They said, “If you write it down, it becomes permanently authoritative,” I guess, or something like that. That’s just a rabbit-trail in terms of logic, because it doesn’t make any sense.
Mr. Robinson: So the Holy Spirit inspired the pen but not the tongue? That just doesn’t make any sense.
We’re going to talk a little bit more about that later, Bill, but let’s go to one of the Church Fathers. Let’s go to St. Basil the Great. This is a fourth-century Church Father. He is wrestling with this very tension between the oral tradition of the Church and the apostolic Scriptures, because in the early fourth-century, the Church faced the Arian heresy. They faced what is called the Pneumatomachi, the anti-Holy-Spirit faction within the Church, heretics who believed that the Holy Spirit was not God. St. Basil the Great, in one of the great books in Church history, called On the Holy Spirit, argues for the deity of the Holy Spirit, the God-ness, the Godhood of the Holy Spirit. He brings forth this argument about Tradition and Scriptures.
He says that, essentially, in a quote here, that tradition and Scripture, tradition rightly understood within the life of the Church, the apostolic oral tradition which was faithfully handed on from generation to generation, from faithful teacher to faithful teacher, faithful presbyter to presbyter, was accurately preserved within the life of the Church, both in its liturgy, in its prayers, in its worship, in its doctrine, and in its catechesis, and what is called the rule of faith. St. Basil says:
Of the beliefs and practices that are generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church, some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us by a mystery by the tradition of the Apostles. Both of these in relation to true religion have the same force, and these let no one gainsay, for were we to attempt to reject such customs as having no written authority on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we would unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals.
What he’s saying here in a synopsis is if we remove the tradition, the things that are handed down from generation to generation, we stand in danger of injuring the very message of the Gospel, because it’s within this life of the Church, it’s within the liturgical tradition—the prayers of the Church, the worship of the Church—that the proper definition, the proper understanding of the teachings of the Gospel have been preserved.
Mr. Gould: Let’s follow this just with this simple statement from John Chrysostom. He again writes in the fourth century. He’s referencing the scripture in Thessalonians:
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter.
So he’s quoting Paul.
From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there was much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten, too, is worthy of belief. Let us regard the tradition of the Church as also worthy of belief. Is it tradition? Seek no further.
Mr. Robinson: There you go. But here again we have tradition in the most positive, in the most holy, and the most authoritative sense of the word. That it is tradition that rightly defines and rightly outlines and gives us the proper framework for properly interpreting and properly understanding the message of the Scriptures.
Now, Bill, this goes all the way back to our beginning and our opening, [which] is how do we come up with so many different interpretations of the Scriptures in today’s modern era? You go across 33,000 Protestant denominations; you go across the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, the Jesus Seminar, Dan Brown, you name it, there are so many takes on the message of the Gospel, and you just cannot fall back on, “Well, the meaning of the Bible is so plain and simple and it’s just so clear that anybody can get it.” Well, in one sense, yes, but in another sense you can get it if you have the framework, if you have the proper way of approaching the Scriptures.
Mr. Gould: Again, many of Protestants apparently don’t get it, because they’re calling Hank Hanegraaff on the telephone to ask him on the radio to ask him what it means, to explain it to them.
Mr. Robinson: Everybody goes to the pastor, and Christian bookstores are doing mega-millions of dollars. Nobody comes to the Scriptures alone. Nobody comes to the Scriptures with an ability to rightly and correctly understand them without assistance from somebody who knows a little bit more.
Mr. Gould: Also explicit in this statement from the CRI is this idea that anything worthwhile in the apostolic tradition found its way into writing, that it was recorded somehow, and that’s essentially silly, because to claim that all of the apostolic tradition in all of its detail is found in the New Testament Scriptures is a denial of the Scripture itself where it references that in fact there were other things that were given. So we know the Scriptures just deny that by themselves. We don’t need any help there from anyone else. That’s in the Bible.
Mr. Robinson: The Scriptures teach us that the Scriptures were not the only thing that the Apostles left to us. This is, as you say, the rabbit-trail that we end up down, because if you’re predisposed—and this is, again, that framework that you come to the Scriptures with—to believe that the only authoritative thing that we have is what is in writing, then you’re predisposed to throw out anything that comes to you that claims to be an oral tradition or something handed down or something that claims to be faithfully passed on by word of mouth.
I think we’re going to talk a little bit about our modern, rationalistic culture and how this impacts that framework. Yes, we live in an age that is suspicious of something that is orally tradition, something that is orally passed on, and yet we have, as you say, the written word of God, the Scriptures themselves, a witness to the fact that people in fact did preserve faithfully the apostolic oral tradition and hand that on from generation to generation.
Mr. Gould: The Scriptures actually witness to that.
Mr. Robinson: And they enjoin that process on those that Paul is writing to. He writes to Timothy, Titus, and all of those that he laid hands on, and this is his commission to them, to faithfully pass on what he delivered to them, not just in writing, but as an Apostle, as their teacher, as their mentor, as their spiritual father.
So, Bill, as we come back from the break again…
Mr. Gould: That was point number three. I guess we’re going to move to point number four.
Mr. Robinson: When we come back from the break, we’re going to talk about revelations. We’re going to talk about the 27 books of the [New Testament], the struggle between the tension between Scripture and Tradition again within the life of the Church.
Mr. Robinson: Bill, before we get started on our next point, we have Christy on the phone.
Mr. Gould: Good.
Mr. Robinson: Hi, Christy! How are you?
Christy: I’m good, thank you. And you?
Mr. Robinson: I’m doing great. What can we help you with today?
Christy: This question is more along the lines of Holy Week. In our church they call Easter “Pascha,” and I don’t know if that’s true with all the different churches, but my mom was in a store and actually found a Pascha card that she was going to send me. She opened it up and it had a Jewish star in it. I was wondering is it a word similar to “Passover” or do different churches use different names for Pascha?
Mr. Robinson: That’s an excellent question, and, in fact, the word “Pascha” is Greek for “Passover.” This is the Orthodox word that’s used for Easter. Yes, “Easter” comes, I think, from Germanic roots, Bill? You’ll find Orthodox people who will call Pascha “Easter.”
Mr. Gould: It’s basically saying that Christ is the Passover Lamb. He is the Paschal Lamb. That’s why we call it Pascha, not because we want to be Jewish.
Christy: But they didn’t come up with a separate word for it, then?
Mr. Robinson: No. She almost got it.
Mr. Gould: It would have been odd to see a star of David in there, wouldn’t it?
Christy: Thank you.
Mr. Robinson: You’re welcome.
Okay, Bill. So we’re talking about sola Scriptura, and we’re talking about the issues and the problems. A lot of the knotty problems we end up with if we go down the path of understanding the Bible alone, apart from the life of the early Church, apart from the early apostolic deposit, both written and oral, that shaped and framed and grounded the Church in a proper and right understanding of the Gospel of Christ, its meaning for the world, its meaning for the Christian life.
Mr. Gould: We need both for a proper understanding of what our faith is about.
Mr. Robinson: Point number four, Bill, please, from the CRI.
Mr. Gould: Again, this is from Mr. Geisler and Mr. MacKenzie.
Second, the tradition (teachings) of the Apostles that were revelations were written down and inspired and infallible. They comprise the New Testament. What the Catholic—and we’ll say in this case not just catholic but, of course, any that would argue for both tradition and for Scripture as authoritative—must prove and cannot is that the God who deemed it so important for the faith and morals of the faithful to inspire the inscripturation—which, by the way, is not a real word—of 27 books of apostolic teaching would have left out some important revelation in these books. It is not plausible that he would have allowed succeeding generations to struggle and even fight over precisely where this alleged extrabiblical revelation is to be found.
Well, how about in the Church?
Mr. Robinson: Here, again, it comes back to the point that this is a high view of Scripture and a low view of the Church, that the mindset that you come to the Scriptures with, with this statement, is that the Church was so weak, that the Church was so blown about by every wind of doctrine, that the Church was so hard-hearted that it didn’t follow and it was incapable of being preserved by God, that the Holy Spirit was incapable of guiding it, and so we cannot have any confidence that the Church actually did preserve this apostolic tradition, that it was a struggle for succeeding generations to discern between what was true in Scripture and what was true within the oral tradition of the Church.
Yet, as we have stated before, you have tradition both written and oral that were not canonical, that were heretical, that were false teachings. You had false teachings. You had the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary. You go down the list of all the Gnostic writings. These came alongside heretical oral teachings that claimed to have apostolic authority also. So just because something was written down does not make it less prone to being heretical or false or injurious to the Church.
So this same Church that’s sifting through these non-canonical books is sifting through this non-canonical oral tradition within its own life.
Mr. Gould: It’s true that the New Testament is full of corrective teaching that leads one to assume, and probably rightly so, that the average person in the Church was capable of doing some very ungodlike things and getting it wrong. That’s true.
Mr. Robinson: And believing some wrong things.
Mr. Gould: And that is true. But again, we’re talking not about the individual. We’re talking about the holy Church, the holy Tradition. These are things that God, in fact, did promise to keep, to protect, and in fact he has done so. Has he used the Scriptures to do that? Absolutely. We don’t deny that one bit, but to claim that God is sitting up on his throne and he’s saying, “Man, I’ve got to get these guys to write this down, because…”
Mr. Robinson: “...they’re going to get it wrong.”
Mr. Gould: “They’re going to screw this up somehow.”
Mr. Robinson: Here again we have the witness of our current modern situation with the Scriptures. We have all of these heresies, all these false teachings. We have all these programs on Christian radio to tell people what is false, what is right, what is true, and what’s Scriptural and what’s not. So just having something written down doesn’t guarantee that it’s not going to end up in a false teaching or be interpreted in a way that’s heretical or untrue or unbiblical.
Again, this false dichotomy between something oral and something written, it just doesn’t stand up.
Mr. Gould: A lot of Protestants like to pull out St. Cyril of Jerusalem at this point, because he is a real champion. They even make the claim that he might be ...
Mr. Robinson: A sola Scriptura guy.
Mr. Gould: A sola Scriptura Protestant if he were alive today. We’ll read him.
Mr. Robinson: But he’s one of our saints!
Mr. Gould: He’s one of our saints, interestingly enough.
No doctrine concerning the divine and saving mysteries of the faith, however trivial, may be taught without the backing of the Holy Scriptures.
This is one of our guys, one of our early Fathers.
Mr. Robinson: And we believe what he’s saying here.
Mr. Gould: We do believe this.
We must not let ourselves be drawn aside by mere persuasion and 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 what 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.
Mr. Robinson: Amen!
Mr. Gould: Amen!
Mr. Robinson: Cyril of Alexandria, St. John Chrysostom. We quoted St. John last week. This is what we’re talking about, that Scriptures—Bill, we’re going to have to carry this over into next week already; we have two minutes—really are the rule. They’re the standard by which all doctrine and everything that is taught and believed within the life of the Church is measured, including our oral tradition, including everything that is taught by any bishop, by any layman, by any priest, is held to the light of the Holy Scriptures.
The struggle for this tension between oral tradition and the written tradition, it wasn’t a struggle within the life of the early Church. This didn’t come along until the Reformation, where the reformers were struggling against the infallibility of the Pope versus the infallibility of Scriptures. We had a crisis of authority. The early Church did not have this crisis of authority. The early Church’s self-understanding was that we have the tools and the Holy Spirit to discern what is true, right, and good, and what is proper and what is dogma within the life of the Church. Evidenced by the fact that they sifted out the false books of the canon and they sifted out the heretics and all of these people that were seeking to divide the Church in the early centuries.
Mr. Gould: I know we have thirty seconds, but I just want to say that it’s funny that people think that Cyril of Jerusalem was some sort of lone ranger Christian, and he was some sort of independent running around saying these things. He was an Orthodox Christian. He believed the things of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
Mr. Robinson: This is from his catechetical lectures. This is what he taught people coming into the Church.
Bill, next week we’re going to have to pick this up again, and we’re going to continue our discussion of tradition, Scripture, and the role of the Scriptures in the life of the Orthodox Church. Thank you for joining us today. Please come and visit one of our churches during Holy Week. Have a blessed week. We’ll see you next week.