Friday, February 26, 2010

Sola Scriptura Debate

I recently finished my standardized debate with Rhology, a Reformed Baptist, on the subject of Sola Scriptura. I will be posting some reflections on the debate soon, but, for those who are interested, here are the links to each of our entries as well as our respective comment repositories:

In chronological order:

Opening Statements

First Rebuttals

Second Rebuttals

Rhology's first question to me
My answer

My first question to Rhology
His answer

Rhology's second question to me
My answer

My second question to Rhology
His answer

Rhology's third question to me
My answer

My third question to Rhology
His answer

Final Statements

Comment Repositories

Thursday, February 18, 2010

St. Melito of Sardis & Sola Scriptura

Unfortunately, not a whole lot is known about St. Melito of Sardis. He wrote around the year AD 170. If the lists of books attributed to him by later Christian authors are any indication, he was a prolific writer, and most sources indicate he was held in very high regard by his contemporaries. Of his many writings, though, only some fragments, mostly found in quotes by later authors, remain to us today.

His significance in the debate over Sola Scriptura is that the oldest list of the books of the Old Testament made by a Christian is attributed to him. This quote is often put forward by Protestants as evidence that their trimmed-down canon of Scripture (which doesn't include the deuterocanonical books) is the original Christian Old Testament canon. This is an important point in their defense of Sola Scriptura because if Protestants have the wrong canon their entire proposition fails. One unknown but necessary commandment of Scripture is enough to turn Sola Scriptura on its head. Here's St. Melito of Sardis on the Old Testament canon:
"I accordingly proceeded to the East, and went to the very spot where the things in question were preached and took place; and, having made myself accurately acquainted with the books of the Old Testament, I have set them down below, and here with send you the list. Their names are as follows:- The five books of Moses -- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Joshua, Judges, Ruth, the four books of Kings, the two of Chronicles, the book of the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon, the Book of Wisdom also, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Job, the books of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, of the twelve contained in a single book, Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras." - St. Melito of Sardis, The Book of Extracts
There are several problems with Protestants using this passage in support of their canon of Scripture, though. Here are a few:
  1. The list does include one deuterocanonical book -- the Wisdom of Solomon.
  2. The list doesn't include Esther, Nehemiah, or Lamentations (although the latter two are assumed to be included within Esdras and Jeremiah, respectively), all part of the Protestant Old Testament.
  3. There is no indication that the books Melito was reading were part of the Masoretic textual tradition espoused by Protestants. In fact, the evidence is in favor of Melito's books being part of the Septuagint textual tradition, including the fact that Nehemiah and Lamentations may be included in Esdras and Jeremiah; that Melito refers to the books by their Septuagint names (4 books of Kings = 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Samuel, & 2 Samuel; Esdras = Ezra; etc.); and, of course, the fact that Melito's language was Greek, not Hebrew. For anyone who has compared the Septuagint with the Masoretic, the problem here is plain: there are verses and even large sections of books (such as in Isaiah, for example) that differ significantly between the two textual traditions.
  4. Melito probably made a mistake in choosing his source. The list of Old Testament books he gives here, which he says he became familiar with during his travel to the East, he probably got from the Palestinian Jews. Melito was probably unaware that the Jews had already begun to trim down their Bible at that point, largely as a reaction against Christians.
In the end, his list disagrees with both the current Orthodox Old Testament canon as well as the Protestant canon, and this does much more to undermine the Protestant position than the Orthodox. The Orthodox position does not hinge on any given book or verse; our Faith is preserved in the Tradition of our Church handed down through each generation of believers. The Protestant position breaks with one misplaced, misunderstood, or mistranslated word of Scripture.

And, to conclude, there's absolutely no indication in any of St. Melito's surviving writings that he believed in Sola Scriptura.

If you're interested in reading the writings of St. Melito of Sardis, you may do so here.

[Note: There has been some contention over whether St. Melito lists Wisdom as a separate book or is giving another name for the book of Proverbs. The Greek phrase in question here is "Σολομῶνος Παροιμίαι ἡ καὶ Σοφία" which, literally translated, means "Solomon's Proverbs, Wisdom too." Scholars of Greek language have largely thrown out the propisition, first put forward by Protestant translators in the 19th century, that Melito intended to say "Solomon's Proverbs, also [known as] Wisdom," as the Greek would be better rendered in the plural as "Σολομῶνος Παροιμίαι αἱ καὶ Σοφία" if this were the case. As it stands, the proposition that Melito intended to refer to the same book by two different titles can safely be discarded as the product of misguided Protestant apologetics. He is clearly referring to two distinct books.]

(slightly edited from original; originally published at Pious Fabrications on 27 December 2009)

Monday, February 15, 2010

St. Justin Martyr & Sola Scriptura

St. Justin Martyr, also called "the Philosopher," was a follower of Greek pagan philosophies who converted to Christianity. He used his training in rhetoric, logic, and philosophical thought to write several outstanding defenses of the Christian Faith, addressing both Jews and pagans.

After winning a debate against a pagan philosopher, he was exposed by his opponent as a Christian to the authorities and martyred in Rome.

His writings are a strong witness to the Faith and practice of the early Church. One of the most interesting passages in his writings is an outline of Christian worship, which outline is the same as the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church today:
"And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need." - St. Justin Martyr, First Apology, 67
Justin's position on anything like Sola Scriptura seems to have been very similar to that we saw previously exhibited by Ignatius, namely, that the Scripture-only position of some Jews was antithetical to a true understanding of the Scriptures (at that time, only what we now call the Old Testament), which must be understood in the light of the Gospel, which existed almost entirely in oral Tradition at that time. Here's a relevant quote:
"For these words have neither been prepared by me, nor embellished by the art of man; but David sung them, Isaiah preached them, Zechariah proclaimed them, and Moses wrote them. Are you acquainted with them, Trypho? They are contained in your Scriptures, or rather not yours, but ours. For we believe them; but you, though you read them, do not catch the spirit that is in them." - St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 29
To read more of the writings of St. Justin Martyr, click here.

(originally published 21 December 2009 at Pious Fabrications)
Saturday, February 6, 2010

St. Polycarp of Smyrna & Sola Scriptura

St. Polycarp of Smyrna was a disciple of St. John the Apostle and a friend of both Sts. Papias of Hierapolis and Ignatius of Antioch, who were also disciples of the Apostle John. He was martyred by being burned at the stake in about AD 155 and a very interesting firsthand account of his martyrdom survives to us today, which we'll look at after his letter.

Unfortunately, only one writing of St. Polycarp survives to us today: a letter he addressed to the church in Philippi around AD 110. Let's look at some quotes:
"For neither am I, nor is any other like unto me, able to follow the wisdom of the blessed and glorious Paul, who when he came among you taught face to face with the men of that day the word which concerneth truth carefully and surely; who also, when he was absent, wrote a letter unto you, into the which if ye look diligently, ye shall be able to be builded up unto the faith given to you." - Letter to the Philippians 3:2 [emphasis mine]
Read that whole passage carefully, paying special attention the parts I've bolded. Notice what Polycarp is saying: that St. Paul came to Philippi and taught the people "face to face," that is, orally, then, after he had left, wrote them a letter. And then Polycarp tells them that if they read that letter "diligently" they "shall be able to be builded up unto the faith given to you." Note that: "given to you." Polycarp is saying exactly what the Orthodox say today about Scripture's relationship to the Faith: not that it is the sole source, but that it builds us up in that Faith already given to us orally through our teachers.

It is with this letter by Polycarp that we also begin to see Protestant proof-texting of the Fathers in their attempts to make it appear that they believed in Sola Scriptura. I have seen this sentence quoted in support of that position:
"For I am persuaded that ye are well trained in the sacred writings, and nothing is hidden from you." - Letter to the Philippians 12:1
But is Polycarp really supporting anything like Sola Scriptura here? No, he's not. Let's note that he's not making a logically exclusive connection between the "sacred writings" and "nothing is hidden from you." He says "and," not "so." And he also says nothing about the Scriptures alone.

In fact, his whole point in writing this letter was to attach it as a cover letter to copies of the seven letters written by St. Ignatius which he was sending to the church at Philippi. And here's what he has to say about Ignatius' letters:
"The letters of Ignatius which were sent to us by him, and others as many as we had by us, we send unto you, according as ye gave charge; the which are subjoined to this letter; from which ye will be able to gain great advantage. For they comprise faith and endurance and every kind of edification, which pertaineth unto our Lord." - Letter to the Philippians 13:2
And, no doubt, if he had made this statement about some of the writings contained in Scripture Protestants would be proof-texting this in support of Sola Scriptura as well.

Now, we'll take a look at a quote from the firsthand account of his martyrdom, which records for us two ancient Christian practices preserved in the Orthodox Church today, the veneration of relics and the commemoration of the saints' feast days:
"Thus we [the Christians], having afterwards taken up his [Polycarp's] bones, more valuable than precious stones, laid them where it was suitable. There, so far as is allowed us, when we are gathered together in exultation and joy, the Lord will enable us to celebrate the birthday [actually the death day; their 'birthday' into heaven] of the martyrs, both for the memory of those who have contended, and for the exercise and preparation of those to come." - The Martyrdom of Polycarp, 18, 2-3

Read St. Polycarp's letter to the Philippians for yourself here.
You can also read the firsthand account of his martyrdom here.

(originally published 18 December 2009 at Pious Fabrications)
Monday, February 1, 2010

St. Papias of Hierapolis & Sola Scriptura

Unfortunately, not much is known about St. Papias of Hierapolis; what we do know, though, is very interesting. He was an early Bishop of Hierapolis, a city in modern-day Turkey. Around AD 120, he wrote a book entitled The Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord in which he gave interpretations of various sayings of Jesus Christ, some of which are not found in the four Gospels of our New Testament.

And what makes St. Papias a very important figure in answering the question of whether the Fathers believed in Sola Scriptura is just this point. The sayings of Christ he records and explains are ones he learned directly from those who had been hearers of Christ and the Apostles. And the reason for this is because he placed more value on receiving the sayings of Christ orally from trustworthy individuals than on reading them from the books that would later become the New Testament! Here is St. Papias' position, apparently the diametric opposite of Sola Scriptura, in his own words:
"If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings,--what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord's disciples: which things Aristion and the Priest John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice." - Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord, fragments
If you'd like to read more of St. Papias' writings, click here.

(originally published 13 December 2009 at Pious Fabrications)





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