by C Michael PattonJuly 1st, 2008 4 Comments
In the last post of this series, I made an argument for the “Dual-Source Theory” of authority (shared by both Catholics and many Eastern Orthodox). Naturally, since I don’t hold to this theory, I have responses to each point of argument that was made. Please understand that while I am persuaded that the doctrine of sola Scriptura, understood correctly, presents the most viable and accurate view of Christian authority, I by no means mean to dismiss any Dual-Source Theory as ignorant or completely out in left field. Let my responses be seen in light of such a perspective.
I will restate each argument for the Dual-Source Theory and then provide what I believe to be a representative response for the sola Scriptura position. I may give each one their own blog post so as not to overwhelm you with a long reading.
Dual-Source Theory argument #1
The Scriptures clearly say that there were many other things that Christ did that were not written down.
“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”
The idea is that the body of revelation given by Christ was not exhausted by the writings of the Apostles. This, at least, evidences that there could have been oral teachings that were passed on and just as important and authoritative.
It is self-evident that the Bible did not record everything that Jesus said and did. John’s purpose in telling his readers this is not because he wants them to seek out “unwritten Tradition” or some second source of authority other than his letter to learn of these “other” things, but because he wants them to know that what he has recorded contains sufficient information to bring one to salvation.
Notice the rest of the passage. This provides a good argument that the Gospel of John alone, from the view of the Apostle, provides sufficient information about Christ to, if believed, bring on to salvation. This ends up providing an argument for one aspect of sola Scriptura rather than against it.
“Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (emphasis added).
There is no reason to think that people need exhaustive knowledge of all that Christ said or did. The Bible is not exhaustive history, it is theological history. If John felt that there was another necessary source that people needed to understand in addition to what he wrote then his assumption about the sufficiency of his record seems either misleading or erroneous.
But let me not overstate my case here. Catholics who deny sola Scriptura will respond by siting the difference between the “material sufficiency” and the “formal sufficiency” of Scripture. Catholics can—and often do—believe that the Scripture contains all the information necessary for Salvation (material sufficiency), but they also believe it lacks the ability to interpret itself. Therefore, an absolute and authoritative interpreter is necessary to understand the Scripture. In this way, the Scripture lacks “formal sufficiency.”
Protestants, such as myself, would respond, at least with regard to the current argument about the Gospel of John, that to suppose John assumed his readers, whomever they may be, would need an infallible interpreter in order to understand his letter is a bit presumptuous. There is no indication that John felt that his letter lacked either material or formal sufficiency. From my point of view, to say that the Gospel of John is formally insufficient to accomplish its proposed purpose (i.e. it cannot be understood without an infallible interpreter and, hence, people cannot have “life in his name” because of this lack), is to force a foreign notion into the mind of John that is in no sense taught, evident, or justified beyond one’s presupposed theology. In other words, most advocates of the Dual-Source Theory must see John in such a way, not because of the evidence, but because their presupposed Dual-Source paradigm demands such.
I believe that this is unjustified.
Again, this one response does not destroy the Dual-Source Theory of authority, it simply evidences, in my opinion, the weakness of this proposed argument for the theory. I will continue to deal with the other arguments in subsequent blog posts.
- Can Catholics Affirm Sola Scriptura?
- In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Three – An Argument for the Dual-Source Theory
- In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Five – What is Tradition?
- In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Two – Martin Luther
- In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Eight – What about all the divisions?