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Jones Responds

Experience is a strange animal. Some animals are big and hairy. Big and hairy animals tend to follow habitual patterns of behavior and miss out on the finer points of life. My concern is not with Mr. Matatics' person but his appeal to his experience. As Senator Bentsen might say, "I know big and hairy animals, and Mr. Matatics is no big and hairy animal." My thought is that for all of Mr. Matatics' professed disillusionment with Protestant arguments, we should not necessarily follow his lead and infer that the arguments for Sola Scriptura are unsound or even weak. His experience, like a big and hairy animal, might have trapped him in patterns of thought which only serve to confirm his suspicions against rather obvious matters. Hence, experience, like big and hairy animals, leaves unmanageable messes all over the place.

Nevertheless, since Mr. Matatics has seen fit to rehearse some of his personal experience to buttress his case, he can't complain if I dispute that background. My overriding response to Mr. Matatics' entire essay is that he so misunderstands Sola Scriptura that I find it hard to be persuaded of his "pedigree" that he was "of the people of Protestantism, of the tribe of Evangelicalism, a Calvinist of Calvinists." For example, how could a "Calvinist of Calvinists" genuinely maintain that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura implies that oral revelation was not normative prior to inscripturation? I tried to guard him from this error, but since I misplaced my collection of papal pronouncements, my warnings were apparently of no effect. In my previous essay, I explained that "no advocate of Sola Scriptura would claim, for example, that the immediate hearers of Isaiah's pronouncements were free to disregard his prophetic revelations simply because he had not written them down. This would be a silly understanding of Sola Scriptura." Yet this is the view Mr. Matatics insists on attacking. I can readily join him in that cause, though I think we might better spend our time at the movies, since no Protestant holds that view, except apparently Mr. Matatics prior to his conversion. For his sake, I genuinely hope his misconception of Sola Scriptura was not instrumental in his conversion.

Nine Steps to Maybe Scriptura

In his opening case, Mr. Matatics offers nine steps against Sola Scriptura. Evidently, these steps are not distinct arguments against the doctrine, since some are mere explanations and others are reassertions of aspects of my case for Sola Scriptura (and thus not contrary to my case). In fact, none of Mr. Matatics' "case against" Sola Scriptura contradicts my thesis, though he comes closer in the eighth step, which ironically says that I must fill in some of his argument!

Accordingly, we should take Mr. Matatics' case against Sola Scriptura as evidence of my claim above regarding his basic misconception of the doctrine, since it assumes a bizarre view common to Roman Catholic apologists (though really inexcusable in this case) that Sola Scriptura precludes all forms of oral revelation.

Despite the strange fact that his nine steps don't contradict my case, Mr. Matatics goes on to claim that these steps demonstrate that "Sola Scriptura contradicts the clear teaching of God's Word that there exists, alongside Scripture, a divine Tradition and a Teaching Authority (the Magisterium of the Church) which must be equally heeded and without which Scripture is inevitably misinterpreted." For the sake of easy reference, I'll call this the "Matatics Magisterium" conclusion. Since this conclusion is much bolder than his more amenable nine steps, let's evaluate the steps in turn so that I won't be accused of shirking my duty.

1. Mr. Matatics asserts that the doctrine of Scripture is a subset of the doctrine of revelation. All advocates of Sola Scriptura hold this view as well. It alone obviously doesn't entail the Matatics Magisterium conclusion.

2. Mr. Matatics argues that the process of revelation was initially and primarily one of speaking and from that infers that the development of a written document was not necessary. Again, I argued for the premise (not the inference) in my opening essay; it doesn't count against Sola Scriptura and why should it? His inference, though, is obviously fallacious. God's speaking only makes Scripture unnecessary in the trivial sense that He could have used holograms to record His revelation if He so chose, but Mr. Matatics' inference needs more content than this. God, in His wisdom, deemed inscripturation necessary, and so it becomes so (Ex. 17:14; 24:4; 34:1; Is. 30:8; 34:16; Jer. 25:13; 30:2; 36:1-32). Does Mr. Matatics deny this necessity? Moreover, this step doesn't entail the Matatics Magisterium conclusion.

3. Mr. Matatics again reiterates claims I made in defense of Sola Scriptura regarding oral revelation of the prophets. Yet, a contradiction arises only if we mistakenly take Sola Scriptura to somehow rule out all oral revelation. Moreover, this step doesn't entail the Matatics Magisterium conclusion.

4. Mr. Matatics argues that God definitively revealed Himself in a person, Christ, and not the words of a book. Where is the contradiction with Sola Scriptura? All agree that the incarnation is the glorious event of history, but it doesn't support the false dichotomy Mr. Matatics draws between the words of a book and those of a person. This Saussurean-like denigration of the written word is particularly disturbing for those of us Protestants following Peter's lead (II Pet. 1:20) who teaches that the person of the Holy Spirit speaks in Scripture. And, nevertheless, where is the support for the Matatics Magisterium conclusion?

5. Mr. Matatics maintains that Christ, in accord with John 5:19 ("whatever the Father does the Son also does"), also sends the apostles as a "living, spoken word" so that "men could hear God directly speaking."

First, this alone also doesn't tell against Sola Scriptura, unless one mistakenly assumes Sola Scriptura precludes the work of Christ.

Second, Matatics again assumes that Scripture is a collection of dead symbols, yet every Protestant is familiar with Hebrews 4:10 -- "the word of God [oral or written] is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword." A living person does actively speak to us in Scripture.

Third, in order for Mr. Matatics' argument to carry any weight, we need a very literal understanding of John 5:19, but if we do so, then embarrassments arise. For example, Mr. Matatics would also have to maintain that when Christ walked on water (Jn. 6:19), He was imitating the Father who was walking on water. Similarly, we would have to believe that when Christ allowed Mary to pour ointment on His feet (Lk. 7:38,39) the Father was doing the same thing in heaven.[1] But these are absurd, and hence, Mr. Matatics' interpretation is false.

Fourth, this step doesn't entail the Matatics Magisterium conclusion.

6. In this step, Mr. Matatics claims that Christ commanded the apostles to preach, not to write, and then lists several "stumbling blocks," which point to the fact that not all oral revelation was inscripturated.

First, the initial claim is a fallacious argument from silence.

Second, it is strange for someone who claims that much revelation was left unwritten to make the universal generalization that "there is no explicit command to `go and write.'" How could he know such a statement was not said, given his outlook?

Third, the claim is irrelevant given the Protestant understanding of Sola Scriptura. There are indeed many things that the Lord, in His perfect wisdom, did not choose to inscripturate. So what? Whatever God gave chose to inscripturate is sufficient (II Pet. 1:2f; II Tim. 3:16,17; cf. Heb. 1:1-3; 2:1-4).

Fourth, this step doesn't entail the Matatics Magisterium conclusion.

One final point. Many Roman Catholic apologists use this appeal to the unwritten revelation which "the world itself would not contain the books which were written" (Jn. 21:25) as a stock refutation of Sola Scriptura. Such an appeal not only misconstrues the doctrine, but it can be easily turned on Roman Catholics. Have they collected in oral form all the unwritten revelation uttered by Christ? Do they have the contents of all of Paul's sermons? No, they obviously can't, given John's statements. Hence, the argument should also tell against their woefully "incomplete" collection of oral tradition.

7. Mr. Matatics claims that Scripture nowhere states that all oral tradition would eventually become Scripture and that the preservation of God's Word through inscripturation is a Protestant presupposition "without the slightest scrap of scriptural warrant."

First, even granting the truth of Mr. Matatics' bold assertion, it does not contradict the claim that Scripture is the supreme norm.

Second, even at that, the repeated Biblical precedent of transforming oral revelation into written form has a wide range of Scriptural support which is summarized in my previous essay.

Third, this argument does nothing to support the Matatics Magisterium conclusion, since it would then be an argument from silence.

Fourth,the claim that "inscripturation is the only way to permanently preserve" revelation is a straw man; who would deny that God could, if he so chose, preserve His word on video tape, but He didn't.

Fifth, Mr. Matatics appears ignorant of the fact that God Himself directed inscripturation of His revelation to preserve it for future generations. For example, He directed Isaiah, "Now go, write it on a tablet before them and inscribe it on a scroll, that it may serve in time to come as a witness forever" (Is. 30:8; cf. 8:1; 34:16). Notice how the Lord, in this text, places great emphasis on the permanence of written revelation, with no thought of a permanent oral transmission. Similarly, the Lord directed Jeremiah, "Take a scroll and write on it all the words which I have spoken to you concerning Israel, and Judah, and all the nations....Perhaps the house of Judah will hear all the calamity which I plan to bring on them, in order that every man will turn from his evil way" (Jer. 36:2,3; cf. 25:13; 36:1-32; 51:60). There are plenty of scraps along these lines to rebut Mr. Matatics' claim.

Sixth, this step doesn't entail the Matatics Magisterium conclusion.

8. Mr. Matatics claims that there is a standing command to pass on oral apostolic tradition and that the burden is on Protestants to show that this is repealed.

First, given the burden I bore in my first essay to the end that covenant history in Scripture is one long precedent for the claim that oral revelation regularly ceases and becomes inscripturated, I could simply point out that Mr. Matatics truly bears the burden of demonstrating why this precedent now changes. But because some might deem this legitimate move as a cop-out, I will bear this unnecessary burden anyway.

Mr. Matatics is amused that I argue for the continuation of Old Testament standards unless revoked by God but then apparently abandon that principle. To begin with, Mr. Matatics fails to see that the apparent inconsistency vanishes due to the fact that I and all advocates of Sola Scriptura maintain that II Thessalonians 2:15 is still in force. Paul declares that we are to "hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us." So please, Mr. Matatics, find me an apostle of Christ, and I will heed his oral revelation! What this response brings out is the fact that Mr. Matatics has slipped in the assumption of apostolic succession in order to generate the alleged inconsistency. He can't invoke such a premise without proof, and I reject apostolic succession as a contradiction in terms. The New Testament describes the church as being "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets"(Eph. 2:20), the twelve foundation stones (Rev. 21:14) of the "bride, the wife of the Lamb" (Rev. 21:9). A foundation is a base, non-successive structure. It does not recur at every level of the building as the Roman Catholic mincing of this imagery demands (i.e. on New Testament teaching, "apostolic succession" turns out to be "foundational non-foundation"!)

Hence, as it stands this step neither counts against Sola Scriptura, nor supports the Matatics Magisterium conclusion.

Nevertheless, the same argument can be turned on Mr. Matatics. Even though he imagines that apostolic authority continues, he explains in footnote 25 that the inspired revelation of the original apostles is not reproduced by their alleged successors. So, he does not even practice II Thessalonians 2:15 in the manner Paul teaches.

9. Mr. Matatics closes out his case by arguing that the apostles ensured the permanence of their message by appointing faithful guardians who make up an infallible church. Mr. Matatics supplies the basis for this claim in footnotes 24-27.

First, Mr. Matatics offers Scriptural support for basically uncontroversial claims regarding ordination, preaching and teaching authority, etc., but he fails to do so on the key point, namely, that "succession to office was conceived of as dynastic succession and filial inheritance." Without substantiating this key claim (which he may yet provide), his argument proves nothing that would be denied by the Reformers.

Second, Mr. Matatics' arguments for Papal authority are missing too many premises to be taken seriously in their present mystical, Tyler-like, form.

Third, the one argument for the ninth step that he does complete is the traditional Roman Catholic appeal to the church as the "pillar and support of truth" (I Tim. 3:15) against which the gates of hell cannot prevail (Matt. 16:18). Why does Mr. Matatics think these count against Protestant interpretations? Neither necessarily implies an infallible church, unless you sneak in hidden assumptions about institutional unity.

In response to Mr. Matatics' query whether the church could teach heresy and still be the foundation of truth, we simply need to reflect on the Old Covenant church (Acts 7:38) to realize that even though she was the foundation of truth, the "rich root of the olive tree" (Rom. 11:17), onto which the New Covenant church was grafted (Rom. 11: 18), she was unfaithful to her Lord and "multiplied her harlotries" (Ezek. 16:26). Nevertheless, God did not abandon her but promised to remember His covenant with her, though she permitted false shepherds to teach false doctrines (Ezek. 34ff.).

Fourth, this step doesn't entail the Matatics Magisterium conclusion.

Hence, the problem with Mr. Matatics Biblical case against Sola Scriptura is basically fourfold. One, his case doesn't contradict my thesis at all, except for coming close to doing so in step eight, but, as demonstrated above, his argument only succeeds if he assumes the legitimacy of apostolic succession. Two, he repeatedly assumes the false view that Sola Scriptura precludes oral revelation. Three, none of the steps individually or as a whole comes close to entailing the bold Matatics Magisterium conclusion. And four, most of the steps fail on their own account due to fallacious inferences.

The Invasion of Big and Hairy Experience

After attempting his Biblical case against Sola Scriptura, Matatics turns to suggest other problems in my essay. This falls into two sections. The first section focuses on his objections to how I state my thesis, and the second responds to various Biblical evidence I raised.

Objections to the Statement of the Doctrine

I greatly appreciate the way Mr. Matatics refutes himself by first raising objections and then reiterating how I had already solved the very objections he raises. For instance, after several charges of begging-the-question and equivocation, Matatics demonstrates how the charges simply don't apply to my case.

As noted at the outset of this essay, Mr. Matatics is committed to the false understanding of Sola Scriptura which precludes any oral revelation as normative. Again, no Protestant has ever held this, since it's rather silly. Yet his insistence on this view comes out most clearly in this section. For example, he exclaims, "If scriptura includes oral as well as written teaching, then there is nothing left to argue about: Catholics can affirm sola scriptura too!" Does Mr. Matatics genuinely maintain that Protestants believe that the divine proclamations of the prophets, apostles, and Christ were not absolutely normative for their hearers? If so, say it louder and clearer, so at least we can move onto to other subjects, since no Protestant would defend such a view.[2]

As stated in my previous essay, the central issue which Protestants affirm and Roman Catholics deny is the claim that the history of redemption demonstrates that God at some points revealed His word temporarily in prophetic/oral form and then inscripturated this norm permanently in written form, with no subsequent authoritative appeals to oral revelation. This, based on the record of Biblical history, implies that the sole and supreme norm is God's Word (temporary oral or written), apart from secondary interpreters, explications, or "infallible" institutions. Hence, Protestants maintain that, following inscripturation, the oral "speaking as a child" is done away with, and our only norm is the written word of God.

Mr. Matatics is upset with these claims.

First, he complains that I simply assume that "infallible institutions" are not part of God's written word. In his apparent haste, he failed to note that these statements are not assumed, as he asserts, but, as I previously stated, derived inductively from "the Old Testament practice discussed below."

Secondly, the Old Testament does not contain anything close to a body of authoritative tradition or an infallible institution on par with Scripture. Nowhere in the Old Testament will you find a body of living tradition like that advocated by Roman Catholicism, i.e. a non-revelatory, secondary explication a lá Matatics' footnote 25. This sort of arrangement is unknown in the Old Testament. Nowhere will he find the people of God appealing to non-revelatory interpretations or institutions as a norm on par with Scripture. Now he can deny it was necessary for that time or that it developed after the New Testament, but that sort of admission only supports my case.

Objections to the Scriptural Evidence: Old Testament

This is the fun section, for Mr. Matatics appears to lose his cool and let his rhetoric fly ("Calvinistic cataract," "Captain Jones," "nulla scriptura," "ad nauseam," "confessional chaos," "relativism endemic to Protestantism," "slowed to a trickle," "dried-up dusty gulch," "Maid of the Missed," etc.). Quaint, but I think he doth protest too much. If we ignore the rhetorical pandering, we see that the same mistakes arise as before.

First, his responses to the evidence from Pre-Mosaic and Mosaic revelation generally fail, because they attempt to force Mr. Matatics false view of Sola Scriptura onto the data. Moreover, Mr. Matatics cannot seriously contend that Adam functioned as an infallible Magisterium with the "privilege of infallibility" which "does not admit of appeal to any other tribunal"![3] This, after all, was the heart of Adam's sin, not his virtue.

Second, regarding Noah, Mr. Matatics concedes that Noah and his sons did not need an interpreter of God's Word, but then implies that Noah stood as a standard on par with God's Word. Where is this in the text? Prophets reiterate God's word on pain of judgment for mixing their own messages with God's. There is thus only one standard in Noah's time.

Third, as concerns Abraham, Mr. Matatics chooses to ignore the fact that God self-authenticates His word apart from human institutions. Mr. Matatics' concerns regarding Isaac are irrelevant to my claims given Abraham's prophetic status.

Fourth, regarding Levitical priests, one will look in vain in the passages Mr. Matatics cites for "devastating" evidence against Sola Scriptura. God reveals His commands to His prophet who faithfully conveys God's words, not a secondary body of infallible priestly explications, to Aaron and the priests. Moreover, Mr. Matatics may be using these citations as evidence of oral tradition in the Mosaic era, but, as before, this would be based on his ongoing misconception.

Fifth, Mr. Matatics claims that "priestly tradition" mediated (infallibly interpreted?) the Scriptures, but, in order to prove such a bold-faced claim, he needs to do much better than appealing to a citation which only speaks of the absence of "teaching priests" (II Chron. 15:3). Moreover, where is this body of priestly tradition? Give examples of authoritative appeals to it. Prove that it held a position on par with Scripture.

Sixth, Mr. Matatics incorrectly reads me as invoking Deuteronomy 4:2 as naively prohibiting further revelation. If he would step out of his immediate debate-mode responses to any appeal to these verses, he would see that my argument is not as he contends but rather in support of the narrower conclusion that no one was to add or remove the commandments found in the covenantal document. This does in fact preclude oral additions or deletions to the regulations in this document (Surely Mr. Matatics does not contend that God condones adding oral regulations contrary or in addition to those given even if those persons in question didn't tamper with the physical text!). Moreover, Mr. Matatics chooses to ignore the fact that these commandments were read directly to the people who were expected to understand and apply God's word so as not to adulterate it, even if their priests did. Where is the infallible interpreter in this situation?

Seventh, Mr. Matatics claims that my arguments from the wisdom and prophetic literature fail or backfire, but my suspicion is that he has read them through his misconception of the doctrine.

Objections to the Scriptural Evidence: New Testament

First, Mr. Matatics believes that the close of the Old Testament canon is irrelevant, but he really needs to do better than that. The completion of the Old Testament canon stands as a strong precedent in my case, and it does not assume the extinction of any inspired oral tradition, since it is an inductive conclusion. Instead, he needs to provide opposing inductive evidence that such a body of co-supreme oral traditions existed (embarrassingly, Pharisaical tradition would be a candidate for such evidence). Please describe this authoritative tradition. Point to New Testament appeals to it which set it on par with Scripture.

Second, Mr. Matatics brushes passed my theological argument from the New Testament on the basis of his analysis of the Old Testament passages, but his analyses are now seen to fail, and so my argument holds.

Third, Mr. Matatics misconstrues my use of various New Testament passages which speak of Old Testament Scripture, since I don't use them to demonstrate Sola Scriptura.

Fourth, his remaining misguided concerns about question-begging and oral tradition, I have refuted previously.

Fifth, Mr. Matatics claims that I had not refuted the Catholic church's case for an infallible magisterium, but he now stands corrected, though this is not my burden. Moreover, I have argued that his treatment of Matthew 16 is not developed enough to refute it. He needs more premises to qualify as needing a refutation, though this is not our topic.

In conclusion, much of Mr. Matatics' negative case fails simply because of his earlier misconceptions. He does not want to allow Protestants to define their own doctrines, since that removes many of his objections. Nevertheless, we simply don't hold to the views he imagines we hold. Moreover, he has yet to provide anything in the Old or New Testaments which resembles the body of living tradition and infallible interpretations he so relishes in Roman Catholicism. The arguments against Sola Scriptura are simply not there, but the waterfall of Scripture in support of Sola Scriptura remains. Mr. Matatics simply has to be facing the right direction.


Notes

[1 ] In footnote fourteen, Mr. Matatics attempts to prove that the texts he cites support the Roman Catholic understanding of the church, but the very same texts are used by the Reformers and Reformed standards to describe the ordained offices in Protestant churches. Hence, Mr. Matatics does not offer any distinctive proof for the Roman Catholic position.

[2] For those in doubt regarding other claims in this section, I offer the following thoughts so as not to shirk my duties. (1) Matatics claims I am unfair for, in a sense, not stating my thesis in accord with a false notion of Sola Scriptura. My thesis is only unfair if one misconceives the radical break between Protestants and Roman Catholics. (2) I don't assume that the "Word of God" and "Scripture" are always interchangeable, but they often are, and I offered Scriptural proof for this point, though Mr. Matatics responds that I assume it a priori. (3) Strangely, Mr. Matatics wants to refute a technical term for a theological doctrine, Scriptura, by conducting a word study. The doctrine is defined in the manner Protestants have explicated it, regardless of word studies, and I have simply reiterated the doctrine as stated in the Reformers and such standards as The Westminster Confession of Faith. (4) Mr. Matatics complains of my apparently dogmatic statement that "God reveals His word orally and temporarily...andthen subsequently inscripturates" it. Far from not producing "a single scriptural statement in substantiation, I have readily met this genuine burden in my recounting of Biblical history on the matter. The precedent is based squarely on the texts cited. (5) Mr. Matatics wants a prooftext showing "that after an oracle was reduced to writing, God prohibited its continued transmission in oral form." This is not my view, and I don't know why Mr. Matatics imagines that a Protestant would think God prohibits, for example, me from transmitting Paul's letter to the Ephesians by phone to a friend in Africa. Mr. Matatics needs to clarify his objection. (6) My arguments have no need to infer, assume, or prove that "no unwritten oral teachings of prophets or apostles have in fact survived." Mr. Matatics is wasting space.

[3 ] Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, III, 25.


7-18-96 tew
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