Epistemolgical Problems with the Catholic critiques of Sola Scriptura

Here is a quote that demonstrates the Catholic’s challenge to Protestants.

“The implications of Roman Catholic approach on the question of canon become immediately clear. When faced with the dilemma of how we know which books should be in or out of the canon, the Roman Catholic model claims a quite simple solution. As H. J. Adriaanse observes, “Catholic Theology . . . has solved the canon problem with a plea to the authority of the Church.” Thus, the canon is ultimately community determined. The fundamental challenge from Roman Catholicism is that in order to have an infallible Scripture, we need to have an infallible guide (namely, the church) to tell us what is, and what is not, Scripture. As Karl Rahner asserts, “[Scripture] exists because the church exists.” Thus, it is argued, the Protestant claim of sola scriptura is inevitably hollow—you cannot have Scripture as the ultimate authority if you have no certain way of knowing what Scripture is. (Michael J. Kruger (2012-04-05). Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books.)

The question is “how do we know, with certainty, which books are properly deemed inspired scripture?” Many protestants use three criteria to answer this question: canon as reception (exclusive), canon as use (functional), and canon as divinely given (ontological). But, in using these criteria to establish our beliefs as warranted and justified, the question comes with the first two criteria. How can we know that the “right” canon was received? How can we know that the “right” canon functioned as the authoritative foundation of the early church?

The problem with these questions are the espistemological difficulties that plagues them. So I will issue critiques on the Roman Catholic critiques.

Let me start by asking a simple question and demonstrating their complete inability to answer simple questions with the amount of certainty they expect from us, which will be followed by a demonstration that their amount of certainty in the magesterium fairs no better, in fact much worse, than the Protestant position of Sola Scriptura.

Question: How do you know that the earth is spherical?
Answer: the evidence proposed from reliable sources (like Nasa) lends more credibility to spherical than flat, and therefore I believe that it is round.

Question: How do you know Nasa is reliable? How do you measure credibility? How did you identify reliable sources to begin with?
Answer: Well I have seen pictures, and seen the unanimity of the global scientific community.

Question: How do you know the pictures were real, and how do you know that the global scientific community is reliable?
Answer: They demonstrate proficiency in other matters and have therefore won my trust.

Question: How do you know that your criteria for judging reliability are not themselves flawed, and how do you know that they (your sources) are not intentionally deceiving you? As a matter of fact, what basis do you have to place so much confidence in your ability to spot authentic reliability? How can you be certain until you have seen for yourself? Even if you have seen for yourself, how can you be certain that your vision itself is reliably relaying information to your brain that properly correlates to that which is in world? How do you know that you are not mentally insane, and therefore totally unable to interpret any form stimuli received via your sense perception? How do you know that you are actually able to think correctly about anything?

See, the point is this: The problem is really based on the difficulty of the epistemological process. Do we formulate “true” truths, and when we do, how do we know? And how do we formulate “false” truths?

In the end, we operate with a unit of fallible equipment searching through fallible evidences looking for the source of infallible truth. This is true, both for the Protestant and for the Catholic. I will demonstrate this point with some quotes from Kruger.

“How does the Roman Catholic Church establish its own infallible authority? If the Roman Catholic Church believes that infallible authorities (like the Scriptures) require external authentication, then to what authority does the church turn to establish the grounds for its own infallible authority? Here is where the Roman Catholic model runs into some difficulties. There are three options for how to answer this question. (1) The church could claim that its infallible authority is authenticated by (and derived from) the Scriptures. But this proves to be rather vicious circular reasoning. If the Scriptures cannot be known and authenticated without the authority of the church, then you cannot establish the authority of the church on the basis of the Scriptures. You cannot have it both ways. [And the Tu Quoque response doesn’t solve this epistemic problem] Moreover, on an exegetical level, one would be hard-pressed to find much scriptural support for an infallible church (but we cannot enter into this question here). (2) The church could claim that its infallible authority is authenticated by external evidence from the history of the church: the origins of the church, the character of the church, the progress of the church, and so forth.

“Rahner seems to argue on historical grounds that the Catholic Church is the true church (and therefore rightly bears authority). He states that Roman Catholicism is the true church because “it possesses in the concrete a closer, more evident and less encumbered historical continuity with the church of the past” (357). However, if our assurance of the church’s authority is only as certain as the historical evidence, then how is that an improvement over those Protestants who claim that the extent of the canon can also be determined by historical evidence (as opposed to being determined by the church)? Are not both claims as certain as the historical evidence? How then can it be claimed that only Roman Catholicism avoids the problem of uncertainty regarding the extent of the canon?”

“However, these are not infallible grounds by which the church’s infallibility could be established. In addition, the history of the Roman Church is not a pure one—the abuses, corruption, documented papal errors, and the like do not naturally lead one to conclude that the church is infallible regarding “faith and morals.”

“This language of “faith and morals” comes right from Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, or “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” and also from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 891. The history of papal errors has been well documented. Examples include Pope Liberius, who signed an Arian confession condemning Athanasius; Pope Honorius, who was condemned by the Third Council of Constantinople for the heresy of being a monothelite; Pope Boniface VIII, who declared salvation to be impossible outside of Rome, but then the opposite was taught by Vatican II (Unitatis Redintegratio 1.2–3, makes this clear), and on it goes. For more, see Hans Küng, Infallible? An Unresolved Inquiry (Edinburgh: Continuum, 1994); and Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962), 248–53. Of course, the Roman Catholic Church attempts to mitigate some of these errors by suggesting that the pope is infallible only in a very narrow sphere, that is, when he speaks ex cathedra (Catholic Catechism, par. 891). Since the Roman Catholic Church has no infallible list of ex cathedra statements, however, one wonders how the church can know which statements of the pope hold infallible authority and which do not (Powell, “Canonical Theism” 202–3).”

3) It seems that the only option left to the Catholic model is to declare that the church’s authority is self-authenticating and needs no external authority to validate it. Or, more bluntly put, we ought to believe in the infallibility of the Roman Catholic Church because it says so. The Catholic Church, then, finds itself in the awkward place of having chided the Reformers for having a self-authenticating authority (sola scriptura), when all the while it has engaged in that very same activity by setting itself up as a self-authenticating authority (sola ecclesia). On the Catholic model, the Scripture’s own claims should not be received on their own authority, but apparently the church’s own claims should be received on their own authority. The Roman Catholic Church, functionally speaking, is committed to sola ecclesia. If so, then this presents challenges for the Catholic model. Most pertinent is the question of how there can be a canon at all—at least one that can genuinely challenge, correct, and transform the church—if the validation structure for the canon, in effect, already presupposes that the church bears an authority that is even higher? On the Catholic system, then, the canon’s authority is substantially diminished. What authority it does have must be construed as purely derivative—less a rule over the church and more an arm of the church, not something that determines the church’s identity but something that merely expresses it. Even Lienhard, when discussing Rahner’s expression of the Roman Catholic view, expresses his discomfort with its implications: “For Rahner, the Church produces the Bible; it is difficult to see how the Church is not primary, the Scriptures secondary.”
(Michael J. Kruger (2012-04-05). Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books.)

Kruger’s point is this: The Catholics problem with Sola Scriptura is that there is no way of knowing “for sure” that we have the right canon. But, there is no way of knowing “for sure” that the magesterium is infallible. When we end up discussing the criteria for judging the magesterium itself, you find the same sort of appeals to historical and fallible evidences that the Catholics chide us protestants for using.

There can be no more certainty in the infallibility of the magesterium itself than there can be of the “right” scriptural canon when considered apart from the authenticating process of the magesterium.

When the Catholics go about proving the magesterium, they use the same criteria that a protestant uses to affirm Sola Scriptura, and then turns right around and tells the protestants “oh, you can’t use that criteria because it is self-defeating.”

I could say, “Prove the magesterium is true.” They would appeal to scriptures; which scriptures the “magesterium has established” to prove the point (though there is an apparent lack of exegetical evidences). Logically, one cannot appeal to the scirptures as authoritative if one cannot know what constitutes scripture until one has a magesterium to constitute it; so the Catholics must go elsewhere. Then they will point to the divine occurence in history. Then I will ask: according to whose account? Then our certainty of the magesterium hinges on the reliability and the “actual meaning” of the sources they quote to us. Their evidence ends up being only as good as their sources, and authoritative sources cannot be biblical if the magesterium itself is what determines what is actually constituted as scripture. You must have the magesterium before the scripture, logically. And to prove the magesterium you must use fallible evidences to establish any amount of certainty.

Therefore epsitemelogically, the stance on the magesterium is no better off than the Protestant stance of Sola Scriptura; except that the stance on the scriptures as the sole infallible authority is much more accounted for by the scriptures themselves. And, in this scheme you don’t need the magesterium to decide what constitutes scripture.


A scholarly look at the meaning of Matt. 16:18

I have been doing some research into the foundations of Catholic Theology. Last night I studied a passage that is central to the Catholic Doctrine of Apostolic Succession. Here are some quotes from Leon Morris in his commentary on Matthew with one from D.A. Carson.

“Although it is true that petros and petra can mean ‘stone’ and ‘rock’ respectively in earlier Greek, the distinction is largely confined to poetry. Moreover, the underlying Aramaic is in this case unquestionable; and most probably kepha was used in both clauses (‘you are kepha‘ and ‘on this kepha‘), since the word was used both for a name and for a ‘rock.’ The Peshitta (written in Syriac, a language cognate with Aramaic) makes no distinction between the words in the two clauses. The Greek makes the distinction between petros and petra simply because it is trying to preserve the pun, and in Greek the feminine petra could not very well serve as a masculine name.” (Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan, 1984], volume 8, page 368, as cited in Butler/Dahlgren/Hess, page 17-18)

Some scholars, especially from among the Roman Catholics, have insisted that Jesus is saying that Peter is the rock on which the whole church is to be built, and accordingly that only the church that can claim to be built on the apostle is the true church. But it is not easy to establish that the whole of the early church was built on the foundation of Peter, and what are we to say of the descendants of the non-Petrine churches? And so in later times with, for example, the churches of the Reformation that separated from the churches that professed a connection with Peter. Are we to say that because they understand this passage in a different way they are no part of the true church? Moreover, the statement that the rock is Peter is true only as we keep in mind what that apostle has just said; it is not Peter simply as Peter but Peter who has confessed Jesus as the Messiah who is the church’s foundation on whom the church is to be built. We must not separate the man from the words he has just spoken. From the earliest times it has been recognized that Peter’s faith is important for an understanding of the passage. Thus Chrysostom cites the words “upon this rock will I build my Church” and immediately goes on, “that is, on the faith of his confession” (John Chrysostom, Homilies on St. Matthew (NPNF, 1st ser ., p. 333). Any interpretation that minimizes the importance of the faith that found expression in Peter’s words is to be rejected. Barclay puts it this way: Jesus “did not mean that the Church depended on Peter, as it depended on Himself, and on God the Rock, alone. He did mean that the Church began with Peter; in that sense Peter is the foundation of the Church” (II, p. 141).

We should also bear in mind McNeile’s point that to address Peter as this would be strange immediately following the direct address “You are Peter.” Why would Jesus not continue with something like “and upon you I will build my church”? This would be more natural if Jesus were addressing the whole group rather than Peter himself. And if Peter was here given the chief place, the question of the disciples just a little later as to who would have that place (18:1) is inexplicable. They at any rate knew nothing of Peter as the supreme pontiff.

There is no doubting that Peter is assigned a preeminence (which we see clearly in the early chapters of Acts), but it is not an absolute preeminence and we must be careful in defining it. In any case there is no mention of any successors of Peter; whatever position is assigned to him is personal and not transmissible to those who would succeed him. Jesus is speaking of the apostle and not of those who followed him. The early church knows nothing of a personal headship over the church possessed by Peter. He, together with John, was “sent” by the church (Acts 8:14), he is called by the church to give an account of himself (Acts 11:1–18), it is James, not Peter, who presides over the council in Jerusalem (Acts 15), and Paul rebukes him sharply (Gal. 2:11–14). That Peter was a great apostle, widely honored in the early church, is clear. That he was the earthly head of the church is not.

What does it mean to bind and loose?
Jesus continues with the promise that he will make Peter a gift, where the future tense probably points to the time subsequent to the resurrection (about which Jesus is about to speak, v. 21). He says that he will give Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom, of course, is not to be identified with the church. The kingdom has reference to the divine rule; the church to the people of God. They are closely related, but not identical. The key lends itself to metaphorical uses (e.g., the key of knowledge, Luke 11:52). It is an obvious symbol for admitting people through a door, but it was also used for exercising authority (the steward rather than the porter). We should understand it here in close connection with Peter’s confession of faith: it was on the basis of his confession and not on that of personal abilities that Peter was given the keys. In the Lucan passage the lawyers were excluding people from the knowledge of God by their handling of Scripture. Later in this Gospel Matthew will report that Jesus spoke of the scribes and Pharisees as shutting up the kingdom before people and thus preventing them from entering (23:13). Peter, by contrast, was to open the way. We see him doing this in Acts 2 and 3, where his preaching brought many into the kingdom, and in Acts 10, where he opened the way for the Gentile Cornelius to come in. We should see another aspect of the use of the keys in Acts 8:20–23, where he is excluding an impenitent sinner. And while the gift of the keys indicates that Peter is clearly given a certain primacy, we should not exaggerate this. The right to bind and loose , here connected with the gift of the keys, is given to the disciples as a whole in 18:18; thus we are not to think of Peter as elevated to a plane above all the others.
Morris, L. (1992). The Gospel according to Matthew. The Pillar New Testament Commentary (425–426). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.

My concluding thoughts on Leon Morris and Matt. 16:18:

All of the apostles are the foundation of the church according to Eph. 2:20. It is the case with Peter that he is, chronologically the first apostle to preach and lead people into the kingdom (i.e. keys to the kingdom) as seen in Acts chapter 2. The church started with Peter preaching, and subsequently the other apostles came alongside of him. All of the apostles, in the form of their doctrines, are the foundation stones of the church. Peter was the first of these stones to be laid, and in that sense he has chronological preeminence. It is important to note here that the NT is the foundation of the church and it was written by the apostles, and in this manner their teachings are what the church is built on. The survival of the Apostolic writings, which was made possible through the preaching of Peter, is what the church has been built on for the past 2,000 years.


Defense of the Protestant position of the Apocrypha

Some said to me that none of the Church Fathers Deny the Apocrypha as Scripture. I would like to Respond to that statement here.

Here is a quote from Jerome:
“What the Savior declares was written down was certainly written down. Where is it written down? The Septuagint does not have it, and the Church does not recognize the Apocrypha. Therefore we must go back to the book of the Hebrews, which is the source of the statements quoted by the Lord, as well as the examples cited by the disciples…But he who brings charges against me for relating the objections that the Hebrews are wont to raise against the story of Susanna, the Song of the Three Children, and the story of Bel and the Dragon, which are not found in the Hebrew volume, proves that he is just a foolish sycophant…The apostolic men use the Hebrew Scripture. It is clear that the apostles themselves and the evangelists did likewise. The Lord and Savior, whenever He refers to ancient Scripture, quotes examples from the Hebrew volumes…We do not say this because we wish to rebuke the Septuagint translators, but because the authority of the apostles and of Christ is greater…”

This is an interesting comment in light of this argument that I wrote on my earlier blog: Jesus references the first and last prophets to die when, and only when, read according to the Hebrew Canon! That is not silence nor speculation. Jesus’ reference of Abel to Zechariah suggests that the canon Jesus was familiar with was the Jewish OT canon that includes the books we have today. The Apocryphal works were known in Jesus’ day, and Jesus did not recognize any of the ones who died outside of the Hebrew Canon as prophets, nor did he ever quote them as scripture. Not only this, but chronologically, Zechariah wasn’t the last prophet to die as I stated earlier. Jesus’ reference to Zechariah is a clear indicator of his idea of what was included in the Scriptures he used. Again this is not silence, nor speculation.

Notice Jerome’s words: “Therefore we must go back to the book of the Hebrews, which is the source of the statements quoted by the Lord, as well as the examples cited by the disciples”

In fact all of these reject the apocryphal books as equal to authoritative scripture: Origen, Melito of Sardis, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus, Hilary of Poitiers, Epiphanius, Basil the Great, Jerome, Rufinus and a host of others.

Here is one of the greatest Catholic theologians, Cajetan!

“Here we close our commentaries on the historical books of the Old Testament. For the rest (that is, Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees) are counted by St Jerome out of the canonical books, and are placed amongst the Apocrypha, along with Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, as is plain from the Prologus Galeatus. Nor be thou disturbed, like a raw scholar, if thou shouldest find anywhere, either in the sacred councils or the sacred doctors, these books reckoned as canonical. For the words as well of councils as of doctors are to be reduced to the correction of Jerome. Now, according to his judgment, in the epistle to the bishops Chromatius and Heliodorus, these books (and any other like books in the canon of the bible) are not canonical, that is, not in the nature of a rule for confirming matters of faith. Yet, they may be called canonical, that is, in the nature of a rule for the edification of the faithful, as being received and authorised in the canon of the bible for that purpose. By the help of this distinction thou mayest see thy way clearly through that which Augustine says, and what is written in the provincial council of Carthage.” 129 Cardinal Caietan (Jacob Thomas de Vio), Commentary on all the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Tesdtament, In ult. Cap., Esther. Taken from A Disputation on Holy Scripture by William Whitaker (Cambridge: University, 1849), p. 48. See also B.F. Westcott’s A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament (Cambridge: MacMillan, 1889), p. 475.

Just to clarify, this is what the Catholics say about this man:

“Dominican cardinal, philosopher, theologian, and exegete; born 20 February, 1469 at Gaeta, Italy; died 9 August, 1534 at Rome… In 1501 he was made procurator general of his order and appointed to the chairs of philosophy and exegesis at the Sapienza. On the death of the master general, John Clérée, 1507, Cajetan was named vicar-general of the order, and the next year he was elected to the generalship. With foresight and ability, he devoted his energies to the promotion of religious discipline, emphasizing the study of sacred science as the chief means of attaining the end of the order…. About the fourth year of his generalship, Cajetan rendered important service to the Holy See by appearing before the Pseudo-Council of Pisa (1511), where he denounced the disobedience of the participating cardinals and bishops and overwhelmed them with his arguments. This was the occasion of his defence of the power and monarchical supremacy of the pope…On 1 July, 1517, Cajetan was created cardinal by Pope Leo X…He was later made Bishop of Gaeta…In theology Cajetan is justly ranked as one of the foremost defenders and exponents of the Thomistic school…To Clement VII he was the “lamp of the Church”, and everywhere in his career, as the theological light of Italy, he was heard with respect and pleasure by cardinals, universities, the clergy, nobility, and people.128″

“These statements by Catejan are a fair summary of the overall view of the Church in both the East and West from the time of Athanasius and Jerome up through the 16th Century. Jerome’s opinion completely dominated that of the ensuing centuries in the Western Church as is seen in the testimony of Cajetan.”

“A second major point that proves the Roman Catholic claims to be spurious is the fact that the universal practice of the Church as a whole up to the time of the Reformation was to follow the judgment of Jerome who rejected the Old Testament Apocrypha on the grounds that these books were never part of the Jewish canon. Those books were permissable to be read in the Church for the purposes of edification but were never considered authoritative for the establishing of doctrine. This is why I believe that the term canonical in the early Church had 2 meanings, one broad in the sense that it encompassed all the books which were permissable to be read in the Church and another narrow which included only those books which were authoritative for the establishment of doctrine.”

Plenty of other people down through the ages rejected the Apocrypha as divinely authorized for doctrine, which is exactly how the Roman Church takes it today. Many who rejected them were still considered faithful Catholics, and that is because the position of Jerome was espoused in which people recognized some books as permissible and the others as authoritatively doctrinal. Now Rome accepts them all as infallibly and authoritatively doctrinal.

I also think this sheds light on Jerome and his supposed “change of mind.” I personally think it has been terribly misinterpreted by the modern Catholic apologists.

A Few Reasons To Reject The Catholic Apocrypha

There is no evidence that the Septuagint of the first century contained the Apocrypha. The earliest Greek manuscripts, which contain them, date from the 4th Century. (Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Vaticanus).
The earliest Greek manuscripts date to the time of Augustine, whose influence is reflected in the codex manuscripts. In addition, none of the Greek Manuscripts contain all the Apocryphal books. No Greek manuscript has the exact list of Apocryphal books accepted by the Council of Trent (1545-63) 14 reasons to reject them.
1. There is not sufficient evidence that they were reckoned as canonical by the Jews anywhere.
2. The LXX design was literary, to build the library of Ptolemy and the Alexandrians.
3. All LXX manuscripts are Christian and not Jewish origin. With a 500 years difference between translation and existing manuscripts. Enough time for Apocryphal books to slip in.
4. LXX manuscripts do not all have the same apocryphal books and names.
5. During the 2nd Century AD the Alexandrian Jews adopted Aquila’s Greek version of the OT without apocryphal books.
6. The manuscripts at the Dead Sea make it clear no canonical book of the OT was written later than the Persian period.
7. Philo, Alexandrian Jewish philosopher (20 BC-40 AD), quoted the Old Testament prolifically, and even recognized the threefold classification, but he never quoted from the Apocrypha as inspired.
8. Josephus (30-100 AD.), Jewish historian, explicitly excludes the Apocrypha; numbering the books of the Old Testament as 22 neither does he quote the apocryphal books as Scripture.
9. Jesus and the New Testament writes never once quote the Apocrypha, although there are hundreds of quotes and references to almost the entire book of the Old Testament.
10. The Jewish scholars of Jamnia (90 AD) did not recognize the Apocrypha. And yes it did exist. Some want to push this date back later than 90 A.D.
11. No canon or council of the Christian church recognized the Apocrypha as inspired for nearly four centuries. And even then their position was not clearly affirming these books as equal in authority. (Which is why I wonder why people are so vehement to say that Jerome changed his mind.)
12. Many of the great fathers of the early church spoke out against the Apocrypha—for example, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Athanasius.
13. Jerome (AD 340-420) The great scholar and translator of the Latin Vulgate rejected the Apocrypha as part of the canon. Did he change his mind, or did he accept them as advantageous but not scripture? I’m asking.
14. Not until 1546 AD in a polemical action at the counter-Reformation Council of Trent (1545-63), did the apocryphal books receive full canonical status by the Roman Catholic Church.