Monday, September 08, 2008

Rebuttals to Armstrong's Ten-Step Program Against Sola Scriptura

Today, someone directed me to an article by Dave Armstrong entitled: "A Quick Ten-Step Refutation of Sola Scriptura." (link to article)

I'll provide his points, and the brief rebuttal:

1. Sola Scriptura Is Not Taught in the Bible

The briefest rebuttal is to simply respond: yes, it is taught in the Bible. Mr. Armstrong should be aware of the Scriptural basis for Sola Scriptura. In fact, as we'll see later on, Mr. Armstrong even takes time to respond to one of the Scriptural arguments for Sola Scriptura.

2. The "Word of God" Refers to Oral Teaching Also

The briefest rebuttal is to answer that "Word of God" refers to any word spoken by God. Whether communicated by pen of a Scripture writer or by the mouth of a prophet, such a word from God is the word of God. On the other hand, we don't just go around accepting people's claims to be prophets, and to speak the word of God. Indeed, Scripture commands us to examine those who claim to speak for God. Scripture even commends those who used Scripture to investigate the teachings of the apostles themselves.

3. Tradition Is Not a Dirty Word

The briefest rebuttal is to agree. After all, there is a sense in which Scriptures are tradition. On the other hand, the opponents of Sola Scriptura use the term "Tradition" in an equivocal way: to refer not only to the things handed down to us by the apostles (i.e. Scriptures) but also to refer to the traditions of men that have been accreted to them. "Traditions" may not be a dirty word, but "traditions of men" has been given a bad reputation by Jesus himself, who noted that it was the way the Pharisees (like the church of Rome) made the Word of God (meaning Scripture) of none effect.

4. Jesus and Paul Accepted Non-Biblical Oral and Written Traditions

The briefest rebuttal here is to point out that the statement is untrue.

Mr. Armstrong provides four supposed examples:

a) Matthew 2:23 states, "And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene."

Mr. Armstrong assumes that this is not a reference to Scripture, but to an unwritten prophecy. Of course, even if it were the case that it were an unwritten prophecy, that would not be equivalent to "accept[ing] non-biblical oral and written traditions." Instead, it would simply demonstrate that the prophecy recorded here in Scripture (not previously) was a true one.

What Mr. Armstrong overlooks, however, is that this is a fulfillment of Isaiah 11:1 "and there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch (Netzer) shall grow out of his roots." (It should be noted that Jerome endorsed our view of Matthew 2:23 - not Mr. Armstorng's view.) Moreover, because to be a Nazarene was to be considered contemptible, it is also a fulfillment of the prophecies about the contempt that would be laid on him: that he should be "despised and rejected of men" (Isaiah 53:2-3), "a worm, and no man" (Psalm 22:6-7), and "an alien to his brethren" (Psalm 69:7-8).

In fact, tradition confirms this (there's that dirty word, Tradition), for Gill testifies that the Syriac, Persic, and Ethiopic versions specifically identify Isaiah as the prophet.

b. Mr. Armstrong argues that the reference to "Moses' seat" in Matthew 23:2–3 is a reference to something from oral tradition.

In fact, however, it is just an idiom that refers to them having a legislative authority that is from God, like when Jesus said to "give to Caesar what is Caesar's," and as when Paul said that "the powers that be are ordained by God." And yet, when those in Moses' seat tried to stop the preaching of the Gospel, the apostles openly opposed their human traditions, and declared that it was better to follow God than man.

c. Mr. Armstrong claims that 1 Corinthians 10:4 refers to a rock that followed the Israelites in the wilderness, and claims that this is recorded only in extra-scriptural tradition.

Leaving aside the issue of the conflicting extra-scriptural traditions, and leaving aside the legitimate issue of whether verse is referring to the water from the rock following them through the wilderness (as hinted in Deuteronomy 8:15), Paul is himself inspired to make a historical declaration about the rock. There is no reason to suppose that Paul accepted one or another tradition about the rock in the wilderness independent of his own inspiration. Thus, even if this were not a reference simply to the fact that God repeatedly brought them water from stone, both at Horeb (Exodus 17:6) and also at Kadesh (Numbers 20:8).

d. 2 Timothy 3:8 refers to Jannes and Jambres, but the Old Testament does not mention those names

It is true that the Old Testament does not mention those names. Again, though, this falls into the area of Paul by inspiration making a declaration of an historical fact. What we learn from external literature is that the names Jannes and Jambres refer to the Egyptian magicians that opposed Moses before Pharaoh. That event is recorded in the Old Testament, though the names were not recorded.

The fallacy behind the argument from items (c) and (d), is that if Paul endorses an extrascriptural account as historical, he is consequently "accepting non-biblical oral and written tradition." The problem with such an argument should be self-evident.

5. The Apostles Exercised Authority at the Council of Jerusalem

The rebuttal is that the authority that the Council of Jerusalem exercised was: "For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;" (Acts 15:29) If the decisions of other councils were inspired, they would likewise have the authority of the Holy Spirit.

6. Pharisees, Sadducees, and Oral, Extrabiblical Tradition

The refutation here is the repeated statements of Jesus rejecting the traditions of the Jews. Yes, they had traditions: and they were not good traditions.

7. Old Testament Jews Did Not Believe in Sola Scriptura

The refutation here is multi-part:

a) the Jews were criticized for their failure to follow Scriptures - that is an argument against copying them;

b) the Jews were not supposed to follow Scripture alone because they had, for much of their history, prophets;

c) obviously, the claim of Sola Scriptura is a claim that becomes relevant when Scripture is complete; and

d) as noted above, the Bereans were commended for using the Scriptures as a rule of faith to investigate the teachings of the apostles (which, while not strictly an application of Sola Scriptura, is an application of private judgment to Scriptures).

8. Ephesians 4 Refutes the Protestant "Proof Text"

Notice that now Mr. Armstrong recognizes the fact that Sola Scriptura is proved from Scripture. He attempts to respond from Ephesians 4, where Paul writes (verses 11-15): "11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:"

The argument here seems to be that in Mr. Armstrong's opinion, this is parallel to:

2 Timothy 3:16-17
16All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

but in Dave's view the former passage mentions the non-scriptural sources for making a believer "perfect" and the latter passage mentions the scriptural sources for making the believer "perfect."

The refutation should be readily apparent: "apostles ... prophets ... evangelists" are three categories of folks among whom there was inspiration, by which they provided: Scripture. The role of the rest was to proclaim that same message. There is, thus, not a contrasting parallel, but rather the former passage shows the means for the propagation of the Word of God, whereas the latter passage points directly to the Word of God itself. Furthermore, it is only Scripture that is described as "given by inspiration of God."

9. Paul Casually Assumes That His Passed-Down Tradition Is Infallible and Binding

Mr. Armstrong presents two arguments in this regard:

a) Mr. Armstrong relies on 2 Thesalonisans 3:14 "And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed."

This selection is devastating to Mr. Armstrong's position. First, "this epistle" is 2 Thessalonians, which is Scripture. Second, "this epistle" is particularly called out, and not "everything we've ever said." Third, "this epistle" is used as a rule of faith. Fourth, "any man" (not only "laity" or only those outside the churches) are to be judged by this rule. Fifth, and finally, all the "ye brethren" (2 Thessalonians 3:13) are to be doing this judging, which requires them to interpret the epistle and apply to the "any man" that they may encounter.

In short, this selection is a proof of Sola Scriptura, not the other way 'round.

b) Mr. Armstrong relies on Romans 16:17, which states: "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them."

This verse is less specific: it doesn't explicitly say "learned in this epistle," though like the verse in 2 Thessalonians, it comes at the end of the epistle (which would make such an interpretation reasonable). Otherwise, it has all the same hallmarks as the other verse: the "brethren" are the ones to be judging their fellow men by some form of doctrinal standard.

Indeed, if we look at the subsequent context, we find Paul explaining only a few verses later:

Romans 16:25-27
25Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, 26But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: 27To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.

Notice how the various things being referenced are the revelation of God, and how Scriptures are specifically mentioned. There's nothing "casual" about Paul's commands here. He is inspired and he relies on that authority.

10. Sola Scriptura Is a Circular Position

The refutation here is two-fold.

1) Calling the position circular is not supported. Scripture is our rule of faith. The claim is "circular," only in the sense that Scripture itself teaches (and clearly teaches) that Scripture is authoritative. See the discussion of 2 Thessalonians, above.

2) A rule faith requires application. Fallible human beings make application of the rule of faith that is Scripture, but that does not take away from Scripture's authority. As commanded by Scripture, we compare doctrines of men to the Scriptures to verify or condemn them. If that's "circular" to Mr. Armstrong, then so be it.



Saint and Sinner said...

"10. Sola Scriptura Is a Circular Position"

By his own standard, his position is circular as well since all he does is add a few more layers of authority on top of Scripture.

Anonymous said...


having just gone over this, I have to say, you are not going to win the argument with him!

What? Huh?!

Yes, but having said that I am in no way saying he carried his water to my cup! Your acumen itself establishes that you WON well before this debate began! :)

Could I be a bit foolish now and exclaim: ADDA BOY! ?

Turretinfan said...


I appreciate the encouragement. Still, my goal here is not so much to win an argument or to demonstrate any acumen that God has given me, but simply to defend the truth that Scripture is the only inspired and infallible Word of God.


zaphon said...

T8: Maybe just a splitting of semantic hairs, but in 4 c. you wrote:

"Paul is himself inspired to make a historical declaration about the rock", then "independent of his own inspiration".

Some writers makes the distinction between the inspiration of the Words of Paul, or other writers, and saying that THEY are inspired. Of course, in light of Dual Authorship, I know what you mean.

Do you think such a distinction is really germane to the topic, or even very important to make?


Turretinfan said...


Interesting point.

Technically, it is the words that are inspired, not the human author. Sometimes we speak loosely of the gift of prophecy as being a gift of inspiration.

Thus, when I wrote: "Paul is himself inspired to make a historical declaration about the rock. There is no reason to suppose that Paul accepted one or another tradition about the rock in the wilderness independent of his own inspiration," it should be understood that I mean is that Paul's own recognition of his prophetic gift could confirm to him that historical facts not preserved in Scripture are nonetheless true.

The same goes for Luke's gospel. Luke may have spoken to eyewitnesses, and yet the ultimate confirmation of the eyewitnesses was the fact that the Spirit inspired the gospel that Luke penned, thereby validating the truth of the eyewitness testimony.

Thus, we believe their testimony not simply because they spoke it, but because the Spirit inspired Luke to set it down in Holy Scripture.


Anonymous said...

That is a great point zaphon!

I would utter, or rather cut and paste these words of Paul, believing that there is even in a slight sense in the back of his mind as there is mine, an implication of a "rock" and the "Rock" in question seeing Paul leaves nothing for the imagination for those who believe what he is writing by inspiration is the "Truth"/Jesus:

Col 1:11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,
Col 1:12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
Col 1:13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
Col 1:14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Col 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
Col 1:16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him.
Col 1:17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

TF:[[There is no reason to suppose that Paul accepted one or another tradition about the rock in the wilderness independent of his own inspiration.]]

One could equally argue that God brought victory by the rock in the sling of the young man David when undoubtedly we all agree that he was both a good shot with rocks and God has the power of aim, which also is another "type" of crushing Satan under our feet:::>

Rom 16:20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Now, it really is only by inspiration of the Holy Ghost that I can even consider, pray thee tell, how will that come about?

Christ is both, according to Paul, the "rock" and the "Rock" from which flows our inspiration to continue long after everyone has left us off!