Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On the Impossibility of Sola Scriptura

I’ve heard many times, here and elsewhere, Protestants advising Catholics to “read the Bible.” They speak of it as though it is that simple. They don’t seem to understand that language is not simple. Every time you see a letter, your brain ascribes to it a sound; to every combination of letters, a meaning; and to every combination of words, another meaning. It is a long process and there are many variables. In considering just how complicated this is, I am reminded of a sentence I came across just this morning:

“For the Christian life is full of meaning.”

When I first came across it, I read:

“For the Christian life is full of meaning.”

In other words, I understood it as saying that only a Christian life has meaning, as opposed to any other type of life. Reflecting on it later, I realized that it was probably supposed to read:

“For the Christian, life is full of meaning.”

Which reading implies that Christians view life as meaningful, while atheists, for instance, may not. The word “Christian” can be taken as a noun or an adjective, the sentence as a degrading fact or a hopeful view. The sentence seems simple, but the interpretations are radically different. Also take for an example the sentence “I did not steal it.” If you read it “I did not steal it,” you imply that someone else stole it. If you read it “I did not steal it,” then you imply that you borrowed it. And if you read it “I did not steal it,” then you imply that you stole something else. Even the simplest sentences are not so simple when it comes to interpreting them. When it comes to the Bible, the sentences you are reading are infallible. However, your interpretation is not. The second you read something, you cannot help but interpret it. So, the second you read the Bible, you introduce fallibility to the equation.

“But I have the Holy Spirit to guide me!” these Protestants cry in response. Yet nowhere in the Bible was the Holy Spirit promised to individual persons for their private edification. Rather, the Apostles were sent to educate. They did not hand the people Bibles and say “You believe now. The Spirit will guide you. You don’t need me!” Paul certainly did not think the people had a Spirit to interpret Scripture when he wrote so many letters to them correcting them! Furthermore, one wonders, if every faith filled and good willed person has the Spirit to guide them, why do Protestants not agree? There are millions of Protestants and thousands of denominations, each believing something different. They all love Jesus. By their criterion, they should all be led by the Spirit. However, they are contradicting each other. We can thus come to two conclusions:
1) The Holy Ghost actually is inspiring them all, but is telling some one thing and some another, giving them contradictions and falsehoods.
2) The Holy Ghost isn’t actually leading them all.

The first is not possible. Therefore, the second must be so, and that leads to a disturbing question. Who is really being led by the Spirit? Is it I, who doesn’t believe in infant Baptism, or that Methodist who does? Is it I, who believes in the Trinity, or that Jehovah’s Witness who doesn’t? You do not know. You can never know. Protestants put so much stake on the Bible, but with their view of Sola Scripture they have rendered the entire Holy Book null and void, because they have no way of being sure they understand what they are reading. Hopefully, some will realize this and ask—as did the eunuch in Acts—“How can I understand if no one instructs me?”

Another disturbing aspect of Sola Scriptura is that the Catholic Church compiled the Bible. There is no argument here. The fact of the matter is, there was no established canon in the early centuries. Some books like Revelation were accepted in some places and rejected in others. Some books like The Gospel of the Hebrews were accepted in some places and rejected in others. This is fact. Also fact, is that when it came time to remedy the “What is Scripture?” question, Bishops threw out books like the Gospel of Saint Peter for no other reason than that it was being used to contradict their pre-established beliefs. Protestants readily admit that the Catholics had their canon wrong in including Maccabees, Tobit, Sirach, etc. Five hundred years ago, they introduced to the world a canon contrary to every other canon before it. If Catholics had it wrong in including some books, what is to say they did not have it wrong in excluding others? Protestants must go back and find the books that Catholics threw out, and see if those actually do belong in the Bible just as Maccabees did not.

This leaves the idea of "Sola Scriptura" in a sorry state indeed.  For by this idea, one cannot be certain if they even have "the Bible," much less if they are reading it correctly.  Needless to say, I won't be converting very soon.

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