Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Bereans and "Searching the Scriptures": Biblical Proofs of the Man-Made Protestant Tradition of Sola Scriptura?

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Paul's authority was unquestioned by his followers. He spoke with great authority. He said he was delivering truth and tradition, and expected his followers to accept it without question. There is no hint that he thought otherwise. No one denies that he had profound apostolic authority (including Protestants). The question is whether Scripture Alone was the only infallible authority.

Sure, Paul explained things, and argued and defended and so forth, but his authority was unquestioned. So was the authority of the Church, which is why it held a council in Jerusalem and then Paul went out proclaiming the infallible (Acts 15:22, 28) decisions of the council (Acts 16:4) in his missionary journeys.

Acts 17:10-11 (RSV) The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroe'a; and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. [11] Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessaloni'ca, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

The example of the Bereans does not disprove Catholic authority or suggest sola Scriptura at all. Catholic apologist Steve Ray, in his excellent, classic article : "Why the Bereans Rejected Sola Scriptura" (This Rock, March 1997), wrote:

We are told that the Bereans were more noble-minded (open-minded, better disposed, fair)—but more noble-minded than whom? The Thessalonians! . . . The Thessalonians rejected Paul and his message, and, after denouncing him, they became jealous that others believed. They treated Paul with contempt and violence, throwing him ignominiously out of town. Why? "For three weeks he [Paul] reasoned with them from the Scriptures" [Acts 17:2] in the synagogue, as was his custom. They did not revile Paul the first week or the second; rather, they listened and discussed. But ultimately they rejected what he had to say. They compared Paul’s message to the Old Testament and decided that Paul was wrong. . . .

If one of the two groups could be tagged as believers in sola scriptura, who would it be, the Thessalonians or the Bereans? The Thessalonians, obviously. They, like the Bereans, examined the Scriptures with Paul in the synagogue, yet they rejected his teaching. They rejected the new teaching, deciding after three weeks of deliberation that Paul’s word contradicted the Torah. . . .

We can see, then, that if anyone could be classified as adherents to sola scriptura it was the Thessalonian Jews. They reasoned from the Scriptures alone and concluded that Paul’s new teaching was "unbiblical."

The Bereans, on the other hand, were not adherents of sola scriptura, for they were willing to accept Paul’s new oral teaching as the word of God (as Paul claimed his oral teaching was; see 1 Thess. 2:13). The Bereans, before accepting the oral word of God from Paul, a tradition as even Paul himself refers to it (see 2 Thess. 2:15), examined the Scriptures to see if these things were so. They were noble-minded precisely because they "received the word with all eagerness." Were the Bereans commended primarily for searching the Scriptures? No. Their open-minded willingness to listen was the primary reason they are referred to as noble-minded—not that they searched the Scriptures. . . .

Why did the Bereans search the Scriptures? Because they were the sole source of revelation and authority? No, but to see if Paul was in line with what they already knew—to confirm additional revelation. They would not submit blindly to his apostolic teaching and oral tradition, but, once they accepted the credibility of Paul’s teaching as the oral word of God, they put it on a par with Scripture and recognized its binding authority. After that, like the converts who believed in Thessalonica, they espoused apostolic Tradition and the Old Testament equally as God’s word (see 2 Thess. 2:15, 3:16). Therefore they accepted apostolic authority, which means that the determinations of Peter in the first Church council, reported in Acts 15, would have been binding on these new Gentile converts.

By contrast, the Jews of Thessalonica would have condemned Peter’s biblical exegesis at the Council of Jerusalem. They would have scoffed at the Church’s having authority over them—the Torah was all they needed.

They were commended for being open-minded and receiving Paul's message as quite possibly true. They consulted the Scriptures to confirm Paul's teaching. The Bereans were, remember, still Jews (i.e., followers of Judaism, not Christianity) at the time. If someone had first encountered Paul, they wouldn't necessarily immediately know he was an apostle.

But searching the Scripture to confirm or defend some doctrine is not the same thing as sola Scriptura. The latter means making the Bible the only infallible authority. The mainstream tradition of the Jews at that time (in all likelihood including the Bereans) was Pharisaism, and it accepted oral tradition and an oral Torah received by Moses on Mt. Sinai, in addition to the written Torah. This in and of itself is fundamentally hostile to sola Scriptura. The ones who held to a strict Bible Alone view were the Saduccees, who accepted the Torah (first five books) only. But they denied the resurrection of the righteous in the afterlife.

Searching the Scriptures in and of itself is not somehow opposed to Catholic authority (I do it all the time myself, in order to defend and "confirm" Catholic teaching). When Jesus was explaining to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the doctrine of the suffering Messiah (after His Resurrection), He did so by means of Scripture:

Luke 24:25-27 And he said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! [26] Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" [27] And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

He authoritatively "interpreted." This is the role of Church and Tradition. Scripture has to be interpreted by someone with authority. Our Lord did the same when He appeared to the eleven disciples:

Luke 24:36-48 As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them. [37] But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. [38] And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? [39] See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have." [41] And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" [42] They gave him a piece of broiled fish, [43] and he took it and ate before them. [44] Then he said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled." [45] Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, [46] and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, [47] and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. [48] You are witnesses of these things.

Their minds had to be opened "to understand the scriptures." That required the Holy Spirit and intervention of Jesus. If we interpret on our own apart from the Holy Spirit and complete disregard for the apostolic tradition preserved by the Church, we can often be led astray (Acts 8:27-35; 2 Pet 1:20-21; 3:16).

This was how Judaism and Christianity worked: Scripture was inspired revelation. It doesn't follow from that that there is no authoritative Church or tradition or apostolic authority. Protestants simply assume that with no basis.

When certain Jews were opposing Jesus, he took them to task for searching the Scriptures (almost as an end in itself) but not seeing that the same Scripture testified of Him:

John 5:37-40 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen; [38] and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe him whom he has sent. [39] You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; [40] yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

In other words, they were trying to make a separation between God and His Word, as if God's Word didn't direct men towards God Himself.

St. Paul used the same method when he went to the Jews and proclaimed the gospel:

Acts 17:1-3 Now when they had passed through Amphip'olis and Apollo'nia, they came to Thessaloni'ca, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. [2] And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the scriptures, [3] explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ."

If both Jesus and Paul argued from the Scriptures, then Jews who were considering whether their claims were true, would naturally do the same thing in order to confirm that they were who they claimed to be, and that they delivered a true message and tradition. So the Bereans did exactly that.

But the Bereans received "the word" (i.e., oral teaching; proclamation) with eagerness. They were open to it (that is why Paul commended them). Then they went to the Scriptures to confirm Paul's oral teaching. In other words, it was a "both / and" methodology. They weren't opposing one thing to the other. Both were true, and their harmony with each other confirmed that. They didn't rule out the possibility that the oral proclamation was true (simply because it was oral); they merely confirmed it from existing written, inspired revelation.

If they had been operating with an "either / or" mentality, on the other hand, they wouldn't have "received the [oral] word with all eagerness". They would have been highly skeptical of it, then would have checked it by Scripture, and even if it lined up with Scripture, they would have denied that it was infallible unless it eventually made it into Scripture. But exactly what Paul said to them is not recorded in Scripture.

The Catholic says that Paul's word was authoritative and infallible, whether it was "inscripturated" or not. But many Protestants argue (based on the false premise of sola Scriptura) that it only is if it is later recorded in Scripture (a distinction that is itself unbiblical, since Paul's words are presented as authoritative as they are spoken).

3 comments:

scotju said...

Dave, Acts 15 teaches us that written tradition isn't enough. The circumcision controversy had to settled by Peter reminding them God purifed the Gentiles though faith in Christ and James quoting the prophet Amos about rebuilding David's tabernacle. Now how would have the early Christians even known what Amos was talking about if James, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, haven't tolde them?

Some years ago, I was reading what the early church fathers were saying about Matt16:18 and divorce and remarriage. I was not a Catholic yet, but I had respect for the Church Fathers. What I read turned me into a Catholic. All the fathers said marriage after a divorce was a sin. They all said Peter was the rock.There was no way an honest mind could get around this. History favored the Catholic Church's interpetation of these scriptures, and no wonder. This was the historical church! And it was the oral tradition of the church that convinced me that this wasw the truth.

Dave Armstrong said...

Good comment. The argument against sola Scriptura is very strong. Every time I write about it I see this all the more.

Thomas said...

John 5:39--wow, I'll have to ponder that. "You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them..."

(The USCCB Website gives the footnote to this verse that Jesus *may* have been telling his critics to go read for themselves what Scripture says, and they would find that the same Scriptures lead to Him.)