What a sad state of affairs the Roman apologist has devolved into when he is caught stealing Bart Ehrman’s arguments against the Christian faith. Never once have I heard this argument come from the mouth of a person who believes God has spoken who isn’t also a Muslim (and even for the Muslims it’s inconsistent.) Only God-hating, skeptical atheists and agnostics who begin from unbelieving presuppositions have promoted the idea that the Bible is untrustworthy, unreliable, and/or unknowable because no originals have been found (even though there are admittedly good reasons why they have not been found.) The article makes this the 13th argument in its attacks against Sola Scriptura.
“None of the Original Biblical Manuscripts is Extant.”
Keep in mind that very few believing scholars accept the kind of hard, atheistic, skepticism that requires originals to know the originals. This standard makes every single writing from antiquity unreliable and unknowable. We simply cannot claim to know almost anything about history according to this standard.
I would encourage Christians to look into the work of Michael Kruger, James White, Dan Wallace, F.F. Bruce, and many other believing scholars who demonstrate that the reliability of the New Testament transmission creates a tenacious text, allowing us to reconstruct originals. Time precludes that discussion here.
At the heart of Peters’ objection is a requirement for Protestants to possess something that his position cannot provide: certainty.
“[W]ithout original manuscripts, one cannot know with certainty if he actually possesses the real Bible, whole and entire.”
Without originals we can’t have certainty. Apparently, that is a defeater to Sola Scriptura. Well, it most certainly isn’t for many reasons.
First of all, the kind of certainty the author requires he cannot provide. He can only beg the question. Why does Peters believe he can have certainty? The church. How does he know the church he picked is the correct?
In other words, the same fallibility that goes into validating the Scriptures is involved in validating the church, so he now has no more degree of certainty than the protestant. His choice to follow Rome over the other plethora of churches which claim to be the one, true, living, infallible church of Jesus, was a fallible decision made by a fallible creature…. there goes his certainty.
His decision to evaluate Rome’s claims could not be from Scripture since he admittedly needs Rome prior to knowing Scripture. Thus, what other resources could he utilize to validate Rome as the true church of Jesus?
Apart from his fallible, uninspired, reasoning faculties, he could also read a fallible, uninspired history book. He could also read a fallible, uninspired book on the early church with his fallible, uninspired reading capabilities.
Thus, Peters argument should actually read like this:
Because my fallible reasoning looked fallibly at fallible history books and fallible documents written by fallible church fathers, reproduced, translated, and edited by fallible men, I made the fallible decision to choose Rome as the church I need to tell me what things are not fallible: now I have certainty.
Simply possessing a church that tells you the Bible is from God does not offer any more certainty than a Protestant determining the Bible’s validity on other grounds. Remember, Mormons have an infallible church too, as do the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They both feel the same warm, fuzzy feelings of alleged certainty because they pull rank, but Rome would admit their claim to certainty is not certainty. Well…..welcome to our world.
Second, certainty comes from the testimony of the Holy Spirit and the consistency of a worldview, not through piecemeal evidences or church declarations. Certainty is achieved when the Holy Spirit reveals His truths infallibly, opens eyes, regenerates hearts, and the worldview which follows from that is consistent and real. It is not achieved when a church proclaims, “We say so.” Thus saith the church.
Lastly, even if we had the originals, Rome would still challenge our ability to trust them, which makes the objection a bit inauthentic. Were to discover, buried in the sands of Egypt somewhere, Paul’s original letter to the Galatians, preserved completely, Rome would not allow knowledge of the fact that it is the original without her guidance. She would not allow us to know that the message contained within is from God without her approval, and she would not allow us to interpret the message on the Papyrus without her giving us the interpretation we must see in the text.
In reality, the entire argument is completely irrelevant as long as Sola Ecclesia presupposed. To the Romanist, originals are irrelevant whether we have all of them or none of them.
Peters somewhat saw the protestant challenge from afar and tried to get ahead of it. Foreseeing we would appeal to some kind of providential preservation, he claims that believing God preserved His word is a violation of Sola Scriptura, but this is nothing more than ignorance of what Sola Scriptura is.
“[B]y maintaining God’s providence with regard to copying, a person claims something which is not written in Scripture, and therefore, by the very definition of Sola Scriptura, cannot serve as a rule of faith.”
Perhaps a minuscule group of King James Onlyists believe this, but this is not the Protestant position. Thus, it makes it completely irrelevant.
We do believe God preserves and keeps His word, and contrary to the article, the Bible does teach God would do this, and thus, it is not a violation of Sola Scriptura. There is great reason to deduce from Scripture that the Scriptures would be protected and preserved for God’s people, both through Old Testament implication, the role of the apostolic office, and the many claims from which the Word of God is said to never fail and never pass away.
More than that, Sola Scriptura does not need to teach that God will providentially protect the copying process to be a rule of faith, especially when God’s Word self-authenticates itself.
Peters also argues that by believing God can preserve His word (or protect a copying process) one would have to admit that God is able to protect oral transmission as well, thus, giving credence to the Catholic position. However, what God can do has never been the debate, what God has done is the issue.
I believe God could split the sun in two, and give earth two suns. However, my belief that God could do that doesn’t give any credence to a person who might believe He has done that or that He will do that. God’s ability is not the issue in the debate.
The Mormon, the Muslim, and the Jehovah’s Witness could all base their beliefs on an extra-biblical authority as well. Peters’ doesn’t abandon his belief in extra-biblical authority simply because others can abuse that philosophy, yet, he expects the Protestant to do just that.
More Latent Atheism
All of this is closely related to the next argument, #14, which is yet again stealing artillery from the Atheist’s armory.
“The Biblical Manuscripts Contain Thousands of Variations.”
Yet again, the author is doing his best impression of the unbelieving, atheistic skeptics.
However, as the article admits, the vast majority of these variants are not meaningful, but Peters maintains the objection nonetheless. Peters’ concern then turns again to the issue of certainty. He says,
“These facts leave the Protestant in the position of not knowing if he possesses what the Biblical authors originally wrote. And if this is the case, then how can a Protestant profess to base his beliefs solely on the Bible when he cannot determine with certainty the textual authenticity of the Bible?”
But yet again, the Roman Catholic church cannot provide the certainty Peters requires. Simply having a church come in and say what the ending of Mark is does not provide certainty of Mark’s ending because it can’t be known for certain the church selected is infallible. Peters has, yet again, defeated his own argument, he has cut off the branch he was sitting on. If in order for a rule of faith to be workable, one must have certainty, Rome is not workable as a rule of faith because she can’t offer that.
Besides, to my knowledge, the Roman Catholic church has not infallibly defined these texts, thus, Peters does not know the true readings of these variants either. In fact, the Roman Catholic church has infallibly supported a blatantly fallible translation of the Bible in the Latin Vulgate. From the Council of Trent:
“Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synod,–considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authentic,–ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many years, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever.”
However, do variants, and the need to study them violate Sola Scriptura? Only if the idea of Sola Scriptura is sitting in a farm somewhere made of straw with cawing crows on top of its head.
Turning to the Word, and evaluating it on its own merit, is very consistent with Sola Scriptura. Being able to say what is and what is not the Bible is hardly an offense against making the Bible the highest standard of authority, it’s necessary to it. Secondarily, all of the evaluating evidence we look at when making judgments about the authenticity of a reading come from the Scriptures.
Kruger’s book often recommended here, Canon Revisited, has this as its very thesis, that the Bible itself guides our authentication process.
Which Translation is Best?
In a bizarre turn of events, the novel argument is used in argument #15 that multiple Bible translations somehow refute the doctrine of Sola Scriptura,
“There Are Hundreds of Bible Versions.”
Peters is finally being honest about his ultimate standard. His argument is essentially that without Rome the protestant has no basis to know which Bible translations are most accurate, nor can they refute obviously erroneous translations like the Watchtower’s New World translation.
“Ultimately, the problem can only be resolved through the intervention of an infallible teaching authority which speaks on behalf of Christ. The Catholic knows that that authority is the Roman Catholic Church and its Magisterium or teaching authority. In an exercise of this authority, Catholic Bishops grant an imprimatur (meaning “Let it be printed”) to be included on the opening pages of certain Bible versions and other spiritual literature to alert the reader that the book contains nothing contrary to the teachings of Christ and the Apostles.”
What is ironic here is that Peters tries to appeal to an alleged infallible authority to solve a hypothetical dispute between a group of people who appeal to…..an alleged infallible authority!
The very weapon Peters offers the protestant to fight against the Jehovah’s Witness with is the exact same weapon that the Jehovah’s Witness offers the protestant in their fight against Roman Catholicism: an infallible church.
Peters tells the protestant they cannot appeal to biblical scholars who know Greek in order to refute the perverted Greek of the JW’s bible because they too can appeal to scholars.
“If the Protestant responds by saying that this issue can be determined on the basis of Biblical scholarship, then he is ignorant of the fact that the Jehovah’s Witnesses also cite sources of Biblical scholarship in support of their translation of these passages!”
Imagine someone telling Jesus in the wilderness, “You cannot determine truth with Satan on the basis of Scripture unless You’re ignorant of the fact that Satan also cites Scripture in support of His temptations against You!”
By this very line of logic, Peters cannot refer to an infallible church to solve the debate because the JW can also appeal to an infallible church to justify his claims. That is why this quotation has enough irony to choke on:
“The issue then devolves into a game of pitting one source of scholarship against another – one human authority against another.”
The above quotation however is the exact process of debate between the Roman Catholic and the Jehovah’s Witness! They would both be caught in a Mexican stand-off.
Roman Catholic: “You’re wrong sir, and I know this because I have an infallible church which says so!”
Jehovah’s Witness: “No YOU’RE wrong sir, and I know this because I have an infallible church which says so!”
Mormon: “You’re both wrong, my modern day prophet said so!
Yet again, Sola Ecclesia rears its ugly head and fails in accomplishing the tasks it itself requires for others. Peters demands a certainty that his arbitrary, fallible choice to follow Rome cannot provide. There is no certainty in pulling rank like this. It’s a question begging epithet. It provides no consistency and demeans God’s Word.
And any position that demeans the Word of God and causes one to think inconsistently is a worldview that isn’t true, that can’t be true, and that should be abandoned with haste.