I debated a Protestant scholar named Nathanael Taylor last night. You can listen to the full two hours here. In the next several posts I plan to unpack our discussion and continue with some threads that we weren’t able to pursue to completion.
I asked Nathanael when sola Scriptura “kicked in” as the sole infallible rule of faith in the early Church, and surprisingly, he answered “70 AD, with the destruction of the Jewish Temple.”
This assumes that 1) all books of the NT were completed by 70 AD and to a lesser degree that 2) the Church had come to understand and separate these twenty-seven inspired writings from the non-inspired ones.
I’m going to ignore the disputable claim made by Nathanael that the book of Daniel teaches that all books of the NT will be completed by 70 AD. I’m also going to ignore the fact that in 70 AD the canon of the NT was not crystallized in the Church’s understanding. Instead, I’m going to focus on one interesting consequence of this peculiar view, one that no Protestant I have ever talked to has believed.
1. Some Apostles still lived in 70 AD
2. But sola Scriptura was now the rule
3. So Christians could reject the teachings of the Apostles if they were different than their individual interpretation of the Scriptures
Some readers may think that this conclusion is (almost patently) absurd. Yet I can say with confidence that Nathanael holds to this position, because I asked the similar question later, whether he would obey Timothy as the successor of the Apostle or not. And he responded that he would only follow Timothy, bishop of Ephesus, insofar as Timothy agreed with Nathanael’s interpretation of the Scriptures.
Yes, that even means that Nathanael would hypothetically be in a position where Timothy taught that some verses in Paul’s two letters to himself meant X while Nathanael would claim they meant ~X. Imagine telling Timothy that you know better than he does what Paul’s letter to him meant!
But in fact this is incredibly problematic because it means that Nathanael could reject the teachings of the Apostles as a group even. After all, according to Protestantism, they are just some human beings getting together and coming up with teachings, which are not protected by God from error. So in fact even if the Apostles got together and said “this is the teaching on issue X,” if Nathanael thought they interpreted the Scripture incorrectly, he would reject their teaching and perhaps start his own church.
That is enough to show the problem with the position, but the Scriptures themselves furnish other counter-arguments. In 3 John, the Apostle speaks of “Diotrephes,” who likes to put himself first and contradict the Apostolic authority. St. John explains that he is going to go visit the church and deal with Diotrephes straight away. In fact, he doesn’t want to write more (and 3 John is the shortest book of Scripture) because he is going to go there himself and exert his God-given Apostolic authority.
Further, there is absolutely zero historical evidence that sola Scriptura was the rule of faith in the Church during this time (or during any other time, for that matter, but in particular during this time). Instead we have letters like St. Clement’s to the Greek church in Corinth, where the bishop of Rome (Clement), is discussing the orderly succession of bishops as the rightful authorities, contra those lay people in the church who would usurp this authority. That is but one of many examples.
Sola Scriptura beginning in 70 AD is a claim out of thin air. It makes no sense from reason, history, Tradition, or the Scriptures. This is because the claim is false.