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Nulla Scriptura Revisited

One of the keystones of traditional Protestant theology is the concept of sola scriptura.  This means literally “by Scripture alone”.  That is, all doctrines and practices of Christianity must be derived from Scripture.  Tradition, commentary, and development are not necessarily bad, but they may never be normative for belief and practice.  My post from some time back, “Nulla Scriptura” was a deliberate pun on this, as it means, “by nothing [of] Scripture.”

Back here, I said the following:

Of course, I’d say that open theism, as well as many other flavors of Protestantism, has too high a view of Scripture, anyway. I don’t mean that in the sense of saying that Scripture isn’t inspired, or of encouraging a “low” view of it. Rather, I mean the tendency to take it more or less as is without looking at context or the philosophical implications. I’ve read essays by open theologians in which they’ve gone so far as to say that if the theology or philosophy says one thing, and Scripture says another, then Scripture must be preferred, even if it seems to paint God in peculiar ways (e.g. limited knowledge, changing His mind, etc.). By that logic we’d have to jettison the value of pi!

What I want to do here is to elaborate on that concept, both in a general, theoretical way, as it pertains to Christianity and Christian thought in general; and also in a concrete, specific way, as it pertains to my own church, the Catholic Church, particularly in 21st Century America.

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C. S. Lewis on the Old Testament

I alluded to the following in one of my earlier posts in the series “The Pretty Good Book”.  I finally found my copy of C. S. Lewis’s Miracles, and located the quote, which is in a footnote in Chapter 15, “Miracles of the New Creation” (page 218 in the Harper San Francisco/Zondervan paperback edition I’ve got).

A consideration of the Old Testament miracles is beyond the scope of this book and would require many kinds of knowledge which I do not possess.  My present view—which is tentative and liable to any amount of correction—would be that just as, on the factual side, a long preparation culminates in God’s becoming incarnate as Man, so, on the documentary side, the truth first appears in mythical form and then by a long process of condensing or focusing finally becomes incarnate as History.  This involves the belief that Myth in general is not merely misunderstood history (as Euhemerus thought) nor diabolical illusion (as some of the Fathers thought) nor priestly lying (as the philosophers of the Enlightenment thought) but, at its best, a real though unfocused gleam of divine truth falling on human imagination.  The Hebrews, like other people, had mythology; but as they were the chosen people so their mythology was the chosen mythology—the mythology chosen by God to be the vehicle of the earliest sacred truths, the first step of the process which ends in the New Testament where truth has become completely historical.  Whether we can ever say with certainty where, in this process of crystallization, any particular Old Testament story falls, is another matter.  I take it that the Memoirs of David’s court come at one end of the scale and are scarcely less historical than St. Mark or Acts; and that the Book of Jonah is at the opposite end.  It should be noted that on this view (a) Just as God, in becoming Man, is ‘emptied’ of His glory, so the truth, when it comes down from the ‘heaven’ of myth to the ‘earth’ of history, undergoes a certain humiliation.  Hence the New Testament is, and ought to be, more prosaic, in some ways less splendid, than the Old; just as the Old Testament is and ought to be less rich in many kinds of imaginative beauty than the Pagan mythologies.  (b) Just as God is none the less God by being Man, so the Myth remains Myth even when it becomes Fact.  The story of Christ demands from us, and repays, not only a religious and historical but also an imaginative response.  It is directed to the child, the poet, and the savage in us as well as to the conscience and the intellect.  One of its functions is to break down dividing walls.

The boldface is my added emphasis.  It touches very felicitously on something I’ve noted (but not as effectively)–that is, that the Old Testament was revealed to a savage, barbarous people in a savage, barbarous time, and that this should always be remembered when we try to figure out what lessons to draw from it. Too many, not realizing this, try to justify atrocity, nastiness, and horrible behavior of every sort because they read the Old Testament literally, with no subtlety, nuance, or recognition of the issues Lewis describes here.  I will return to this at a later point on a post I’m planning on a specific Old Testament story.

The Pretty Good Book: Index

Nulla Scriptura

Epimenides, Gödel, and the Bible

The Pretty Good Book

Marcion, Marcion, Marcion

Athens or Jerusalem?

I’m a Dualist–Except When I’m Not

The Decline of Dualism

Dualism and Its Discontents

Dualism:  I Want Your Drama, the Touch of Your Hand

Interpretive Frameworks, Part 1:  What Is Christianity, Really?

Translations of the Bible

Interpretive Frameworks, Part 2:  Leaps of Faith

Le Coeur a ses Raisons

Axis Mundi

Excursus:  The Resurrection

Ananias and Sapphira

Dualism:  Orthodoxy, Heresy, Refrigerators, and Lawn Mowers

The Downside of Dualism:  Body and Soul

Leaps of Faith Revisited:  Why Do We Believe What We Believe?

Picking and Choosing:  The New Testament


Picking and Choosing:  The Old Testament

Addenda:  The preceding posts complete, to my satisfaction, the basic arc of what I originally wanted to say about the Bible.  Unlike the case with “Legends of the Fall”, I don’t have any issues that need to expand or modify the original series.  Rather, I will post essays I write about the Bible or Biblical themes as they occur to me, since this is logically where they should be indexed.  In some cases, such posts may refine or nuance earlier posts; in others, they will be “stand-alones” that just happen to be about the Bible.

C. S. Lewis on the Old Testament

We Had to Destroy the Bible to Save It

Buffy, the Bible, and Not My Business

The New Testament, translated by David Bentley Hart–a Review

Nulla Scriptura Revisited

The Bible: Updates and Current Events

I’ve Looked at Plagues from Both Sides Now

Quote for the Week

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]

–St. Augustine, De Genesi ad Litteram, Book 12, translated by J. H. Taylor in Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1982, volume 41, courtesy of here, my emphasis added