Sola scriptura pt 2

January 31, 2005

Adrian responded to my earlier post on sola scriptura on his blog (read his response here). He rightly points out that I have not yet interacted fully with the biblical data as regards penal substitution. I will of course do so, but I feel I need to explain the authority of the Bible and the role it plays in the formation of doctrine a little more clearly. I am fully aware of the arguments for penal substitution from scripture and from theology, though I remain unconvinced by them. Scripture is fully authoritative, but it does require some interpretation. If everything were so clear cut, then you would have to account for how two people can read the same verse and yet come to different conclusions.

Adrian notes that the bible “does not derive its authority from our experience of God.” He’s right – but that’s not what I was saying. What I said was that our experiences inevitably affect the way in which we read and interpret scripture – unless of course you are the only person ever in history who has no prejudices or presuppositions. We bring these personal experiences and cultural values to the Bible whether we like it or not, and they inevitably colour our interpretation of the Bible – though the authority of the Bible stands regardless, because it derives authority from God. (Surely then God is the final authority?)

In any case, what is the Bible if it is not a record of human experiences of God?

“…The Bible is our only inerrant source of authoritative knowledge about God.” I will dispute this. Cannot our own experiences (for example, a healing) also reveal knowledge about God? I am not saying that the Bible is subject to our own experiences, but that our experiences can also be used by God to commnicate himself to us. Similarly creation communicates knowledge of God (Psalm 19:1-2,) so the Bible is not alone in revealing God. As I said in my previous post, it is Christ who is first and foremost the revelation of God, and he is God. The Bible testifies to him.

As for the Bible being inerrant – you need to explain what you mean by this. If you mean that the Bible has no contradictions or inconsistencies within itself you have got problems. It’s common to say that the original manuscripts were inerrant – but that’s a moot point because we don’t have any original manuscripts.

In any case, the idea of the Bible being inerrant and infallible is actually a very new idea in church history, and exclusive to protestantism. It was ultimately a reaction against the scientific and philosophical onslaught of the enlightenment, and biblical inerrancy is not a claim that the Bible makes for itself, though this does not mean it does not have divine authority and is not God-breathed.

Some tensions and contradictions in the Bible

1 Sam 16:14-23 and 1 Sam 17:55-58 – Saul knows David and knows that he is Jesse’s son, yet by chapter 17 he has no idea who David is.

1 Kings 15:1-2 and 2 Chron 13:1-2 – What was King Abijah’s mother’s name? One account says she is Maacah daughter of Uriel of Gibeah, the other says she is the daughter of Abishalom.

Matthew 9:9 and Luke 5:27 – Is the disciple called Matthew or Levi?

Matthew 8:28-34 and Mark 5:1-20 – Does this story take place in the region of the Gadarenes, or Gerasenes? The manuscripts do not agree. Does Jesus heal one demon possessed man or two? The accounts differ.

Mark 10:46-47 and Luke 18:35-38 – Does Jesus heal Bartimaeus on the way to Jericho, or on the way back?

Mark 11:15-19 and John 2:13-22 – Does Jesus trash the temple at the beginning or end of his ministry?

Matthew 27:3-10 and Acts 1:18-20 – How did Judas die? Did he hang himself or fall headlong and burst open? Was the field called the field of blood because it was bought with blood money or because it was where Judas met a bloody death?

John 20:22 and Acts 2:1-4 – How did the disciples receive the spirit? By Jesus blowing on them prior to the ascension or on the day of Pentecost?

Matthew 26:17-20 and John 19:12-14 – What night of Passover week did Jesus eat the Last Supper on before his arrest? The first day of the feast or the day of preparation for the passover?

Proverbs 26:4-5 – What is the biblical response in answering a fool? Two apparent contradictions in consecutive verses.

2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28 – Tricky one for inerrantists. According to 2 Kings Rezin and Pekah are not able to overcome Ahab, yet according to 2 Chronicles, not only did they overpower Ahab, they also killed 120,000 of his men and took 200,000 wives. So which biblical account is true? Following that, in 2 Kings says that Ahab took some sacred silver and gold and used to persuade the King of Assyria to help him, which the King of Assyria did, yet 2 Chronicles says that King of Assyria did not come to help him at all. How do you maintain biblical infallibility in the light of this?

In closing

I don’t you think you have by any means actually demonstrated my arguments against sola scriptura are wrong, and although you will probably disagree with me I maintain that the teachings and actions of Jesus have more authority than some other biblical texts. For example, the law says ‘eye for an eye’, yet Jesus says ‘turn the other cheek and love your enemy’ – both are biblical, but which is the correct and authoritative teaching for the church?

Another question to ponder on this issue: the Bible does not say which books are authoritative and which are to be left out of the canon (the contents page not being part of the original text of course!), so how do you account for the arrangement and composition that we have today? And how do you account for the different canons of scripture that the Orthodox and Roman Catholics have? Are they authoritative and inerrant too? The decision over which books to leave in and leave out were of course taken by councils of human beings, and (although still led by God presumably) this means that when you say sola scriptura you also have to accept a particular historical tradition about how the Bible came to be formed in its present state, in which case you also have a historical tradition running along scripture, which means again that scripture does not stand sola, on its own in a vacuum.

I would request that you do not refer to me as a liberal, or a neo-liberal. My theology and view of the Bible has nothing whatsoever in common with the great liberals like Schleiermacher, von Harnack, Tillich, Bultmann, J A T Robinson and even Bishop Spong etc, and the atonement model I am going to argue for as being biblically superior to penal substitution has infinitely more in common with early church orthodoxy than liberalism, which did not appear until the 18th century. If you must use a term, I’d prefer to be called neo-orthodox.

Lastly, don’t think that I am going to suggest for one minute that God does not hate sin, that he does not want to annihilate evil and injustice, and that he does not want to swallow up death in victory. I also believe that he punishes sin, and that the atoning death (AND life) of Jesus is all that can save us from sin and death’s power. God also has wrath of course, I would not dispute that either. What I will dispute however is that the penal substitutionary model is not what the biblical texts teach, and that p.s. does not actually deal with the sinful corruption in humanity itself, or in creation. We cannot leave creation out of God’s plan for redemption, unless you fancy spending eternity being homeless. In any case, God’s work in Christ aims to reconcile ALL things in heaven and on earth with God (Col 1:20), but I’ll have to leave it there for tonight.


Plagues of Sven

January 31, 2005

Longsight, central location of World of Sven

Anyone who has ever been to my house in Longsight, Manchester will know that the area is in fact a complete post-industrial, grey, wet, and violent filthsprawl. My house is no exception. Admittedly I’m not over-zealous about domestic order but in my two and a half years in this house, I have experienced plagues of may different sorts. I can only assume that God is preparing to deliver me from some grievous evil like in Exodus.

Plague 1 – a herd of mice

One of the earliest posts on World of Sven documented my capture of Kelvin the mouse, but Kelvin was only the beginning. For 6 months mice lived in my house, successfully avoiding all the traps and crapping all over the kitchen. I killed one accidentally when it hid under a plastic bag and I trod in it in my big fat shoes. I didn’t technically kill it so I had to chuck it outside for a cat to finish off. The mice finally left us last year after an extended poisoning campaign. The only victim of one of the many traps was my thumb. Ow.

Plague 2 – a throng of flies

Actually technically this was my fault because I left a banana and an apple in a bag that then fell down behind the fridge and then rotted. Four months later, the now liquid fruit spilled out from under the fridge and housed the larvae of abotu 50,000 flies, some of which had already hatched. Gross. The flies left us after I de-fruited the house and soaked the house in poisonous spray.

Plague 3 – a flock of spiders

Started last week. I found a huge (ish) Spider in my lounge, another one in my bath (died in a drowning accident,) one in the hallway and then a huge one in the kitchen. There is something fundamentally wrong about a mere four creatures having 32 legs between them.

Plague 4 – a clutch of cockroaches.

I found one last week in the bathroom whislt lying in the bath and another one came and visited me last night at 2.30am when I was watching my insomniac DVD. It ran away when I tried to crush it and was last seen scurrying away behind the TV. Interestingly, a male cockroach has six penises, but each one may only be used once and when all six penises (peni?) have been used, the cockroach dies. Bummer.

So according to the Bible, I only have to endure another 6 plagues before I escape into the Promised Land and live happily ever after. Who knows what trials and tribulations await me still? I’ll keep you posted.

Pat on the Iraqi elections

January 31, 2005

Dear Pat,

Since the US and UK have not actually found any weapons of mass destruction in my country and since we have managed to hold successful elections, isn’t it about time you all buggered off back to where you came from and left us alone? What are your thoughts on the US and UK exit strategy from Iraq?

Ahmed, Baghdad, Iraq

Dear Ahmed,

You mean ‘Baghdad, Iraq – FORMERLY KNOWN AS BABYLON!’ The Bible is of course very clear that the evil end-time empire that will arise to crush Christendom is no less than Babylon ‘the mother of prostitutes and the abominations of the earth.’ Of course Satan is a very deceptive and elusive foe (not unlike a certain Mr Bin-laden – coincidence? I think not!) and disguises himself in many ways to try and thwart our crusade of righteousness.

Satan can of course make chemical weapons factories appear to look like schools and hospitals, but even this cunning will not deter us from our commitment to destroy them anyway. I know this may appear harsh and unloving, but the Gospel is no comfort-blanket, it really isn’t.

However, the Good News of the Gospel is of course highly relevant to your situation. God has prepared his very own ‘exit strategy’ for we Christians to escape from ‘Babylon’ – I refer of course to the rapture. The rapture could occur at any minute and what will happen is that basically the world will become so messed up and depraved that the only solution will be for God to yank all the elect (sorry if you weren’t chosen – but who are we to question God’s wisdom?) out of space and time and thus free them from all responsibility for anything ever again. Those who are not involved in God’s ‘Great Escape’ will unfortunately be left behind to fight a series of super-monsters with horns and multiple eyes but even those who survive the onslaught of the mythological beasts will be annihilated in a final thermonuclear armageddon in any case. I know this may sound unloving, but I didn’t write the book of revelation, I really didn’t.

In any case, God will rapture people who will be most useful to him on the new earth. This of course means that unskilled labourers, economic migrants, non-english speakers and single mothers are the demographic groups that are most likely to be ‘left behind.’

The rapture may of course occur any minute now but fear ye not, for I am pleased to announce a special range of products to ensure you are not found to be sleeping when God comes back to rescue us!

Rapture anti-sleeping pills $39.99

Don’t let the master of the house find you sleeping when he returns! With these sleep-inhibiting taurine pills, you’ll never fall asleep again, and all this for less than $40 – an bargain price to guarantee your eternal security!

Rapturepants $50/pair

Imagine the shame of being raptured naked! Picture the stares of horrified fellow-rapturees as you are lifted heavenward butt-naked and all because you decided to shower, bathe or have sex when the last trumpet sounded! Cover yourself with glory and buy a pack of rapturepants to wear 24/7 and prevent any unecessary end-time embarrasment. Requires full sexual abstinence and some assembly.

Watch and Pray – through your television!

Don’t those prayer meetings just get you down? Isn’t is easier just to slouch in front of the TV rather than apply a little self-discipline and spend some time in prayer? Well now you can do both by subscribing the Pat’s very own ‘Watch and Pray’ pay-per-view cable channel! For just $100 a month, you can watch 24 hour a day wall-to-wall coverage of potential apocalyptic world events, prayer meetings and live studio discussion on such key issues as ‘Who is the Antichrist?’ and ‘Is lesbianism the end-time one-world religion?’ It also features an hourly rapture percentage probability update – so you won’t be ‘left behind’ on all that’s hot and happening in the final days of the earth and time and space. Broadcast live from our Cayman Island studios to small towns everywhere – subscribe today!

yours rapturously,


Sven notes: If you think I’m joking, go here for rapture clothing and here for a rapture probability counter. Also, the rapturepants idea came from my Pastor who did actually used to wear speedos in the bath because he was paranoid about being raptured naked. He has since repented and been severely mocked by myself and several others.

World of Sven by no means endorses anything to do with the Left Behind books (and I’ve read them) or any of the webpages I’ve linked to in this post.)

Imperial measurements

January 31, 2005

After reading Derek’s newly updated blog and following a conversation with Pete in the pub (‘How many pints in a gallon Steve?’), I have spent a lot of time pondering the enigma that is imperial measurements and old money. My parents’ generation and generations prior to them seem to have no problem unravelling the enigma of fathoms, lengths, chains, farthings, guineas and ounces, but to a youngster like me (especially having been raised on über-efficient German metric measurements) the world of imperial measurements seems highly illogical and ever so slightly arcane and backward. Here is what I have managed to glean so far:


13 fleabodies = 1 inch
7 inches = 1 groatwurzel
8.3 groatwurzels = 1 cannonsbeam
3 cannonsbeams = 1 yard
6 yards = 1 jobsworthy
3 jobsworthies = 1 knucklehedge
5 knucklehedges = 1 horse
1,456 horses = 1 mile


11 peas = 1 ounceling
17 ouncelings = 1 sheepdipthong
6 sheepdipthongs = 1 brasstooth
4 brassteeth = 1 ha’penny
5 ha’pennies = 1 bicycle
20 bicycles = 1 horseless carriage
100,000 horseless carriages = 1 Dreadnought Battleship

Beer and other liquids

420 drips = 1 half pint
3 half pints = 1 pint
3.6 pints = 1 pondsbucket
18 pondsbuckets = 1 demi-quart
6 demi-quarts = 13 fishsqueezes
106 fishsqueezes = 1 riverscoop
1800 riverscoops = 1 sea
4 seas = 1 ocean

Yet strangely enough there are still some people willing to burn at the stake for this backward system. Compare it for example to the highly efficient German system:

10 Stormtroopers = 1 Panzer
100 Panzers = 1 Messerschmitt
100 Messerschmitts = 1 European Comission
10 European Commissions = 1 Blitzkrieg
10 Blitzkriegs = 1 Euro

Sola scriptura and the wrath of God

January 30, 2005

Misunderstandings between Adrian and myself seem to have been cleared up. It can often be hard to read what people are actually trying to say when you can only read text and not hear the tone of their voice. Anyhoo, on with the main point which is the authority of scripture and eventually penal substitution. I’m going to post in bullet points because it’s late and I have a bazillion things to do before tomorrow:

1. Because I do not accept ‘sola scriptura’ (scripture only) when it comes to establishing doctrine, does not mean I do not accept the authority of the Bible. I do accept the authority of scripture as being a fundamental part of faith (you may now turn your liberal-warning lights off 😉 .) Anyone who accepts the authority of scripture has to ask why is it authoritative. It is a book written by fallen human beings and records the stories of people who were often deeply corrupt – why is it considered to be authoritative as the word of a holy God? (and I do consider it to be so)

2. I believe the Bible to be the word of God because God himself gives it his authority. This is the only way in which a book written by sinful human beings can be considered to have divine authority. Only God has final authority, and the Bible is not God; it derives its authority from God. Unless of course you can show that the Bible can have authority apart from God, then you have to accept that it derives its authority from God. This however means that God, and not the Bible, is the final authority for everything. It’s a subtle distinction, but in practice it is the difference between biblicism and a Christ-ian faith.

3. It’s no use saying ‘the word of God says that the word of God is the word of God’ – that’s just a circular argument and in any case assumes an a priori doctrine of God, however limited.

4. The Bible says of itself that it is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16,) and from this idea we have the idea of the divine inspiration of scripture, by which we believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the human authors that wrote the text. I would not dispute this either.

5. Herein lies the problem: If the Bible derives its authority from God, and it is inspired by the Holy Spirit, then it is no longer sola scriptura. The Bible is then seen to always be in relationship with God, and also involved in the relationship between God, the reader of the text and his/her environment. Scripture does not simply stand alone in a vacuum, it is always scripture PLUS doctrine of God/context of author/context of reader/presuppositions and experiences of reader. These things are implicit and inescapable and mean that it is no longer scripture sola.

6. Standing on the Bible, or standing on God? There’s a small but significant difference. The testimony of the Bible is that Jesus Christ is the only foundation (1 Cor 3:11,) and the chief cornerstone the Christian faith(Eph 2:20.) Nowhere (that I can find) does the Bible say that it itself is the foundation of our faith, it is only a testimony to the foundation of our faith, which is Christ.

7. That being the case, our doctrine of God must begin with Jesus Christ, rather than Bible verses. He is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15,) and anyone who has seen him has seen the Father (John 14:9.) To understand God then, we must first turn to Christ before we turn to Paul, the Psalms or anyone else. So for example if we want to understand God’s attitude towards sin and sinners, why do we leap straight over to Nahum 1, or even Romans 1-3? We must first see Jesus’ attitude to sinners, and how he brings God’s justice to them before stating dogmatically what God is like in this respect. If a doctrine is contrary to the words and work of Jesus, one has to question just how Christian it is.

8. Christ being the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2,) all scripture must be interpreted through him, or our conclusions can no longer be said to be Christian. In Nahum 1 for example, God is vengeful and angry with his enemies, yet Jesus teaches that God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked (Luke 6:35,) and assuming Jesus practices what he preaches, God is also in the business of loving his enemies, doing good to them and blesses those who curse him. So who wins out – Jesus or Nahum’s God? Problem is they’re both exactly the same God so then you have to do some theology and some serious hermeneutics to figure out precisely what God is like. Sola scriptura leaves you with a problem (which texts take precedence?) but a Christ-centred approach is infinitely more helpful, because he is our final court of appeal and our ultimate revelation of God.

9. Fear ye not, for I am not for one minute trying to create a wrathless God who is indifferent to sin. God is certainly wrathful against sin and wants to crush its power, so I am not for one moment wanting to suggest that actually God is indifferent to evil and sin, far from it. It is easy to talk about the wrath of God, but we must first carefully establish precisely what it is. Wrath is not the opposite of love (I think indifference is the opposite, but that’s irrelevant for now.) God is first of all love (1 John 4:8,) and so any other attributes of God must be related to his love, including his wrath. Love and wrath are not opposing characteristics, unless you have a schizophrenic God with two different wills (‘shall I love humanity today, or shall I be wrathful against them? I just can’t decide.’) You could push through behind God’s wrath and at his core you would find love, but you could not push on behind his love and find his wrath and the centre of his being, unless John were to say ‘whoever does not have wrath does not know God, for God is wrath.’

10. If we are then to understand God’s wrath in relationship to his nature as love, perhaps a better way to understand his wrath is to consider it as the spurning of his love by us. God’s wrath is how his love appears to those who have shunned and rejected him, and those under God’s wrath in fact isolate themselves further from his creative and transformative love, and so they become more and more steeped in sin and corruption.

11. This is going to take all night, I need to stop soon. My trains of thought are careering downhill with dodgy brakes on a line covered with the wrong kind of leaves and plagued by signal failure.

12. God’s wrath must then necessarily deal with sin, but again we need to establish what sin is exactly. I’m not going to go into it in depth now, but suffice to say that if sin were solely moral things that we have done wrong, we could be restored to God simply by repentance and ceasing from sin. However, sin is a power all of its own, and rather than being a legal category, being ‘under the power of sin and death’ is more of a statement about the existential state of the whole of creation (including humanity of course.) This is why the incarnation is necessary for our salvation. Whatever God did not assume in the incarnation, has not been healed (as said by Gregory of Nazianzus is response to the hersey of Apollinarianism.) So God takes on everything that it means to be human – not just hunger and tiredness, but the corruption and bondage to decay and ultimately death that is part of the human lot. He is like us in every way (Heb 2:17) and sympathises with us completely (Heb 4:16). He assumes our infirmities and sin and ultimately our human death as a consequence of sin, but in doing so he transforms and heals what it means to be human. His final triumph over sin, death and Satan is in his resurrection, and so he becomes the first-fruit of what all those in Christ will be i.e. without corruption and full of glory (1 Cor 15.) This is the outline of my current thought on the atonement, and I much prefer it to the penal substitutionary model.

13. In closing, I don’t think I have ever criticised John Stott and Lloyd-Jones (though I do disagree with Stott on some things) but I don’t mind admitting that I am not a huge Wayne Grudem fan. His Systematic Theology seems to be the manual for all card-carrying NFI people (I also have a copy, just for the record,) but I think it has several huge weaknesses. Firstly, he often simply reels of proof-texts which I think is often inappropriate and a weak method (he often does little or no exegesis of the texts he quotes, as though they were somehow self-interpreting.) Secondly, he makes little reference to any kind of historical theology, and thirdly he almost fails to engage at all with any non-evangelical theologians – which is great if you’re writing an in-house publication for the evangelical church, but is not much use for engaging with the wider church. I find this last part quite frustrating inparticular, it’s like saying ‘I don’t live in the 5th Century so I won’t read Augustine’, or ‘I’m a feminist so I won’t read any male theologians’, or ‘I don’t live in a ghetto in Latin America so I won’t read the liberation theologians’ or ‘I’m an evangelical so I won’t listen to what the Catholics/Orthodox/Liberals have to say.’ There is after all only one Spirit, one Lord and one Church – and there must be some interaction between different groups if the whole church is to be edified. That’s why I’m not a Grudem fan, in a nutshell.

Far better systematic theology (though not all evangelical) has been written by Barth, Moltmann, T F Torrance, Gunton, P T Forsyth, Zizioulas and Pannenberg to name but a few.


3.33am blues

January 29, 2005

If you’ve been reading World of Sven over the last month or so you’ll know that I’ve been struggling a lot with various stress, anxiety and depression related problems that have made me physically ill and also psychologically and socially unwell too.

I’d actually been feeling a bit better in the last 2-3 days but I had another bad day again today, it just comes out of nowhere, I can’t explain it. I went to a friend’s birthday party and just couldn’t handle it. Everyone there was one of my good friends, yet I just had such overwhelming sense of sadness and a compulsion to be alone that I left after barely an hour after just sitting in a corner talking to a handful of people.

I’m going to spend Saturday with Bryony at the beach which should be good but the thought of being outside and engaging with the world is a horrible one that genuinely panics me, which of course then makes me miserable company to be with

I never used to be like this, what on earth is wrong with me? Now almost everyone I know in the real world reads my blog and so of course they worry about me too, though occasionally I wish they wouldn’t. Not because I am ungrateful for the fact that they really care about me (I so am and it’s so humbling) but because the more aware I become of the effect I have on other people (either positively or negatively,) the more I freak out and want to run away from everything.

In addition, I still have insomnia (almost 4am now,) headaches, shakes, temperature and severe concentration problems (it took me 2 hours to type a 400 word e-mail to my dad this evening.) Crap.

Sola Scriptura?

January 29, 2005

Sola Scriptura is latin for ‘scripture only,’ and was most famously used by Martin Luther in the Reformation when he was arguing against the Catholic theological order of the day that said that church councils and decrees issued by the Pope were equal, or even superior to, the Bible. Of course, given the state of the church in his day, one can easily see why Luther wisely chose this approach.

I would argue that now however, to say ‘the Bible only’ for discussing theology is not only impossible but also undesirable.

It is undesirable because theological debate then very easily becomes a matter of proof-texting. Proof-texting often takes verses out of the very context in which they were given (and find their meaning,) and thus they become a pretext to saying something else, which may or may not have anything to do with the original point the Bible was making.

Sola scriptura is also undesirable because it makes the Bible the foundation of faith and not Jesus Christ (which is, ironically what the Bible teaches.) The Bible is not the final authority for the church, Jesus is – and this is an important difference. So then Christology needs to also function alongside the Bible, it is not just sola scriptura.

Sola scriptura is also impossible. This is because to use the Bible alone to take your theology from implicitly assumes that you already have a theology about why the Bible is inspired, how it was transmitted from its original sources and then you also have to ask the question of how to interpret it properly, for which you need a hermeneutical method alongside the Bible. The Bible does not stand by itself, it forms part of a historical and interpretive tradition. Different groups of course have their own interpretations of the Bible, but this also necessarily means they have a tradition and a theology wrapped around the Bible itself, and often also an implicit history of interpretation running alongside, in which case it is not the Bible alone which is determining their theology.

The Bible functions properly within a network of relationships that connect it to Christ (and thus to the trinity,) church history, interpretative method and personal experience (our experiences and presuppositions affect how we read the Bible, whether we like it or not.) and so thus to say ‘only the Bible’ is not only impossible, but also actually makes understanding it and applying it that much harder.

So basically, if you want to do theology, don’t just hurl Bible verses around.

With thanks to Richard for the discussion that helped me form some of these thoughts.