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« It Was the Best of Actions, It Was the Worst of Actions | Main | Don’t Just Doubt Your Faith, Doubt Your Doubts »

March 14, 2013


I think the video is excellent and thought-provoking, and I agree Jesus is the only way.

But, it seems to me, the 3 principles and the Analogy of Faith aren't found in Scripture? If they are, can you tell me where they are, please? But also, neither is the Principle that the Bible is the sole source of revelation.

All of these things seem to be extra-biblical principles aren't they? If so, why can't people use other extra-biblical principles that other more liberal biblical scholars have proposed, which might result in the conclusion that Jesus isn't the only way, like the Huff Post article?

In other words, it seems that only by using your principles, Jesus as the way falls out the bottom, whereas the more Emergent churches seem to be using a more New Agey method of interpretation more like Jung, Eckhart Tolle, etc., where Jesus is just one of the ways.

Does the Bible tell us the correct way to interpret itself? If not, how do we know who's telling the truth as all the methods are plausible?

Are people like Rob Bell and Brian Mclaren, not Christians?

Maybe I'm not getting something...

"...the 3 principles and the Analogy of Faith aren't found in Scripture?"

Well no they are not, but they are used to interpret any other document.

One should always consider the context, historical background and etc when reading any document.

Ditto what Joe said: these principles of "Biblical Interpretation" aren't just relegated to the Bible: the phrase "Biblical Interpretation" is a code-name for basic critical reading skills that apply to any text.

"But also, neither is the Principle that the Bible is the sole source of revelation."

The claim of Sola Scriptura is the claim that Scripture is sufficient for the discovery of all doctrinal truth. And that is taught is Scripture:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Part of being righteous, part of doing good work, is having true doctrinal belief. The passage says that all Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training for every good work...including the good work of holding true doctrinal beliefs.

As for this notion of extra-biblical principle, let us distinguish two sorts of principle.

  1. There are principles that have to do with what it is to read in a given language.
  2. There are principles that constrain what sorts of views are permitted in a given system of thought.
It seems as though it is always reasonable to employ principles of the first sort. And in fact applying these principles is what is called reading. Believing the Bible certainly does involve reading what it says. This is true even though the Bible does not contain a list of all the rules one must follow to properly read a text. The Bible, for example, does not include the principles of Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic grammar.

Now that I think on it, I doubt very much whether the Bible contains any such principles.

But rules regarding genre, context history and so forth are among the principles one uses to read a text (any text...not just the Bible). They are not philosophical constraints on a system of thought.

In contrast, the view that a loving god wouldn't send anyone to Hell is precisely that.

I think it is the latter sort of principle that is used by the HuffPo author to 'interpret' John 14.


Your comments made me reach for my old hermeneutics ($20 word for Biblical interpretation) textbook, and, Alan is correct in his approach. This text (Interpreting the Bible, by A. Berkeley Mickelsen) deals with many issues ALan mentioned (full context of chapter vs. cherry-picked verse, historical background, genre) and many he couldn't for sake of relevancy (text criticism, original language studies, figures of speech and symbolism). On a shelf near-by is a collection of Shakespeare where such methods of interpretation is clearly uses such principles. Alan's defense of consistent use of principles is valid.

In Mickelsen's work was a section on the history of hermeneutics, where from the nineteenth century on two methods of Bible interpretation developed. These schools differed on the issues of unity of Scriptures, essential themes, origins, inspiration and authority of Scriptures. Here we may have the root of the problem. For those who think of the Bible as so much ink on paper, Jesus' words in John 14: 6 can be debated. For those who have concluded that the Bible is God's special revelation of His plan of salvation, the Huff Post piece is a woefully benighted piece that doesn't begin to understand the point that Jesus gives the sole path to heaven, all other paths will fail.

Controversal? Yes. An offer one can refuse? Yes. But to explore the consequences of such refusal should make one pause for the moment.

I reckon the HuffPo guy would actually agree with those principles with regard to his own communication. For example, a lot of jokes people make in conversation could be taken out of context & ignore their 'joking' genre - I suspect lots of people would appear to be murderous/sexist/etc even if they're not at all like that. Strangely enough, someone could take the article's quote of John 14:6, remove it from the context of his attached interpretation, say that the HuffPo guy IS teaching that Jesus is the only way to the Father & misrepresent him.

Hi WisdomLover

Does 2 tim 3.16 say 'all scripture' or 'only scripture'? For Sola Scriptura to be true, the second would have to the case, wouldn't it? But it doesn't say Only Scripture, so there's room for extra-biblical factors as well, like 1 Tim 3.15, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, etc., isn't there?

However, all the other responses so far, don't seem to be biblical, but appeal to extra-biblical sources, still, don't they?

So, some people like A. Berkeley Mickelsen, as DGFischer does, other Chrisitans like Rudolf Bultmann. Why should I choose one over the other? What Biblical grounds is there?
In other words, although I agree with Alan, I don't think he's successful in refuting the Huff Post writer.

I agree that those principles are relevant for studying all texts. I agree with Alan too.

The trouble is, as far as I see it is, does his argument manage to pull off his principles as being exclusive and authoritative?
The Bible isn't 'any text', so don't other factors apply, such as inspiration? History and poetry aren't inerrant, but they are inerrant when they are in Scripture, aren't they? And I think that difference is significant, isn't it?

In the same way, isn't it the case that there are non-biblical inerrant texts - like books on Pure Mathematics and Logic - but they're not inspired are they?

To me, the Emergent movement is growing in leaps and bounds yet it seems to be taking the same line as the Huff Post author.

Are Emergent Christians, Christians, therefore? If not, what criteria can I use to judge that?

If they are Christians, what is all the fuss about?

Thinking further on what you wrote, Wisdomlover, you say the principles aren't in Scripture. Therefore, how can Scripture interpret itself?

My problem isn't the positive aspects of any arguments put forwards as I agree with them, but simply that they don't seem to be sufficiently able to refute detractors, unless there is some form of authority.

E.g., is A. Berkeley Mickelsen THE authority on interpreting Scripture? If so, how and why? And, what does that do to the argument many others put forward that Scripture is perspicuous?


"Thinking further on what you wrote, Wisdomlover, you say the principles aren't in Scripture. Therefore, how can Scripture interpret itself?"

Perhaps the best way to tackle this issue is with an analogy. Let's say you see a sculpture. You study it and wish to replicate it. It is true that a chisel and a hammer are not part of the sculpture, but is it fair that you can infer that those are the best tools for the job? Is it fair to say that the chisel and hammer are not necessary for you to understand the intentions of the artist who chiseled the work, or to appreciate its beauty? Yet is it not true that those things can only be determined solely from the sculpture itself? You might say sola sculptura is a lot like sola scriptura.

Hope this helps.


It seems as though you are looking for the answer to a different question in your many questions.


Does 2 tim 3.16 say 'all scripture' or 'only scripture'? For Sola Scriptura to be true, the second would have to the case, wouldn't it? But it doesn't say Only Scripture, so there's room for extra-biblical factors as well, like 1 Tim 3.15, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, etc., isn't there?


2 Timothy 3:16 doesn't say what a lot of people want it to say. It is often used to defend inerrancy, for example, but the text says nothing of the sort.

That text says that all Scripture is God breathed. So was Adam. Was Adam perfect? Free from mistakes?

That text says that Scripture is useful for teaching, correction, and training, and it can provide instruction toward salvation.

Does the Bible tell us the correct way to interpret itself? If not, how do we know who's telling the truth as all the methods are plausible?

No, it doesn't. But it does give examples. Paul interprets the OT, as does Jesus in the Gospels, as does the author of Matthew, and on and on. One may also argue that the book of Job is an exercise in biblical interpretation; each of Job's "friends," Job himself, and then eventually YHWH at the end of the story all interpret Scripture.

If you want to do an interesting study, I'd recommend studying how Paul interpreted the Old Testament. It requires toughing it out through scholarly material, but it's worth it.

My conclusion is that Paul was not at all a literalist in the way today's Evangelicals are, but your mileage may vary.


Paraphrasing Alan:

Scripture came from one mind

Alan presents this is as a fact, and that all Christians (or maybe only real, true Christians (tm)?) abide by the principal that Scripture was all given (presumably in a very literal way) from the same mind, the divine mind. Therefore, it cannot contradict itself.

I would simply like to point out that Alan's presentation of this is very one-sided. Not all Christians believe this. Not all Christian bible scholars believe this. Not all Christian theologians believe this.

Some certainly do, and in evangelicalism, the overwhelming majority would at least assent to believing something like this.

But Christianity is bigger than American Evangelicalism. There are other ways of understanding inspiration that are equally sincere, equally developed philosophically, theologically, and exegetically, and so on.

If one attends any non-Evangelical seminary in the United States, you would get exposed to these ideas, and people who embrace them, while simultaneously embracing a deep and sincere faith in Jesus.

The "all" that's important in II Timothy is not the "all" that goes with "Scripture", but the "all" that goes with "good works".

Sola Scriptura is the claim that is is possible to settle all doctrinal matters that God intends for us to be able to settle using a proper reading of Scripture as your sole guide. Or to put it another way, Scripture is sufficient for all doctrinal matters. Since II Timothy teaches that Scripture is sufficient for all good works, and since that includes affirming true doctrine, II Timothy implies Sola Scriptura.

Sola Scriptura is not the claim that only Scripture can decide any doctrinal matter. As an example, Scripture claims that God exists. But proponents of Sola Scriptura would not argue from the Sola principle against, say, the argument from Design.

It's no good objecting to Sola Scriptura on the grounds that it is possible to discover doctrinal truths apart from Scripture. Of course it is. The point is that it is possible to discover every doctrinal truth that God intends us to know using only Scripture.

Sola Scriptura is importantly distinguished from the position that Scripture is not enough to decide some doctrinal matters and either tradition, or contemporary revelation is needed.

The Roman church, for example, has a long tradition that deals with the fate of unbaptized infants. But Scripture is silent on the fate of unbaptized infants. The proponent of Sola Scriptura maintains that where Scripture is silent, we too should be silent. (This does not, of course, mean that we must remain silent about the justice or compassion of God, for Scripture is not silent about that.)

Sola Scriptura presupposes all those things that are presupposed in reading any text. So, for example, the laws of logic are presupposed, as are the rules of grammar for the language in which the text is written, attention to literary style, historical context and so forth.

It's no good objecting to Sola Scriptura on the grounds that Scripture doesn't contain, for example, instructions on how to read a text. It has never been the claim of proponents of Sola Scriptura that Scripture does or must contain any such thing.

Now, Peter, since I wrote you've thrown out at least one additional point that I think needs to be highlighted. It appears almost as a sidenote in this quote "they don't seem to be sufficiently able to refute detractors, unless there is some form of authority." I think you are trying to take little steps toward the idea that we need some authoritative interpreter in order to properly understand Scripture. Just normal reading of the text won't do.

This is nonsense. If you accept this argument, then by the same token, you are going to need an authoritative interpreter of the authoritative interpreter of Scripture. If you need a Church Encyclical to understand Scripture, you're going to need a meta-Church Encyclical to understand the Church Encyclical. And you'll need an authoritative interpreter of that authoritative interpreter, and of that authoritative interpreter and of that...


I've never heard the II Timothy text used, by itself, to defend inerrancy. It may, of course, be involved in underwriting one link in an argument for inerrancy. It is used by itself to defend inspiration.

"That text says that all Scripture is God breathed. So was Adam. Was Adam perfect? Free from mistakes?"

This is, perhaps, a better analogy than you intended. Adam was perfect before the Fall. He was also free, and because of that any error Adam made may be placed wholly at Adam's doorstep.

This is precisely what the claim of inerrancy in the autographs is. The original autograph is God's work. It was inspired by Him in such a way that He knew precisely how it would be verbalized. Any errors found there are on God. In contrast, errors made in the copy process are on the (free) copyists.

Speaking of passages that don't imply what people wish they would imply. how does "The church is the pillar and support of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15) imply that the Church is entitled to add to the words of God's revelation?

Similarly, how does advice (in II Thes. 2:15) to a church that existed before all the books of the NT had even been written translate into advice to us?

What do you want from that passage? To prove that before the Bible was written down, there was an oral tradition? Oh. OK. You win. And that is relevant how?

BTW, brgulker-

What exactly is the point of the bit about sincerity? No one doubts the sincerity of people with a low view of Scripture. I imagine they're all hypocritical broken old sinners just like me. Nothing is decided by the quality of anyone's belief, and thank God for that. All that seems to matter is what the text actually does say, not what anyone sincerely (or insincerely) believes that it says.

Good comments, WisdomLover.

And, please don't miss the fact that in order to hold that Jesus is NOT the only way (as the HuffPo author seems to), a person would have to overlook (or interpret wrongly) all of the other passages which also teach that Jesus IS the only way. Alan gave 5 examples and noted that there are over 100 verses which support this key doctrine.

By the way, a Christian, by definition, is a follower of Christ. If you don't follow the teachings of Christ (at least the core doctrines), you are by definition a non-Christian.

Hi WisdomLover.

Your points have been very useful, but what I'm reading from your replies is that you seem to be giving me an authoritative reply, aren't you? And where do you get that? But if it's authoritative, shouldn't all those who consider themselves Christian, simply agree with you?

But your last paragraph about authoritative interpreter, seems to me, to be something which the Church needs in these times when those who seem to be classed 'emergent' and claim to be 100% Christian, are teaching all sorts of different and contradictory things as if 'you pays your money and takes your choice' when it comes to Christianity.

What I can't get my head round is how any one can tell them they are wrong, because to do so, is to assume one has an authoritative, or objective, position from which they dissent and, if that is the case, where does one get one's authority to tell them they're (objectively) wrong in their understanding?

Hi squallybimbadine

Sorry, but what question do you think I'm asking, then?

Maybe I am asking a different question, but maybe it's a new question that needs to be asked? The issue then is, A) whether it's relevant, and if it is, B) what is the answer?

As far as I'm concerned, I'm hearing a lot of strong opinions, and maybe agreement, but that doesn't give me any evidence that the HuffPo author is wrong, does it? I don't think Alan addresses it. Isn't he just giving what would be considered an authoritative opinion over which there's much agreement but only between those who share his frame of reference?


You've made points about Alan's principles of Biblical interpretation as "extra-biblical." While I acknowledge that his principles are universally used to determine the message's purpose and intent, whether Bible, Shakespeare, Freud, or whatever/whomever, you seem to be intent on how we can find an authority suitable to your needs. I've pondered your issue and at least will offer what could be the Biblical principles you desire.

1. The message of the Bible deserves some point of reception, whether that leads to acceptance or rejection. (Rom. 10: 17).

2. There is a sinful tendency in man to be rather dull in their reception, even in times we claim to listen intently. (Is. 29: 13; Matt. 15: 8; Mark 7: 6).

3. Unpopular messages are usually deemed false, hateful, bigotted by those who receive them. (I am now studying Amos, a man whose message was so difficult to present, God's judgment on a society that is thriving and prosperous).

4. There is a further human tendency to "honey-over" or "tone-down" the message. (Jeremiah had his Hananiah [Jer. 28]).

5. In light of principles 2-4, it is important not to go balistic over the difficult sayings of Jesus. He asked for our ears to hear (Matt. 11: 15). To believe in them is a matter of the Spirit's working, and to actually arrive there would be, in this respect, the Spirit's most awesome miracle.

It is convenient to fall back upon skepticism as a wall of defense, but it becomes an exercise in futility. Jesus said what He said in John 14: 6. It is the challenge of faith to hear it, accept it. The wording is clear. The call of faith has been expressed, and it will take more than a Huff Post to nullify it.

This may or may not be the answer you seek. I merely ask a far pondering. God do you well.

Thanks, DGFischer, for your courteous reply.

I find myself really relating to your points. My problem is my self-doubt, and that's not cleared up by people who might say that all I have to is 'to believe upon the truths of Scripture', as some have in my circle of friends, purely because I know I am prone to self-deception.

The following isn't addressed so much to you, but more generally...

I'm beginning to wonder who is worth listening to. Is anyone? I could find a church that believed nearly all I believe, or one that believed nearly everything I rejected, if I shopped around.

Should I join a church which agrees with what I agree with? Would it be teaching truth or lies? Or, should I join a Church with which I have little in common, because it might challenge my stubbornness and/or incorrect understanding of the truth? Is that what makes it uncomfortable? Or is it that it is teaching error, and that's why I find it uncomfortable? How do I judge?

That is, is the Spirit affirming something in a comfortable church, or challenging me to change my erroneous beliefs in an uncomfortable one? How do I know if a church is just comforting me when I need challenging, or vice-versa?

If my church taught Jesus was not the only way, and I can discount Scripture on this matter, the only reason I would have to ignore that advice is if I took the principle of Sola Scriptura seriously (taking brgulker's points into consideration). But if my church doesn't take it seriously, and many other Christians do not either, the argument only works if Sola Scriptura is my operating principle. Therefore Sola Scriptura must be linked to some authority - or I can just ignore it, can't I?

In other words, who is to say Sola Scriptura is true or false - and so whether Jesus is the only way, or not, without it being tied to the presuppossition of sola scriptura which may, or may not, be valid?


You are obviously Roman Catholic, right? So according to you the Church already has an authoritative interpreter of Scripture right? Yet it remains true that "those who seem to be classed 'emergent' and claim to be 100% Christian, are teaching all sorts of different and contradictory things as if 'you pays your money and takes your choice' when it comes to Christianity."

Now let us move to this question of how people can discover they have made mistakes without he Pope.

Do we have a Pope of Mathematics? Do we have a Pope of History? Of Animal Husbandry? Of Needlepoint? Of Shakespeare?

No, of course not. Yet in each and every example just given, it is quite possible to discover mistakes. And in each of the examples given there are people who will insist on continuing to make that mistake, sometimes even after having it shown to them.

On one end of the extreme, there are common misconceptions about mathematical truth that people will cling to even after it's been proven that they are wrong...certain people will even get vexed and angry. An example I like to use is the fact that 1.0 is exactly equal to 0.999... (where the 9s go on forever). This is easily demonstrated, but even after the proof is done, there are often people who insist that the equality is still only approximate.

On the other end of the extreme, I think that it's pretty clear that Hamlet interpreted (as Olivier did) through the lens of Freud was off...way off. Nevertheless, Shakespeare hacks of a certain age will persist in making Shakespeare the Bard of Vienna, not Avon.

No authority can prevent mistakes. And in fact, your despair about disagreements in the absence of authority will, I think, tend to amplify the issue you fear. Nothing screams "interpretive free-for-all" like the insistence on an interpretive jamdown from an authority. If the only way you can get to the 'truth' is by jamdown, it seems an awful lot like maybe there is no objective fact, no truth to be gotten, in that case.

Hi, WisdomLover, thanks for taking the time to reply again.

It is interesting that you should think I'm Catholic, because I'm finding myself significantly persuaded by the arguments lots of people who have recently converted to Roman Catholicism are putting forward - like Jason Stellman - and I'm clinging on with my fingernails.

They've not fallen in love with 'Romanism' and so become statue-lovin' idolaters overnight, but many are suggesting that Evangelicalism seems to be imploding, and I can't help agreeing. The evidence is all about me where I live.

I've been becoming more and more uneasy about some of the ridiculous and contradictory things I'm hearing from fellow Christians these days, as well as what I have to call 'liberalism' which seems to have seeped into all the churches around me, including my own, although I'd class myself non-denominational, like most of my friends in my congregation.

When I first became Christian, apart from Roman Catholicism, we were agreed 'liberalism' and 'the social gospel' weren't really Christian, now they seem to have become mainstream in Evangelicalism.

The Baptist Pastor in our town, for example, recently (somehow) integrated the idea that there's nothing wrong with being pro-choice into his sermon as the foetus, 'according to all scientific evidence', isn't a person.

One of my friends who, like me, is pro-life was there, and saw red (and so couldn't tell me how it came up in his sermon), but interestingly, he was the only one. His 'friends' thought he was making a mountain out of a molehill and just wanting to rock the boat.

Needless to say, he left that church and now goes to a little free church where the pastor seems to have little or no training whatsoever, yet he and his 'elders' are going round the town telling us (the laity) we're not Christians if we're in the mainline 'liberal' denominations.

As another example, this year, we've cancelled the 3 hour Good Friday 'united' Vigil we've held for years, mainly because a couple of the ministers said that people's lives are sad enough in this recession so we should make it fun and have it as a big outreach activity day! Yay!

These sorts of things are happening more and more frequently, and not only in my small town. Friends elsewhere are reporting these trends and it all seems related to 'emergent' ideas.

I don't just mean all the cross-denominational migration, but self-appointed pastors and the teaching/attitude is becoming far more pro-choice, pro-gay, and my Church, for example, is turning a blind eye to several young people who are living together because 'we should make the Gospel 'relevant' to the young people. Jesus wouldn't have condemned them, so we shouldn't'.

I'm hearing more and more about 'tolerance' and 'relevance', and rather than evangelism, we're out doing social work which, to me, seems more like taking advantage of people when they're down to get them to convert, by focussing our efforts on the vulnerable. That's easy - compared to those who are not vulnerable and so are not 'desperate'.

All disagreement now seems to end up in totally inconclusive proof-text shoot-outs. I can't see any common foundation any more. It's like being on shifting sands.

One of the most convincing biblical arguments I've heard is reading Matthew 16.13-20 in light of Isaiah 22.15f, and it seems to me, Christianity needs a Prime Minister - an 'over the house' - a Captain, whilst Jesus is the King, the sole mediator. But from where I'm standing, it seems to be every man for himself, with friends flipping from church to church because they disagree with this, then that, pastor, and so Alan just seems to be one of the many differing voices clamouring for my attention - despite liking his argument.

By staying put, I seem to be subject to the whim of pastors' own agendas.

I like a lot of what I hear from STR, but might it just be the case that we're agreed, not that it's the truth?

By staying put, I seem to be subject to the whim of pastors' own agendas.

I like a lot of what I hear from STR, but might it just be the case that we're agreed, not that it's the truth?

Well, I don't recommend that you agree with everything STR says...and certainly not for the reason that you like what they say. But I also don't see how the situation is any better in Rome.

In Rome, you seem to be subject to the whim of the Hierarchy's agenda. You'll still have the same question about STR's teachings. And you'll have added to that questions about Rome's teachings...are they the truth? Or just what the Hierarchy says. And how can you tell?

If you can't tell by reading the text and reasoning from it, then nothing you add to it will help.


If you want more structured, consistent and traditional worship, not non-stop relevance and celebration, you might try a traditional Protestant church rather than a non-traditional one.

I can't refrain from recommending a church of my own denomination, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

It has one thing in common with all's filled with and run by broken old sinners like me. And those broken old sinners are as apt to get caught up in fads and falsehoods as any. So I'm not saying that you'll never walk into an LCMS church and hear a praise band leading a celebration service or hear that the Pastor will be leading a study group featuring Love Wins.

But you'll find the same sort of thing in Rome too.

The reason churches like this exist is not because there is no Pope. Because there is a Pope and they still exist. The reason these churches exist is that people don't read their Bible, but instead find churches that will satisfy their itching ears.

Hi WisdomLover

You comments have been very helpful. Thank you for what you've shared. I think I need to do a lot more reflectin'...

Great video, Alan! Thanks a lot.

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