The Council of Jerusalem and Enscripturation

I subscribe to a number of Roman Catholic e-letters. One such e-letter is John Martignoni’s Apologetics for the Masses. In a recent issue, Mr. Martignoni  presents an argument in regard to the Council of Jerusalem as a proof for Roman Catholcism:

“One last thing to note here when talking about the Council of Jerusalem. I need to highlight the fact that the Council of Jerusalem did not operate on the principle of Sola Scriptura – the Bible alone as the sole authority in matters Christian. If it had operated on that principle, then the only Scripture they had at the time – the Old Testament- would have clearly pointed them to a different decision than the one they made, because the Old Testament is very clear that it was necessary for a man to be circumcised in order for him to be in covenant with God (Genesis 17:9-14). So, if they had gone by the Scripture alone, then the decision would had to have favored the position of the Judaizers. The only conclusion one can draw, then, is that Sola Scriptura was not part of the theological environment that the Council of Jerusalem, and the early Church, operated within.”

There are two basic errors in Mr. Martignoni’s paragraph, and once exposed render his “the only conclusion one can draw” an argument that has no merit against sola scriptura.

1. Mr. Martignoni asserts that sola scriptura amounts to “the Bible alone as the sole authority in matters Christian.” This is an error. The doctrine of sola scriptura holds the Scriptures are the sole infallible authority for the church and the sole infallible rule of faith. Protestants affirm church authority, but deny infallible church authority. Protestants affirm the necessity of a ruling office in the Church, because the Scriptures teach it (1 Tim. 3). Protestants affirm the necessity of a teaching ministry in the Church, because the Scriptures teach it (Eph. 4:11-16).

2. Mr. Martignoni states, “I need to highlight the fact that the Council of Jerusalem did not operate on the principle of Sola Scriptura.” The doctrine of sola scriptura though does not put forth the notion that the Council of Jerusalem “operated on the principle of sola scriptura.”  Sola Scriptura applies to the normal means God has conveyed His truth to the church after Scripture had been completed. Note the following comment from Dr. White from a vintage aomin article:

“One will search high and low for any reference in any standard Protestant confession of faith that says, “There has never been a time when God’s Word was proclaimed and transmitted orally.” You will never find anyone saying, ‘During times of enscripturation- that is, when new revelation was being given- sola scriptura was operational.’ Protestants do not assert that sola scriptura is a valid concept during times of revelation. How could it be, since the rule of faith to which it points was at that very time coming into being? One must have an existing rule of faith to say it is ‘sufficient.’ It is a canard to point to times of revelation and say, “See, sola scriptura doesn’t work there!” Of course it doesn’t. Who said it did?”

And in another vintage aomin article, Dr. White states:

“Roman Catholics and Protestants historically have agreed on the reality that special revelation itself has ceased. We agree that new Scripture is not being written. Since this is so, logically, that means we agree there was a time, a miraculous and special time, often referred to as that period of ‘enscripturation,’ when that process was taking place, so that the Scriptures themselves were coming into existence under the providential direction of God Himself, for His purposes. Roman Catholic apologists often make reference to these periods when the Word of God was orally preached, such as in the ministry of Isaiah, as evidence of the falsehood of sola scriptura. And yet, given that they agree we no longer live in that context, is it not obvious and clear that the question of what is in fact an infallible authority today differs from asking the same question during periods of enscripturation? What true use is there to say ‘Isaiah said more than what we have in the book of Isaiah’ when 1) no one today is speaking on that level of inspiration and 2) Rome, which claims access to, and authority over, “tradition” has never given us a single word Isaiah said that is not itself found in Scripture?”

Mr. Martignoni is aware of this sort of response, as one on his older newsletters demonstrates. There he states about periods of enscripturation:

“First, how did the early Christians know the period of  ‘enscripturation’ was over? Who told them? What authority said to the early Christians, ‘The period of enscripturation is now over; therefore, the era of Sola Scriptura has started?’ When exactly was the period of enscripturation over, and how do we know? Does the Bible tell us, or would that be something that Sola Scriptura believers know from…tradition?”

Mr. Martignoni asks a question for an authority source he believes has no authority, that is, Protestant sources. So, even if I were to provide Protestant answers, such answers would fall on deaf ears. A better solution, one that I normally wouldn’t use, is quoting a source he should at least have a little respect for. While there are some Roman Catholic theologians that believe in continuing special revelation, generally speaking, most agree special revelation ceased with the death of the last apostle. Perhaps Mr. Martignoni would respect the opinion of Roman Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott. In Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, he states, “The clear teaching of Holy Writ and Tradition is that after Christ, and the Apostles who proclaimed the message of Christ, no further Revelation will be made” [Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, ed. James Canon Bastible (Rockford: Tan, reprinted 1974), p.7]. 

As to knowing something from “tradition”, Protestants don’t deny tradition, they deny an extra-biblical source of infallible content Roman Catholics refer to as “Tradition.” Knowing that the apostles died is nothing more than engaging in a historical inquiry. In a sense, all ancient history (whether Christian history or not) is an excursion into researching tradition. That is, we know facts of history because those facts were passed down to the present through various means. The church need not be infallible for such to take place. I would assume Mr. Martignoni is not saying that the church today can’t know the apostles died without infallible Tradition saying they did. Martignoni appears to believe Roman Catholics own church history and tradition, and so every historical tidbit is the property of Rome. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, I claim (for better or worse) that the past 2000 years of church history is the history of my church. I have no problem getting a fact from history that says how the apostles died.

Martignoni then states: “Furthermore, where in the Bible does it tell us that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura will become ‘operational’ after the period of enscripturation is over?” This sort of question arises from a false presentation of sola scriptura. The question that should be asked is “where is God’s voice?” The Protestant answers: the Scriptures are God’s voice. The Bible tells us it’s God’s voice:  II Timothy 3:16-17 states, “All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction, for training in righteousness, in order that the man of God might be complete, fully equipped for every good work.” The burden of proof lies on Roman Catholics like Mr. Martignoni who claim God’s infallible voice is somewhere else besides the Scriptures.