Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Apolonio Latar and Sola Scriptura II of II
07/07/2005 - James WhiteIn our first installment we came to the point in Mr. Latar's presentation where he made the rather amazing claim that 2 Thes. 2:15 presents us with two infallible rules of faith, one written, and one oral, and that this disproves sola scriptura. As I have pointed out, Rome does not tell us a single word Paul ever said to the Thessalonians that is not found in Scripture. Not a syllable. And one could never cobble together any meaningful discussion of his oral preaching to the Thessalonians from any source not dependent upon Scripture. Hence, this is a completely theoretical argument that cannot even begin the task of demonstrating itself historically, and, of course, it flies in the face of the exegesis offered (and not rebutted by Mr. Latar). But he does at least make an effort to do so in the rest of his comments.
Again, Protestant commentators will say that this passage is not talking about any other infallible rule of faith. They may try to say that the "oral traditions" spoken in this verse is the same message as that of the written word (more specifically to 1 Thess.). But to say that oral traditions are the "same message" is ambigious.
Ambiguous? How is the recognition of the singularity of the body of tradition, its relationship to the gospel, and the fact that there is no basis whatsoever for the assumption that what is referred to in Paul's preaching would differ at all in substance from what he wrote in his letters, at all "ambiguous"? Let us remember that Mr. Latar is here laying the foundation for the ultimate claims of infallible, supreme religious authority in the magisterium of Rome. Surely such a tremendous claim can find much more significantly compelling argumentation than this?
When we speak of the "same message," are we speaking of unwritten traditions having the same essence as that of written traditions? If yes, then I agree. Now, if by "same message," it means that the unwritten traditions are of the same content (or "matter" in scholastic terminology) as written traditions then I disagree. If St. Paul believed that they are the same content, then why didn't he just say "hold fast to written traditions"?
Mr. Latar knows arguments from silence are insufficient to provide a foundation to over-arching positive assertions. Paul is addressing the gospel. Does Mr. Latar believe the gospel is insufficiently revealed in Scripture? He may well, but I would like to hear first and foremost from him something concrete as to which parts of the gospel Paul addressed with the Thessalonians that the Scriptures are unclear in revealing, and how Rome came to be in possession of these apostolic traditions, though, without being able to provide a scintilla of historical documentation of the originality of these beliefs/teachings. Latar's rhetorical question is easy to answer: 1 Thessalonians is not an exhaustive recounting of everything Paul taught the Thessalonians, and, at that time, they would not possess the rest of the New Testament, which was currently being written. So, Paul had preached the gospel to them with greater clarity in his sermons than He had summarized it in the short epistle that is 1 Thessalonians. But to make this a "sola scriptura refuter verse" Mr. Latar must once again prove to us that what Paul preached contains that which is to function as an infallible rule of faith outside of Thessalonica so that it must enter into some transmittable form, and once again, this Mr. Latar cannot do. No Roman Catholic can, for that matter. When faced with the question, "Is it more likely that Paul preached to the Thessalonians the gospel he recorded in Romans and Galatians, or preached to them about Papal Infallibility and the Bodily Assumption," the semi-serious minded person, looking at the evidence as it exists, can come to only one conclusion. This is why Newman came up with the development hypothesis in the first place: the facts just don't support this kind of theory.
And what good reason do we have for accepting the Protestant position that the unwritten traditions are of the same content as that of the written? He is begging the question by thinking that St. Paul is speaking the "same message".
Now right here we truly have the beginning of the collapse of any kind of serious argumentation on the part of Mr. Latar. His claims of ultimate epistemological authority in the infallible magisterium of Rome must have positive grounding. Part and parcel of what he must prove, to use this passage as he seeks to use it, is that the preaching of Paul to the Thessalonian church was not only an infallible rule of faith to them (which given his apostolic authority we would grant) but that it was likewise for everyone else, and that it continues in that form today. Two problems exist with his thesis: 1) the exegesis of the text points us not to some separate, unknown, undefinable "tradition" but to the gospel itself, the clearest, most foundational element of Paul's proclamation! and 2) there isn't an iota of historical foundation for the theory, for as Mr. Latar knows, he cannot offer us any historical pedigree for this "infallible rule of faith" that no one could possibly submit to since no one knew what it was. Hence, his assertion is without exegetical or historical foundation. It is derived, I suggest, solely from philosophical necessity borne of devotion to Rome's authority claims.
St. Paul could have simply limited the Thessalonians to his letters, but he did not. In fact, there are instances where St. Paul specifically did not limit himself to letters. For example, in 1 Corinthians 11, he says, "The other matters I shall set in order when I come." Are we to believe that the "other matters" St. Paul was speaking of were the same kind of matters he was writing about in his letter? Of course not.
And are we to assume that these "other matters" have been defined by Rome, or that they were about such issues as Papal Infallibility or the Marian dogmas? No, Paul did not limit himself to letters, and why this would have anything to do with how we know today what is "God-breathed" and what is not is very hard to discern indeed. This is a classic tactic, used often by Rome's defenders--prove a point that is not in fact contested that actually has nothing to do with your thesis, and then step back and smile, hoping everyone will think you actually just defended your thesis in a meaningful fashion. I would like to ask Mr. Latar to demonstrate how Paul's telling the Corinthians that he would deal with other issues when he arrived in Corinth is relevant to the actual doctrine of sola scriptura, especially in light of the fact that sola scriptura speaks to our situation today, and even if he were to theorize that Paul was giving oral revelation in those instructions, the fact remains Rome cannot tell us a single word Paul said either to the Corinthians or the Thessalonians that is not already contained in Scripture?
He must be speaking of some other matters which he has not yet instructed them about in his letters or he wanted to expand some things on what he wrote.
Or, the matters were personal in nature, or not important enough to bother putting in to writing, or any combination thereof. But the fact of the matter is, Mr. Latar does not know, nor is any of this actually relevant to 2 Thess. 2:15.
So why should we think that when St. Paul is telling us to hold fast to two traditions, unwritten and written, we should think that they are of the same content? It seems to me that 2 Thess 2:15 is teaching us to stand firm to two infallible, distinct, rules of faith.
Note that while Paul speaks of a single tradition, Latar divides it into two; secondly, he then uses this artificial and false division to create the very distinction he must prove exists (not just theorize it exists, but prove it exists), and upon this vaporous foundation, enunciates his conclusion, which leads one directly to the infallible authority of the Roman magisterium! I cannot help but be reminded of the long chain of highly dubious propositions that makes up the Roman argument for the Papacy when reading something like this. It is truly incredible to read Roman Catholic apologists speaking of how "obvious" it is that sola scriptura "doesn't work" when they hold to such arguments as these!
Next Latar raises an argument about the canon that is irrelevant in light of the exegesis we have already offered, and is surely not one I have ever raised or would raise (outside of recognizing that in each place where Latar slips and asks for the apostles to function on the basis of sola scriptura he is misrepresenting the actual issue once again). So we move on to his conclusion,
Finally, many Protestants argue that the Catholic must produce an example of an infallible unwritten tradition in order to disprove sola scriptura. Nothing can be further from the truth. Catholics do not have to (though they can if they want) give an example of an infallible unwritten tradition in order to defeat sola scriptura. We do not have to show what an oral tradition is or an example of it, but rather show that there is an infallible rule of faith that is called unwritten tradition that we must hold on to.
Here, quite simply, with all respect to Mr. Latar, "the wheels fall off." "We have an infallible rule of faith...no, we will not show it to you, except when we define a dogma you must believe...just trust us that it is actually apostolic!" This is a very clear illustration of the nature of Rome's claims to ultimacy. Rome claims a tradition that is only seen post-dogmatization; allegedly, the tradition that preceded the definition of such modern dogmas as the Marian doctrines or Papal Infallibility has existed since the days of Paul--at least, that is the older view, and whether Mr. Latar realizes it or not, by making reference to 2 Thess. 2:15 he has to defend, in some capacity, the existence of this allegedly infallible rule of faith from the most primitive period of the apostolic ministry till today. But here he plainly admits he cannot do so, while at the same time claiming Rome could, if she wanted! One is reminded of the idea that the golden plates were "taken back to heaven" so we cannot examine the text of the Book of Mormon in "Reformed Egyptian heiroglyphics." The fact of the matter is Mr. Latar cannot show us this allegedly infallible rule of faith, nor can he trace it back to Paul.
2 Thess 2:15 is sufficient in order to prove that. In other words, we do not have to show what the unwritten tradition is, but that there is an unwritten tradition.
Which means, in light of the context of Paul's ministry in Thessalonica, nothing more than, "Paul preached to the Thessalonians, therefore, there is a second infallible rule of faith...which we won't show you, though we could, but when we do pull something out of this tradition, like the Bodily Assumption, you are to believe it de fide!"
The fact that 2 Thess 2:15 speaks of two infallible rules of faith and the fact that I don't know of any scripture which teaches that after the canon is completed, one must hold on to scripture alone, as well as the fact that all Christians must imitate Christ, and He and His disciples did not practice sola scriptura, indicates that it is irrational to believe in sola scriptura and I am rationally warranted in rejecting it.
Mr. Latar has failed, completely, to establish his argument, but he then throws in another completely different argument in passing: that we should imitate Christ, and therefore should not practice sola scriptura. Once again a brief examination of the argument causes it to collapse: Jesus raised the dead. We should imitate him by raising dead Christians. OK, Jesus turned water into wine. Christians should open miraculous wineries. And so on. Mr. Latar does not seem to understand that the whole argument assumes that we continue to live in the same age of miraculous enscripturation that the Lord and the disciples lived in, which even his own church admits is not the case! So, this argument collapses as well.
Mr. Latar has already written a rejoinder to the first part of this reply, so I would imagine this two part series will become at the very least a three part series in the near future.