“This Bereans passage has been commandeered by Fundamentalists for too long, and it is time Catholics reclaim it.” —Former Baptist Steve Ray, This Rock, March, 1997, p. 24.
Steve Ray is a nice guy. At least, we’ve had some civil discourse in the past via the Internet. He seems like an honest man who is convinced that the position he now embraces—Roman Catholicism—is the true and proper position to take. I start by acknowledging this, for I don’t want anyone to think that I bear him any malice. I say this because beyond my recognizing his personal civility, I find little else in his written works that is commendable.
Steve Ray is the first person to tell you he is not a scholar. He’s a layman who, as a Baptist, decided he needed to convert to the Roman Catholic faith. He has written a book, Crossing the Tiber, in which he defends his choice. As soon as I obtained the book, I noted a number of glaring deficiencies in the work: numerous errors in representing Protestant theology, a complete failure to interact with any level of Protestant apologetic response, etc. I informed Mr. Ray of this by e-mail.
In response, Mr. Ray indicated that his book simply developed out of a long letter to his parents defending his choice to leave the Baptist faith and embrace the Roman. He asserted that it was not intended as an in-depth analysis of Protestant theology. This did not exactly satisfy my concerns with how often it completely missed the point of the debate, but I certainly accepted that this is how Mr. Ray views his book.
It was with some real consternation, therefore, that I read the March, 1997 issue of This Rock magazine, published by Catholic Answers. I have long criticized Catholic Answers for using a straw-man view of sola scriptura in their publications—a practice that, despite my criticisms, they continue unabated. But in this issue we find an article titled, Why the Bereans Rejected Sola Scriptura written by none other than Steve Ray. Now, an article in This Rock cannot logically be considered an extension of a letter to Mr. Ray’s parents. This is “new” material. The article describes Mr. Ray as one who engages “in apologetics work in Michigan.” This is a work specifically designed to be used to convince Protestants that their belief in sola scriptura is in error. Hence, I expected a little higher standard in something like this.
The Old Anti-Catholic Ploy
Unfortunately, though Mr. Ray does his best to avoid inflammatory speech in personal conversation, the same is not the case regarding his article in This Rock. While avoiding a lot of the “shots” that mark the normal Catholic Answers type material (see examples elsewhere on our web page, including our response to a CA article on sola scriptura, as well as our rebuttal of a recent attack by James Akin), Mr. Ray falls prey to the old “anti-Catholic” ploy. It’s a false form of argumentation that Catholic Answers likes to use with regularity (they are hardly the only ones to do so, of course!). It’s an invalid attempt to claim the “high ground” by calling anyone who disagrees with you and with your position an “anti-Catholic,” while referring to yourself merely as an “apologist.” Hence, you make your opponent look like the aggressor, while you are the defender, even when, in point of fact, you are attacking their position (while failing to do a whole lot to actually define and defend your own).
Mr. Ray begins by identifying Dave Hunt’s organization as an “anti-Catholic” organization. Later he makes the term “Fundamentalist” a synonym for “anti-Catholic,” and uses the phrase “anti-Catholic” two more times, saying, “From the perspective of anti-Catholics, the Thessalonians would have been more noble-minded” and later, “Anti-Catholics love to associate themselves with the Bereans. . . .” It is quite honestly a shame to see Mr. Ray falling into the “us vs. them” mentality so soon after his conversion (1994). I truly doubt he refers to himself as an “anti-Protestant,” so why he would adopt such terminology of others is difficult to understand, outside, that is, of the polemics of Roman Catholic apologists. I would like to call upon Mr. Ray (and all Roman Catholic apologists) to cease and desist in their use of such a ploy.
Sola Scriptura: Misrepresented AGAIN
The main criticism that can be lodged against Mr. Ray’s work is quite simple: he does not accurately portray (or possibly even understand) the Protestant position that he has abandoned, and is now intent upon attacking. This is a common problem in Roman Catholic apologetics: and the fact that many Protestants don’t know their faith very well, and hence allow such misrepresentations to pass without comment or correction, only exacerbates the situation.
Now, immediately, someone may say, “Yes, well, both sides always say that about the other.” That’s true. But there is a major difference: when we say someone has misrepresented the Protestant position, we demonstrate this by documenting what the Protestant position is, and how, in context, the Roman Catholic writer should have known better. We have explained what sola scriptura is over and over again in our apologetic writings and books. Mr. Ray owns my books on Roman Catholicism. He could have (if he wished) availed himself of many sources that would have saved him from the error of misrepresentation and straw-man argumentation. But he did not avail himself of those sources. Why? Only he can answer that question.
We begin with the following presentation:
Sola scriptura, or the “Bible only,” is a Protestant doctrine invented in the fifteenth century. It declares the Bible is the sole source of revelation and the only and final judge in all matters of the Christian faith. Martin Luther developed it as a reaction to the historic teachings of the Catholic Church and of the Fathers of the first centuries. Luther rejected the authority of the Church and the apostolic tradition and so was left with sola scriptura—the Bible alone.
It is hard to know where to begin. This is substantially the same kind of presentation made in his book, Crossing the Tiber. However, in that book, he accurately identified the Reformation as taking place in the 16th, not the 15th, century. Since he claims Luther developed the doctrine, and Luther did not even begin his theological work until (at the earliest) 1510, how Ray can speak of the “fifteenth century” is difficult to understand. But this is just the beginning of the errors. Martin Luther didn’t invent the doctrine, of course. Even if Ray disputes every single statement from the Fathers that I have provided in written sources (see my chapter in Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible, 1995, Soli Deo Gloria Publishers, pp. 27-62), and rejects every Waldensian statement concerning the doctrine, he would still have to deal with the plain words of John Wyclif, who obviously believed in the doctrine and put it into practice. Such would place the doctrine, even under such an artificial construction as being the invention of Wyclif, in the fourteenth century, more than a century before Luther. If Mr. Ray encountered a Protestant who, in discussing Roman Catholic dogmatic formulations, misidentified the source of such formulations, and misplaced the dates by centuries, would he not have reason to question the validity of that person’s conclusions?
But far more damaging is the simple fact that Mr. Ray does not know what sola scriptura is. Sola scriptura does not say the Bible is the “sole source of revelation.” Such is a basic, fundamental mistake on the level of saying, “The Immaculate Conception means Mary didn’t need a Savior.” Such would indicate that the person making the statement has never seriously interacted with any apologetic defense of the Immaculate Conception. In the same way, Mr. Ray’s writings show a consistent pattern as well: he has not interacted with any serious Protestant apologetics works, either. Or, if he has, he gives no evidence of it.
Sola scriptura says the Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church. It does not deny the existence of “general revelation” in nature (hence the error of saying the “sole source of revelation”). It is interesting to note, however, that Mr. Ray, in his zeal for the Roman position, ends up taking the more conservative, traditional partim-partim viewpoint of tradition and revelation, for while many modern Roman Catholic theologians are moving toward abandoning the “two-source” view of revelation, Mr. Ray states his adherence to it plainly a number of times in his article (we shall note them in passing). Mr. Ray is a former Baptist. Hence, he might want to be familiar with what the Baptists in 1689 placed in their Confession of Faith:
The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.
The sufficiency of Scripture is clearly asserted, but it is a sufficiency carefully defined. No one claims the Bible is an omnipedia of all knowledge. Nor does anyone claim the Bible can tell you, specifically, what color fabric to place upon the pews of your new church building. But all things that are “necessary” for God’s “own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in Holy Scripture.” How like the words of Augustine:
What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostle? For Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare to be wiser than we ought. Therefore I should not teach you anything else except to expound to you the words of the Teacher. (De bono viduitatis, 2)
Note well the words of Augustine: he says that the Scriptures fix “the rule for our doctrine.” The Latin of the passage reads, “Scriptura nostrae doctrinae regulam figit.” Protestants say the Scriptures are the sole infallible regula fidei, the rule of faith. It seems Augustine believed the same.
Now before too many of our Roman Catholic readers blow a gasket, I well know that Augustine asserted the Church has a role in preserving the truth, and especially when Augustine had to struggle against Donatism (and the influence of Cyprian), he appealed to “tradition.” Yet, he did not appeal to tradition as Rome now teaches it, and did not deny sola scriptura so as to present a doctrine of sola ecclesia. Note his own words:
You ought to notice particularly and store in your memory that God wanted to lay a firm foundation in the Scriptures against treacherous errors, a foundation against which no one dares to speak who would in any way be considered a Christian. For when He offered Himself to them to touch, this did not suffice Him unless He also confirmed the heart of the believers from the Scriptures, for He foresaw that the time would come when we would not have anything to touch but would have something to read (In Epistolam Johannis tractus, 2).
The issue is not, and never has been, the validity of “tradition” as a subordinate authority. I above cited from the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. It is a “subordinate standard,” a “tradition” if you wish, that gives expression to certain aspects of divine truth. But it is not revelational, nor is it infallible. It is subordinate to Scripture, and liable to correction on the basis thereof. The Lord Jesus gave us the example in Matthew 15: we are to subordinate all traditions, even those that men claim are “divine” in origin, to the ultimate authority of Scripture. In this we agree with Basil of Caesarea:
The hearers taught in the Scriptures ought to test what is said by teachers and accept that which agrees with the Scriptures but reject that which is foreign. (Moralia, 72:1)
And likewise with Cyril of Jerusalem:
In regard to the divine and holy mysteries of the faith, not the least part may be handed on without the Holy Scriptures. Do not be led astray by winning words and clever arguments. Even to me, who tell you these things, do not give ready belief, unless you receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of the things which I announce. The salvation in which we believe is not proved from clever reasoning, but from the Holy Scriptures. (Catechetical Lectures 4:17)
I note in passing that such citations, likewise, refute Mr. Ray’s assertion that Luther was rejecting the “teachings of the Fathers of the first centuries.” In reality, it is Mr. Ray who has abandoned them in his embracing of doctrines such as the Bodily Assumption of Mary and the Immaculate Conception.
The main element of Mr. Ray’s misrepresentation of sola scriptura can be seen in just this: the doctrine speaks of a rule of faith that exists. What do I mean by this? 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?
But immediately the Roman Catholic apologist makes a fatal logical error: “Well, if there was a time when God’s Word was orally transmitted, why can’t it be today?” Such assumes the very thing Rome won’t ever dare step out and prove: that her self-proclaimed “traditions” are in fact, inspired revelation that has existed since the days of the Apostles. Indeed, many Roman apologists deny that tradition is in fact qeo,pneustoj: God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). Some of “Tradition” may be inspired (i.e., Scripture), but many are uncomfortable having to defend the idea that “oral tradition” is in fact revelation and is inspired. If the Roman apologist wishes to say, “Well, there was a time when God-breathed revelation was orally transmitted prior to the enscripturization of that revelation,” that’s fine. But to go beyond this statement to, “And, that situation continues today, so that our traditions are equal with Scripture in authority” is to leap out of the realm of both scriptural teaching and historical reality. It is a self-evident fact that a doctrine such as the Bodily Assumption of Mary has no historical connection to the Apostles themselves. To make it an inspired “tradition” is to say revelation is still being given (a position even Rome denies).
Sola scriptura speaks to the Church as she exists in her normative state. Times of revelation are not normative. They are now passed. So how does the Church have sure access to the truths of God today? By reference to nebulous, a-historical traditions, or to the sure and unchanging Word of God in the Scriptures? Sola scriptura says the Church always has an ultimate authority to which to turn: and the Church isn’t that ultimate authority! The Church is in need of revelation from Her Lord, and that she finds in Scripture, not in “traditions” that are uncertain. [For more information on this topic, see The Roman Catholic Controversy, pp. 55-101.]
The Bereans and sola scriptura
Mr. Ray’s article has a text block that reads as follows:
The Berean Jews accepted oral teaching, the tradition of the Apostles, as equal to Scripture, in addition to, and as an “extension” of the Torah.
The article attempts to undermine the use of Acts 17:11 as a “proof-text” for sola scriptura by arguing that in point of fact the Bereans did not operate on a basis consistent with Protestant claims regarding the supremacy of Scripture. Mr. Ray states that the Catholic response to this passage has often been “mediocre.” But, he claims, “Not only can the text be explained easily by Catholics, but it is actually a strong argument against sola scriptura and a convincing defense of the teaching of the Catholic Church.” Such is a pretty tall claim! Does Mr. Ray succeed in his task? Let’s start by looking at the passage in question.
(Acts 17:10-12) The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.  Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.  Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.
One of the key phrases is “these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica,” so Ray goes back and looks at what had happened there:
(Acts 17:1-9) Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.  And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,  explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”  And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women.  But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people.  When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also;  and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”  They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things.  And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them.
Now, before we look at Mr. Ray’s ingenious argument, let’s examine the passage and see what Luke has to tell us. We see that Paul, as was his custom, went into the synagogue as the first missions “starting point” upon arriving in Thessalonica. This was his custom everywhere he went, for he would find there a place where the Scriptures were known and hence a common ground could be established. For three weeks he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, using the Old Testament (as we call it today) to demonstrate the truth about the Messiah. Paul met with some success, for some Jews, as well as “God-fearing Greeks” and a number of the leading women believed the message. The “God-fearing Greeks” refers to those who, while not completing the proselytization process, attended the synagogue and listened to the reading of the Scriptures. Nothing is said about the character of the dialogues outside of Paul’s reliance upon the Scriptures as his source of teaching. We are told, however, that as soon as people began to follow Paul’s teachings, the Jews became jealous. We are not told that they were able to refute Paul, or anything else. Instead, jealousy was their motive. While they had not been able to get the God-fearers to convert, Paul succeeded in convincing them of the truths of the gospel and eliciting from them their belief and obedience.
What follows is not overly relevant to our inquiry here, aside from the fact that an uproar ensues, and Paul and Silas are forced out of town, leading them to Berea. In contrast with the jealous Jews who had stirred up trouble, Luke tells us that those in Berea were more “noble-minded.” Rather than stirring up trouble, they eagerly listened to the message of Paul and Silas. At this point, however, we need to look closely at the text. The term “noble minded” is euvgene,steroi, which is the adjectival comparative form. Luke is making a contrast between the attitude of the Thessalonians and that of the Bereans. As F.F. Bruce points out in his commentary on Acts, the term originally referred to nobility, but eventually came to mean “open minded.” How did they show their open-mindedness? They did so by eagerly receiving the message of the Apostles, daily examining the Scriptures to see if what they were receiving was in accordance with God’s truth. The Greek text indicates that these were not two different activities: the receiving of the message and the searching of the Scriptures on a daily basis are one action in Luke’s description. The “daily examining the Scriptures” is a description of the means by which the Bereans received the word of the Apostles. A.T. Robertson points out that the term “searching” as in “searching the Scriptures” (avnakri,nontej) means “to sift up and down, make careful and exact research as in legal precesses as in Ac 4:9; 12:19, etc.).
Now, the reason this passage is relevant is quite clear: here you have individuals comparing the Apostolic message against the Scriptures. What is the ultimate source of authority for the Bereans? Plainly, it is the Scripture. And just as obviously, the Apostles have no problem at all with this procedure. Hence the necessity of addressing this passage on the part of Mr. Ray.
Getting Around Acts 17:11
So how does Mr. Ray get around this passage? He begins by asserting that the Bereans actually condemn the position of sola scriptura! How? Let’s see. He begins by stating, upon citing Acts 17:1-9, ” The Thessalonians rejected Paul and his message, and, after denouncing him, they became jealous that others believed.” Yet, where does the text say this? The text says nothing about rejecting Paul’s message. Luke says, “But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar.” The motivation of the Jew’s action is plainly jealousy, nothing more. Of course they did not embrace the message: if they had, they would not have been jealous! Why make a point of this? Note Mr. Ray’s own words:
Why? “For three weeks he [Paul] reasoned with them from the Scriptures in the synagogue, as was his custom.” They did not revile Paul the first week or the second; rather, they listened and discussed. But ultimately they rejected what he had to say. They compared Paul’s message to the Old Testament and decided that Paul was wrong.
Where does Luke speak of their comparing Paul’s message with the Old Testament and concluding he was wrong? Luke gives only one reason for their rejection: jealousy. This was nothing new. This is not the first time Paul encountered the jealousy of the Jews. I certainly don’t get the idea that Paul was defeated in public debate on the issue of the witness of the Old Testament to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Why is Mr. Ray intent upon reading into the action of the Thessalonians this idea of comparing the message of Paul to the Scriptures and finding it wanting? Because it is his position that the Thessalonians were actually believers in sola scriptura, while the Bereans were not! How does he come to this tremendously surprising conclusion? First, he attempts to draw a distinction between the Thessalonians and the Bereans as to their make-up:
When Protestants use this passage as a proof text for the doctrine of sola scriptura, they should realize that those in question were not Christians; they were Hellenistic Jews. There was no doctrine of sola scriptura within Jewish communities, but the Scriptures were held as sacred.
Everyone realizes that the Bereans were not Christians when Paul and Silas first arrived. Then again, neither were the Thessalonians. In fact, the make-up of the two communities was the same: Hellenistic Jews, with God-fearers also in the congregation in the synagogue. There is no meaningful difference in the ethnic make up of the synagogue in Thessalonica and the one in Berea. If there was no doctrine of sola scriptura in Berea, nor was there one in Thessalonica. He must be consistent in using the same standards for both, for he certainly makes no attempt at substantiating his implicit assertion that there was some difference between the two groups.
Now, Mr. Ray goes on to expand upon his claim about the Jews:
Although the Jews are frequently referred to as “the people of the book,” in reality they had a strong oral tradition that accompanied their Scriptures, along with an authoritative teaching authority, as represented by the “seat of Moses” in the synagogues (Matt. 23:2). The Jews had no reason to accept Paul’s teaching as “divinely inspired,” since they had just met him. When new teachings sprang up that claimed to be a development of Judaism, the rabbis researched to see if they could be verified from the Torah.
Mr. Ray’s understanding of Matthew 23 goes far beyond anything that particular passage can substantiate. The seat of Moses was simply the seat upon which a person sat to read the Scriptures in the synagogue. But he is right that the Jews had a great body of tradition: and the Lord Jesus taught us to subjugate those traditions to the Scriptures in Matthew 15:1-9, including those that the Jews themselves claimed were “divine” in origin. Which is exactly why the Bereans are commended: they are doing what they should have done when faced with a new message. They are testing that message for consistency against the ultimate rule of faith for God’s people: the Scriptures. At this point, however, Mr. Ray utterly departs from the text and says:
If one of the two groups could be tagged as believers in sola scriptura, who would it be, the Thessalonians or the Bereans? The Thessalonians, obviously. They, like the Bereans, examined the Scriptures with Paul in the synagogue, yet they rejected his teaching. They rejected the new teaching, deciding after three weeks of deliberation that Paul’s word contradicted the Torah. Their decision was not completely unjustified from their scriptural perspective. How could the Messiah of God be cursed by hanging on a tree like a common criminal, publicly displayed as one who bore the judgment of God? What kind of king and Messiah would that he? This seemed irreconcilable to them (see Simon J. Kistemaker, Acts [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1990], 614).
One’s breath is taken away by the tremendous leap taken here. Where does Luke say a word about the Thessalonian Jews carefully examining Paul’s teaching on the basis of sola scriptura and, as a result, rejecting it? Of course, he says nothing of the sort. Instead, he says that Paul operated on the basis of the supremacy of Scripture in preaching to the Thessalonians, and as a result, he was successful in convincing some of the truthfulness of his message. But others, acting out of jealousy, started a riot. Nothing is said at all about their taking three weeks to deliberate and come to some kind of scriptural conclusion! This is purely wishful thinking on Mr. Ray’s part. Sadly, he then attempts to provide some kind of basis for this tremendous leap by citing Kistemaker’s work on Acts. Yet, if one reads the source cited, one finds the exact opposite of Ray’s own assertions:
Paul follows the example set by Jesus, who opened the Scriptures for the two men on the way to Emmaus and for the disciples in the upper room. Jesus showed them from the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead (Luke 24:25-27, 44-46). The term exp1aining comes from the Greek verb meaning “to open.” Paul opens the Word and sets the explanation of the messianic prophecies before his listeners. By appealing to the Scriptures, he has a common basis to prove that the Messiah has come in the person and work of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
Paul demonstrates that the Christ had to suffer, die, and rise from the grave. Luke, in his Gospel and Acts, also clearly illustrates that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are governed by divine necessity (refer, e.g., to Luke 2:49; 4:43; 13:33; 24:26; Acts 3:21). “It is Luke’s underlying concern not to depict Jesus’ death as the tragic failure of a prophet but to present the death and resurrection of Jesus as necessary saving acts of God.”
In his presentations, Paul discusses three facts: the Christ had to suffer, he had to rise from the dead, and he is Jesus proclaimed by Paul. The Jews objected to the teaching that Christ died on a cross, because to them a criminal hanging on a tree (cross) was under God’s curse (Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13). The doctrine of the resurrection is the recurring theme the apostles proclaim wherever they speak (see 2:24; 32; 13:30, 33, 34, 17:31). And identifying Jesus with the Messiah is Paul’s personal objective ever since his conversion on the Damascus road (refer to 9:22). (Kistemaker, pp. 613-614).
There is certainly nothing supportive of Mr. Ray’s thesis in these words from Kistemaker. In fact, just the opposite is true. Kistemaker is not even here speaking specifically of the Thessalonian Jews, but of the Jews Paul encountered in his ministry in general. The reason Mr. Ray does not provide a reference to a commentary speaking of the Thessalonians coming to a reasoned, considered conclusion on the basis of an examination of the Scripture is simply this: the text doesn’t even hint at such an idea. Yet, despite this, Mr. Ray says,
We can see, then, that if anyone could be classified as adherents to sola scriptura it was the Thessalonian Jews. They reasoned from the Scriptures alone and concluded that Paul’s new teaching was “unbiblical.”
It is simply amazing that a person can go from the jealousy of the Jews to the idea that they were crypto-Protestants practicing sola scriptura and therefore missing the truth of Paul’s message! We are given no references to scholarly sources here, either, for the same reason: such a conclusion has no connection with the text.
But remember that Mr. Ray says the Bereans actually denied sola scriptura. How is this? Let’s listen:
The Bereans, on the other hand, were not adherents of sola scriptura, for they were willing to accept Paul’s new oral teaching as the word of God (as Paul claimed his oral teaching was; see 1 Thess. 2:13). The Bereans, before accepting the oral word of God from Paul, a tradition as even Paul himself refers to it (see 2 Thess. 2:15), examined the Scriptures to see if these things were so. They were noble-minded precisely because they “received the word with all eagerness.” Were the Bereans commended primarily for searching the Scriptures? No. Their open-minded willingness to listen was the primary reason they are referred to as noble-minded-not that they searched the Scriptures. A perusal of grammars and commentaries makes it clear that they were “noble-minded” not for studying Scripture, but for treating Paul more civilly than did the Thessalonians with an open mind and generous courtesy (see I. Howard Marshall, “The Acts of the Apostles” in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1981], 5:280).
Does a “perusal” of grammars and commentaries give us such an indication? Let’s start with one that Mr. Ray has already cited, that being the commentary of Kistemaker:
Noble-mindedness. Luke compares the worshipers at the Berean synagogue with those at Thessalonica and praises the Bereans. Paul develops a close and loving relationship with the Thessalonians (see I Thess. 2:11); nevertheless, in respect to noble-mindedness the Bereans excel. They are more open to the truth of God’s Word than the people of Thessalonica are.
The reason for the openness of the Bereans lies in their receptivity to and love for God’s Word. For them, the Scriptures are much more than a written scroll or book that conveys a divine message. They use the Old Testament as the touchstone of truth, so that when Paul proclaims the gospel they immediately go to God’s written Word for verification. They do so, Luke adds, with great eagerness. Note well, the adjective great indicates that they treasure the Word of God. Luke ascribes the same diligence to the Bereans as Peter does to the Old Testament prophets, who intently and diligently searched the Word and inquired into its meaning (I Peter 1:10). The Bereans open the Scriptures and with ready minds learn that Jesus has fulfilled the messianic prophecies.
Day by day, the Bereans examine the Scriptures to see whether the teachings of Paul and Silas accord with God’s written Word. They do so not from unbelief and doubt but from honest analysis and eagerness to learn the message of God’s revelation. Although Luke fails to mention that God opened the hearts of the Bereans (compare 16:14), in verse 12 he records that “many of the Jews” believe the gospel. These people believe because they know God’s Word. The situation in Berea differs from that in Thessalonica, where “some of the Jews were persuaded” (v.4).
How about Richard Longenecker in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), p. 471?
Luke gave the Jews at Berea undying fame by characterizing them as being “more noble” (eugenesteroi) than the Thessalonian Jews because they tested the truth of Paul’s message by the touchstone of Scripture rather than judging it by political and cultural considerations. So they examined the Scriptures daily (kath hemeran) to see whether what Paul proclaimed was really true, and many believed.
And we note the words of Ivor Powell in The Amazing Acts (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1987), pp. 295-296:
When the same speaker ministered in the next synagogue, the listeners were not swept off their feet by eloquent oratory; they searched the Scriptures “ever day to see if what Paul said was true.” (The New International Version). Apparently, they had more faith in the Word of God than in the man who expounded it. When Paul cited certain prophetical utterances, the listeners unrolled their scrolls to see if the prophets had indeed made such predictions. Luke said the people in Berea were “more noble” than the Jews in Thessalonica, and that probably meant they were more educated. Farrar said, “Instead of angrily rejecting this new Gospel, they daily and diligently searched the Scriptures to judge Paul’s arguments and references by the word and the testimony—they were more generous, more simple, more sincere and truth-loving.”
And what of the very commentary Mr. Ray cites, that of I. Howard Marshall? On page 280 we read:
The account of Paul’s reception at Beroea is the classical description of a more well-disposed and open-minded (RSV more noble) response by the Jews to the gospel. They were zealous to hear what Paul had to say, and so they met with him daily (and not merely on the sabbath). Nor did they accept what he said thoughtlessly and uncritically, but they themselves examined the Scriptures to see whether the case which Paul developed from them (as in 17:2ff) was sound. Here was no mere emotional response to the gospel, but one based on intellectual conviction.
And A.T. Robertson commented:
Examining the Scriptures daily (kaqV h`meran anakrinontej taj grafaj). Paul expounded the Scriptures daily as in Thessalonica, but the Beroeans, instead of resenting his new interpretation, examined (anakrinw means to sift up and down, make careful and exact research as in legal processes as in Ac 4:9; 12:19, etc.) the Scriptures for themselves. In Scotland people have the Bible open on the preacher as he expounds the passage, a fine habit worth imitating. Whether these things were so (ei ecoi tauta o`utwj). Literally, “if these things had it thus.” The present optative in the indirect question represents an original present indicative as in Lu 1:29 (Robertson, Grammar, pp. 1043f.). This use of ei with the optative may be looked at as the condition of the fourth class (undetermined with less likelihood of determination) as in Ac 17:27; 20:16; 24:19; 27:12 (Robertson, Grammar, p. 1021). The Beroeans were eagerly interested in the new message of Paul and Silas but they wanted to see it for themselves. What a noble attitude. Paul’s preaching made Bible students of them. The duty of private interpretation is thus made plain (Hovey).
Why do all these commentators say the same thing? Because the text is plain beyond dispute, and Mr. Ray is simply desperate to avoid the plain meaning of the text. This error is then compounded by his errant belief that sola scriptura is somehow contradicted by the acceptance of “new revelation,” as if sola scriptura is meant to be applied during times of revelation rather than being a normative rule for the Church. He writes,
The Bereans searched the Torah no less than the Thessalonians, yet they were eager to accept words of God from the mouth of Paul, in addition to what they already held to be Scripture, that is, the Law and the Prophets. Even if one claims that Paul preached the gospel and not a “tradition,” it is clear that the Bereans were accepting new revelation that was not contained in their Scriptures. These Berean Jews accepted oral teaching, the tradition of the apostles, as equal to Scripture, in addition to, and as an “extension” of, the Torah. This is further illustrated by the Christian community’s reception of Paul’s epistles as divinely inspired Scripture (see 2 Peter 3:16; here Peter seems to acknowledges Paul’s writings as equal to the “other Scriptures,” which can be presumed to refer to the Old Testament).
In reality, the Bereans accepted the message of Christ because it was consistent with the Old Testament revelation. Even introducing “canon” issues here is to continue the tremendous misuse of this passage already begun in attempting to turn the Thessalonians into crypto-Protestants and the Bereans into crypto-Catholics. And we note in passing (as Wayne Grudem notes in his Systematic Theology, pp. 84-85) that 2 Peter 3:16 refers to writings, not to vague and undefinable “oral traditions.”
From the perspective of anti-Catholics, the Thessalonians would have been more noble-minded, for they loyally stuck to their canon of Scripture alone and rejected any additional binding authority (spoken or written) from the mouth of an apostle. In fact, at the Council of Jamnia, around A.D. 90, the Jews determined that anything written after Ezra was not infallible Scripture; they specifically mentioned the Gospels of Christ in order to reject them.
Mr. Ray would do well to deal with the criticism of Jamnia found in Beckwith’s fine work, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1985). But in any case, we have here yet another straw-man, an argument based upon either misrepresentation or ignorance of the issues at hand. The Thessalonians were not noble minded because they rejected the message preached out of jealousy. The Bereans were noble minded because they listened to the message and tested it by Scripture. Any attempt to read into the passage some concept of “extra-biblical oral tradition” or to read out of the passage the plain supremacy of Scripture, is yet another example of how Roman Catholic apologists are at a real loss when it comes to engaging in serious exegesis of the Scriptures.
But in the midst of this misrepresentation, Mr. Ray stumbles upon a truth without, seemingly, knowing it. Sensing that he has done nothing to escape the simple fact that the Bereans tested the claimed apostolic message for consistency by Scripture and without an infallible magisterium, he attempts to explain their action:
Why did the Bereans search the Scriptures? Because they were the sole source of revelation and authority? No, but to see if Paul was in line with what they already knew-to confirm additional revelation. They would not submit blindly to his apostolic teaching and oral tradition, but, once they accepted the credibility of Paul’s teaching as the oral word of God, they put it on a par with Scripture and recognized its binding authority.
Note the phrase, “to confirm additional revelation.” Here you have individuals going directly to Scripture and testing a message for consistency. Yet, when I do the very same thing with Roman theology, I’m told I’m engaging in “private interpretation” and that I am endangering my soul. For all his attempts, Mr. Ray has utterly failed to overthrow the plain teaching of the passage: the Bereans did not seek for some “oral tradition” nor an “infallible magisterium.” They allowed the Scriptures to function just as the Baptist Confession of Faith says they should. Mr. Ray won’t admit it, but one thing is plain as day: the Bereans did not believe in sola ecclesia as he does: they did not look for an infallible Church with an infallible magisterium to tell them what was, and what was not, Scripture and truth. [Indeed, we note with some level of irony that from the Roman Catholic position, an infallible definition of the canon was still 1500 years in the future!]
Finally, Mr. Ray follows the old line of misusing 2 Thessalonians 2:15:
After that, like the converts who believed in Thessalonica, they espoused apostolic Tradition and the Old Testament equally as God’s word (see 2 Thess. 2:15, 3:16).
Paul nowhere speaks of “apostolic Tradition” in his writings. In 2 Thessalonians 2:15 Paul speaks of his preaching the gospel to the Thessalonians orally and by letter, nothing more. It is a tremendous stretch to assert that we have here a basis for some nebulous, ever-changing “oral tradition” that eventually gives the basis for such doctrines as papal infallibility and the Bodily Assumption of Mary.
After a decade of trying, I still await a serious interaction in writing from a Roman Catholic apologist on the doctrine of sola scriptura that does not engage in the most egregious forms of misrepresentation and argument-begging. After a while, one begins to wonder why it is that the doctrine cannot be discussed openly and honestly. Why do we continuously have to point out basic error after basic error as we have above? If Rome’s claims are so strong and so overwhelming (certainly a claim Rome’s defenders make all the time), why the constant misrepresentation? If we had to continuously misrepresent Rome’s doctrines, would we not, by so doing, be demonstrating that we do not have solid answers to her claims?
I do hope that Mr. Ray has misrepresented his former faith purely out of ignorance, not out of malice. And if that is the case, and I truly hope it is, I hope he will reconsider his pledge of allegiance to an authoritarian system that has led him so far from the truths of the Scriptures.