Since the Sola Scriptura blog series have been rather long, I have collated all the posts on the Sola Scriptura series here:
The sufficiency of Scripture / (Part 2)
The extent of inspiration of Scripture / (part 2)
The issue of ultimate authority
The perspicuity of Scripture/ (part 2)
A friend of mine wrote something interesting which he called 'universal priesthood of all believers' but in fact i think the issue falls under the clarity of Scripture :)
How wud u respond to this FAQ?
"When I say 'universal priesthood of the believers', I do NOT mean it in
the sense that everyone has access to God, but rather, in the sense of
one of the controversies of the reformation, which is namely, "Should
everyone be allowed to have access to the scriptures and to interpret
the scriptures for themselves?" I am thinking that maybe, that such a
procedure may not be such a good idea after all when we do a little
reflection on, what is not apparant to a lot of Christians, as to the
enormous difficulty of interpreting a piece of writing written for an
audience two thousand years ago.
To motivate this discussion, let us consider first the question of "How
are words meaningful?" Suppose if I were to ask, say, an american who
never bothers himself with foreign affair (americans are infamous for
this) what does he think is the meaning of the phrase "Asian-style
democracy". Now semantically, or at least, technically, he would
probably say something like "democracy as it is practiced in asian
country, with asian distinctives" or something like that. Now, this
european would technically or merely FORMALLY be correct. That IS the
meaning of the the individual components of the phrase put together.
But yet, that would not quite be the correct interpretation and is in
fact quite misleading. For the phrase is one which, if you were
Singaporean who keeps up with the news, used by our MM LKY to refer to
the Singaporean way of doing democracy. It is used in the sense of not
merely talking about how asians do democracy, but it is used to
connotate a more authoritative form of democracy, a more paternalistic
form of democracy, with the specific intent of distinguishing it from
Western style democracy, not merely in the bare fact that it is
practiced by people of differing geographical location, but the focus
is more in the MANNER of the practice then the geographical specific
people who practices it. Thus we can speak of say, a certain country in
Africa where they also practice a form of authoritarian democracy, as
"Asian style democracy" since the meaning of "Asian Style democracy" is
not so much the "geographical location" but a "form of democracy".
Now my point is this. Most translation would at most get to the
"surface level meaning", in the sense of the mere semantics
correspondances of the squiggles. But yet, the real meaning or the
"deep level" meaning maybe completely different from the "surface
meaning", thereby resulting in horrible misinterpretations and
misunderstanding. And this follows from what I think is a plausible
All language is culturally and sociologicall embedded. With the example
of "Asian style democracy", the "real meaning" of the term is that of
an authoritarian democracy rather than democracy practiced in the asian
region. And of course, this "real meaning" can only be known by that
particular socio-linguistic community (namely, in Singapore) which the
phrase is used.
Now, when it comes to the scriptures, no doubt we can translate it
according to the "surface meaning". But yet even the "surface meaning"
maybe misleading or just simply wrong. Because in order to know what
the word really means in the Bible, we need to more or less possess the
minds and the socio-linguistic competence of the 1st century readers.
And thus, the challenge to the "universal priesthood of the believers"
is this, "Is it ever possible for 21st century readers to ever reach
the mindset of the 1st century readers in order to interpret the
Even scholars require much painsaking research in order to "get into
the minds" of the 1st century audience of the Bible. They need to read
up an entire truckload of primary sources, of literature, of historical
records and writings of that time in order to get a proper feel of the
sociological conditions of the time, which will no doubt affect the
linguistic usuage of the time. And of course, the eventual goal, is to
achieve the linguistic competence of the 1st century readers, and thus
to be able to know what the scriptures 'really' mean as it would have
been read by the lst century readers.
Let take an example, from scripture, for example in Romans 1:17
"the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith"
Let us focus in particular on the word "revealed". Technically, the
word simply means "unveiling". And we 21st century readers, would
normally think of the word "revealed" in epistemic terms. In the sense
of God "making known to us" His righteousness or something. But the
greek for "revealed" is apokalyptetai. And in the greek, as with 1st
century readers, they will understand the term in eschatological terms.
They would have understood it more in the sense of God's plan and
prophecies being "unveiled", coming to pass in historic time and being
realized in space-time and actualizing rather than in epistemic terms.
Another prominent example will be the idea of the "faith of Christ". In
our normal everyday context and usage, we would immediately think of
the belief of Christ, as a sort of mental or intentional stance of
Christ, of his trust or belief. But that is actually a gross
misinterpretation. The phrase "the faith of Christ" meaning is not so
much, or even, at all the meaning of Christ's trust or belief, but its
meaning is actually, "the faithFULLNESS of Christ". It is Christ's
adherence to his mission and his task, and his faithful keeping of the
command of God that is the really meaning of the phrase here, not some
belief or trust in God.
But can any amount of simply reading the english, or even the greek,
give us such an understanding of the word? It is only with quite an
indepth socio-linguistics would this be more evident.
Misinterpretations can already occur by the bare difference in
geographical location, as in the example of the American and
"asian-style democracy". What other gross misinterpretations and
misunderstandings can occur with a text with a vastly greater
geographical, cultural, and temporal differernce of almost 2000 years?
Thus, it seems to be doubtful, as to the plausibility of letting the
layman read the scriptures and them trying to figure out what it means.
Because how can they possibly get it right?"
Hmmm ... sounds like what I was taught when I was in Holy Family Church (Katong) as a catholic.
I am NOT going to answer the question for Daniel :)
But ... lets put things in perspective.
A) The Catholic perspective
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:
"Priesthood of All Believers
The universal priesthood of believers implies the right and duty of the Christian laity not only to read the Bible in the vernacular, but also to take part in the government and all the public affairs of the Church. It is opposed to the hierarchical system, which puts the essence and authority of the Church in an exclusive priesthood, and makes ordained priests the necessary mediators between God and the people". See also Schaff "The Principle of Protestantism, German and English" (1845)."
B) The Protestant view:
A brief definition:
See Founders' article
"The common error that the phrase "Priesthood of Believers" is synonymous with "private judgment" is most unfortunate and is certainly a misrepresentation . . . . Of course, the Reformers emphasized "private judgment," but it was always "informed" judgment, and it was always controlled, checked, and corroborated by the corporate testimony of the congregation. Indeed Calvin himself fully realized that uncontrolled private judgment means subjectivism, eccentricity, anarchy, and chaos." - C. Eastwood, The Priesthood of All Believers (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1960), 80.
Last but not least,
C) An interesting attempt to answer the question on Ben Ho's blog:
Interesting friend you have. Does he/she studies philosophy of language, linguistics, sociology or something along those lines? Anyway, your friend seems well versed in secular humanistic liberal arts. A pity he/she doesn't know the Scriptures at least as well as those disciplines.
Anyway, here is what I can see from the FAQ: Your friends denies Sola Scriptura. More specifically, your friend denies the perspicuity and authority of Scripture. There are no Scriptures to support his/her viewpoints, only a lot of comparison with phrases used by us fallible humans which mean different things to different people who come from different socio-politico backgrounds. This does not mean he/she is necessarily wrong, but to question the perspicuity of Scripture based on secular sciences is to practically deny the authority of Scripture over his/her thought life (circa Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 10:5; Col. 2:8). Instead of letting Scripture tell us what it is like and how it is to be used, your friend is trying to approach Scripture according to his fallible interpretation of empirical evidences.
Of course, I must concede that there is a good point raise by your friend regarding how we can know what the Scripture is saying since it is hard to know what the authors intended in the passages in question. Your friend has a point there since quite a few scholars like N.T. Wright with his New Perspective on Paul tries to find out what Scripture really meant according to the what they think are the intentions of the authors (in their case the apostle Paul) who penned them. It is unfortunate that your friend has decided to reject the authority and perspicuity of Scripture because of such reasoning, putting the cart before the horse, instead of following what Scripture says about the topic.
Which brings us to the topic of how to interpret Scripture. The traditional way to interpret Scripture is to say that Scriptue interprets Scripture, and only Scripture interprets Scripture. Now, what does that mean is that to interpret Scripture, the intention of its primary author must first be known, then the intention of the human author who penned that part of Scripture. Such an intention could be known by reading and meditating and feeding continually on the full counsel of the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation. Once we know God's intention, we can look at the author's intention in light of God's intention in giving any particular part of Scripture, and thus we can know for sure what Scripture says. Thus, I think the main problem with your friend's argument is that he neglects the divine authorship of Scripture, by a God who is always relevant; being the same yesterday, today and forever.
it seems that interpretation of the Scriptures is starting to be a hot topic. However, I have too many things to do at the moment so I will just leave it as what I have said in my comment above.
With regards to its relation to the priesthood of believers, I think that would be an interesting topic to address in the future. Suffice it is to say for the moment that I believe that the Church as a repository of the faith does not mean that without any formal Church authority of any kind (as in without any pastors, elders, bishops and especially popes), nobody would be able to know the correct interpretation of Scripture. I would just leave it as that.
typo error. Should be 'the God' instead of 'a God'.
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