Tuesday, October 5, 2010

William Webster's astonishing claims about Sola Scriptura

William Webster is a popular Reformed Apologist who has published many articles online. He is very blunt when it comes to defending Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide, which is an approach I admire because one should be confident when doing apologetics for the position they deem to be the correct one. I recently came across one article of his on Sola Scriptura that was too important to not comment upon. Him being one of the more well known Protestant apologists, I was shocked at the foundational claims he made for his position.

For this post, I will comment upon Websters claims, starting with his opening remarks (his words in green, bold and red highlights mine):
The sixteenth century Reformation was responsible for restoring to the Church the principle of sola Scriptura, a principle that had been operative within the Church from the very beginning of the post apostolic age. (From the Article: "What did the Early Church believe about the authority of Scripture? (sola Scriptura)" by William Webster)
This very first sentence of his article lays down a very important claim: The "principle" of Sola Scriptura only became "operative" in the "post apostolic age".
Rephrased for even greater emphasis, Webster is saying: Sola Scriptura was not "operative" during the lifetime of the Apostles.
The question arises: Where does the Bible teach this concept, that Sola Scriptura would be "operative" after the Apostolic age?
The answer - to the embarrassment of the Protestant - is "nowhere". So from the very start of Webster's article, he is laying down a foundation not derived from Scripture, meaning it is a foundation derived from men - and such a foundation can never be anything "firm".
In the second paragraph, Webster elaborates on the thought:
Initially the apostles taught orally, but with the close of the apostolic age, all special revelation that God wanted preserved for man was codified in the written Scriptures. Sola Scriptura is the teaching, founded on the Scriptures themselves, that there is only one special revelation from God that man possesses today, the written Scriptures or the Bible.
Starting off with the very Biblical notion that "initially" the Apostles taught orally, Webster makes some very serious leaps of logic: Here Webster asserts that by the time the last Apostle died, all revelation God wanted to preserve was written down. Further, he says the teaching of Sola Scriptura is that "there is only one special revelation" we have available "today". To buttress his claim, he plainly says these notions are "founded on the Scriptures themselves."
What the average reader doesn't know is that Webster's own words and arguments ultimately turn around and condemn and self-refute his own position.
Where does the Bible say all information God wanted preserved was at some point, specifically the end of the apostolic age, confined to Scripture? The answer is, again, "nowhere". And where does the Bible say that there will come a time when only Scripture will contain divine revelation? (Nowhere!)

These are two foundational flaws Webster is building from, and they are such because they are not "founded on the Scriptures themselves."

Further, Webster has unwittingly trapped himself by framing his doctrine in an anachronistic fashion. An anachronism is when someone reads something back into a text that was historically impossible at the time. For example, if we found a writing that said, "George Washington spoke with a device that carried his voice long distances," we could not claim this device was a cellphone because cellphones had not been invented yet. So whatever it was, it wasn't a cellphone. In the case of Webster, he cannot point to any given text of Scripture and say, "See this text, the Apostle is teaching the doctrine of Sola Scriptura to these Christians," because Sola Scriptura didn't exist yet - it wasn't operable yet! In other words, not only does Webster not have a Scriptural basis for his claims (as shown earlier), he has also slammed the door on himself in terms of appealing to any Scriptures in the first place!
Consequently the Scriptures are materially sufficient and are by their very nature (as being inspired by God) the ultimate authority for the Church. This means that there is no portion of that revelation which has been preserved in the form of oral tradition independent of Scripture. We do not possess any oral teaching of an Apostle today. Only Scripture therefore records for us the apostolic teaching and the final revelation of God.
Just when you thought his unbiblical presuppositions couldn't get any more grand, he adds yet another fatal error. He summarizes his position by saying the Scriptures are "materially sufficient" - as opposed to "formally sufficient." What he doesn't realize is that his grand "conclusion" is self-refuting, because material sufficiency is not equivalent to Sola Scriptura - since material sufficiency can never amount to an "ultimate authority" by definition (see this article for why this is so).
And as noted earlier, for Webster to claim no oral teaching of the Apostles (independent of Scripture) exists today is nowhere taught in the very authority he himself appeals to.

Webster goes onto appeal to this and that Early Church Father as "proof" that Sola Scriptura was the teaching of the Early Church, but after reading his foundational claims, he clearly has lost credibility to proceed. In other words, if what he's espousing is not taught in the Scriptures themselves, appealing to extra-biblical authorities aren't going to change the fact the doctrine is still unbiblical by definition.

It is simply astonishing that an apologist of his caliber would be building his central doctrine from what is nothing short of uninspired traditions of men. If that's the best support Sola Scriptura can find, then all Protestants have an obligation to reject it.


Anonymous said...

Webster's "astonishing claims" should come as no great surprise. He's a former Catholic and he has to make these claims to deny what he knows deep down to be true. I've noticed that ex-Catholics who convert to Protestantism tend to be extremely dogmatic about their new found faith, sometimes to the point of fanatical hatred of the old one. I believe this happens because the convert in not a believer in the truth anymore, but what Eric Hoffer calls 'a true believer'. The true believer doesn't believe in truth that can be proven by reason and evidence, he believes because he wants to believe. This can be seen in nearly all of the early writings of Martin Luther. This is also why Webster made so many mistakes in his article. Yes, he was "confident" that he was right, but his "confidence" was based not on facts and logic, but simply on his arrogant assurance that he is right.

Nick said...

That's just it, *I* shouldn't be shocked...yet I am. I guess the reason is because I never dreamed such manifestly lousy arguments would be presented.

But you make a good point about "true believer," which is very true when I stop and think about it. They'd prefer a horrible argument rather than cut the Catholic side any slack, which is also revealing in that it means deep down they know that to cut Catholics some slack would be a "slippery slope" right back into the Church.

Jae said...

Excellent analysis, Nick that is why SS is not logically and historically attainable because it contradicts every single's just the obstinate and arrogant refusal to give obedience to the people that God has entrusted His Church....protestant apologists are acting as if they are the Apostles themselves.

Nick said...

Yes Jae, and the joke is that when I presented this information to Reformed Protestants who respect Webster, they totally avoided it and acted as if I never posted it.

It's interesting how things suddenly go silent and are ignored by the same folks that will find any excuse to discredit or mock something or someone Catholic.

Catholic Faith Defender said...

Nick, thank you for sharing the link.

Jim said...

I heard [the so called bishop] James White also claim that Sola Scriptura was not "operative" during the lifetime of the Apostles on a youtube video. If that is truly the case, then NOT ONE verse in the New Testament can be used to support Sola Scriptura. If any verse e.g. 2 Tim 3:16, was Paul's way of informing Timothy that he was to follow Sola Scriptura, then the claims that both White and Webster make about Sola Scriptura not being "operative" during the lifetime of the Apostles is completely nonsensical.

They seem a tad confused if you ask me :)

How can Sola Scriptura be non operative during the 1st century A.D. and at the same time be teaching it in the 1st century?
Think about it; the chuckle brothers tell us that it wasn't operative but at the same time it was.
Is there any wonder why there are 1000's of denominations?

Nick said...


Sorry for this long delay; I've been wanting to respond to you and thank you for your comments but kept getting busy.

You are exactly right that White said this, and John Piper just said a similar thing recently which I commented on my blog about.

I believe that argument is one of the most powerful and needs to be "shouted from the rooftops" by all Catholics.

Jim Paton said...

Hi Nick,

no need to apologize for the delay as I know how hectic things can be.

You are correct, this needs to be shouted from the rooftops.

There is one other point I would like to point out and that is "The infallibility of the Church"
If Protestants/Bible aloners wish to argue that they have the "true faith" or that their doctrines are the same as that of the Apostles, then has anyone pointed out to them that there were NO ERRORS belonging to the faith and doctrines of the Apostles? This means that the faith and doctrines of the Apostles were infallible. If Protestants/Bible aloners claim to have the same faith and the doctrines of the Apostles they are claiming infallibility for their particular denomination [Keep in mind that this itself would refute Sola Scriptura]
Take for instance James White, would he claim that there are errors within his particular denomination with regards to doctrine? No chance! If there are no errors then his group is infallible, since it is his group that is proclaiming their doctrines to the world [In the case of White, rather badly]

The worry for Protestants/Bible aloners is that if their doctrines are not infallible then they need to ask why they would follow such a set up? They will argue that it is the faith and doctrines of the Apostles that is infallible and that it is this that they follow. But since the Apostles are not hear in person to tell us if that is true or not, all we have is the word of the likes of James White and co.

Now, a question needs to be asked: why on earth would anyone want to listen, follow a fallible interpretation of God's word? And how can the likes of James White and co claim that their denomination is fallible when that same denomination is what supposedly proclaims the infallible truth? Either what THEY proclaim is fallible or infallible. If they proclaim a infallible message then the messenger is infallible when he preaches that same infallible message.
If James White and co preach "faith alone" does that message contain error? If not then they are indeed infallible. But it is amazing that Protestants/Bible aloners would deny this. I honestly believe that to be a Protestant/Bible aloner and arrive at the level that White has for example, you would need a frontal lobotomy to continue on.

Protestants/Bible aloners cannot state the obvious truth that they indeed claim to be infallible because this would destroy their much cherished man made doctrine. They cannot admit this as there can only be one infallible authority for them. It seems to be denial at all costs if you ask me.

Nick said...


They try to have it both ways when it comes to that subject. On one hand they don't want to claim any responsibility or authority, on the other hand they go around making dogmatic claims and judgments.

A most noticeable trend and result of that mindset over the last century is the total watering down of Christian doctrine, reducing "orthodoxy" to a mere profession that "Jesus is Lord." This is why 99% of Protestants don't care what denomination the person attends, as long as it's not Catholic. This is why even vocal folks like White will stop short of calling non-Baptists 'heretics', because he knows the second he does he will both (a) lose much of his audience, and (b) will be put in a position of being dogmatic akin to a Pope while having to repudiate such an office really exists.

And continuing on with that theme - just as you said - he wouldn't dare say there were errors in his Protestant's denomination, but he'll stop short of making his denomination the One True Church. Things get even more sticky when Protestants admit their own denomination could be in error, or better yet, when they disagree on dogma with their pastor yet think all is fine.

The root of the problem is Sola Scriptura, and not how most people think. Sola Scriptura was an off-the-cuff response of Luther, but was nothing more than a *smoke screen* to hide the notion authoritative interpretation still needs to take place.

And this is where the "denial at all costs" comes in, with all these otherwise intelligent and educated men making the most asinine and absurd doctrinal claims, and why they abhor Scholastic Theology, for example, since it forces them to be more consistent and go deeper than the utterly insane claims they're willing to bow down and worship. This is also why Protestants have thrown out the Early Church Fathers from their seminaries.