A Critical Review of The Shape of Sola Scriptura by Keith Mathison -- By: Norman L. Geisler

Journal: Christian Apologetics Journal
Volume: CAJ 04:1 (Spring 2005)
Article: A Critical Review of The Shape of Sola Scriptura by Keith Mathison
Author: Norman L. Geisler


A Critical Review of The Shape of Sola Scriptura
by Keith Mathison

Norman L. Geisler

A Statement of Mathison’s View

In an attempt to defend the Protestant view of sola Scriptura over against the Roman Catholic view of an infallible teaching Magisterium, Keith Mathison outlines four different views on the use of tradition. Building on Heiko Oberman’s distinctions (The Dawn of the Reformation, 1986), Mathison delineates these positions as follows:

Tradition 0, which he attributes to the Anabaptists and many modern evangelicals, grants no real role for tradition. He said the Anabaptists “attempted to deny the authority of tradition in any real sense” (239).1 This view he calls “solo Scriptura” which he rejects for many reasons. He wrote: “Aside from the fact that it is a novel position. .. and aside from the fact that it is dishonestly presented as if it were the Reformation position, it is also unbiblical, illogical, and unworkable” (244–245). The Bible cannot interpret itself. “The Bible alone” reduces to “me alone (252).

Tradition I, as it is called by Mathison, is the view of the early Church and the magisterial reformers like Luther and Calvin. This perspective claims that apostolic tradition is both authoritative and necessary to interpret Scripture and that it is manifest in the Fathers, confessions, creeds, and councils of the early Church up to and around A.D. 400. It holds that the apostolic tradition was at first an oral “rule of faith” but was later inscripturated in the early writings and creeds of the Church.

Tradition II is a Roman Catholic view that developed between the fourth and thirteenth centuries and was canonized by the Council of Trent. It affirms that there are two sources of revelation: the Bible and tradition and that the latter is both necessary and infallible in interpreting the former. With the help of Charles Hodges, Mathison lists eight arguments against this view (211–216). These include: 1) the necessity of a written word to avoid error, 2) the lack of any promise of God to preserve oral traditions from error, 3) the inability of the oral view to test true traditions from false ones, 4) the inaccessibility of unwritten traditions, 5) the fact that it is more difficult to interpret than Scripture, 6) that tradition undermines the Word of God, 7) that tradition sometimes contradicts Scripture, 8) and the existence of a canon of Scripture which reveals that the Church valued the written Word of God above tradition.

Tradition III is the view of most contemporary Catholic theologians. It is ba...

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