Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Sola Scriptura and the False Accusation of "Nuda Scriptura"
03/28/2005 - James WhiteMr. Enloe has asserted on his blog that I do not hold to a Reformational understanding of sola scriptura. I believe him to be in error, of course, and have asked for examples to substantiate his position. I have spent some time studying the subject, and, in fact, defending the Reformational viewpoint, over the years, so it would be very helpful to get something concrete to back up such assertions. But it is just here that, since the "split" with Mr. Enloe, we encounter the problem: when I ask for specifics on exegetical issues, I don't get any because the issues are more "fundamental" than the exegesis of the text of Scripture. It seems fairly simple to me that if, in fact, I approach the text of Scripture improperly, and differently, it should be simple enough to demonstrate it on an exegetical level. Hence, I have asked for a demonstration of how this works. I have asked that a text be taken from my writings and the accusation of nuda scriptura be demonstrated in contrast to the "true" practice of sola scriptura.
In response Mr. Enloe has offered one example:
I believe that Dr. White has a very problematic understanding of "tradition" (as I outlined here). Accordingly, examples of what I am calling nuda Scriptura in Dr. White's Reformed Baptist views are not hard to find. His opposition to paedobaptism, for instance, relies upon the notion that paedobaptists do not exegete Scriptures about the New Covenant correctly because they allow their "traditions" to get between them and the inspired texts. Take the “traditional” clothing off the Scriptures, Dr. White seems to be saying, and presto, credobaptism shines forth in all its “objective”, exegetically “pure” glory. What is this if not an outright appeal to the “naked” text of Scripture?
Unfortunately, this "example" does not even begin to fulfill what should be a very simple request. Over the past six months an article I wrote on the issue of the New Covenant in Hebrews 8 and 10 appeared in the pages of the Reformed Baptist Theological Review. Here I offered a perfectly viable exegesis of the text of Hebrews 8 and 10, including interaction with Presbyterian exegesis of the same texts. I did not, as Mr. Enloe improperly asserts, say my Presbyterian brothers need to simply remove their traditions and "presto" the text is clear. I actually provided what you must provide if you are going to say Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith (does Mr. Enloe admit the WCF represents a Reformational viewpoint of sola scriptura in section 1?): exegesis of the text itself.
Now, I have a few questions for Mr. Enloe: 1) Did Hebrews 8 have a meaning when it was penned originally under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God? 2) Was that meaning understandable to the audience to which it was written? 3) Is that meaning obtainable today? 4) Has the meaning of Hebrews 8 changed since it was written? 5) Is there a different meaning for Hebrews 8 today that is other than the meaning it had when it was written? 6) When the WCF says the Bible in its original languages was immediately inspired by God and hence, "so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them" (1:8), how did I do anything but make final appeal to them, in their original languages, in my exegesis of Hebrews 8? And if I did, how does it follow that my exegesis implies nuda scriptura while that offered by someone associated with Mr. Enloe is "real" sola scriptura?
So, failing the first example, Mr. Enloe moves on to my book on the Trinity. He writes,
To begin, I note that from the very beginning of this controversy some 15 or so months ago, when, if I remember aright, Dr. White asked me to show him how his exegesis of Trinitarian passages differed from his exegesis of baptism passages, Dr. White has sought to steer every debate toward a mere “technological” focus upon manipulating the “raw” Greek material of Scripture. Clearly, this is where he feels most comfortable, and equally clearly, he’s not comfortable talking about things outside of this very narrow field and which are said to have a deeper impact upon his perceptions of truth than mere mastery of the rules of hina clauses and how to argue for whether a genitive construction is objective or subjective. This fact makes the Trinity issue a perfect example on which to build a case against the notion that Dr. White holds to the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura and not a radicalized misconstrual of it instead.I gladly confess that the text of Scripture is primary for me. That is very, very true, and God help me should it ever cease being true. I think everyone who knows me knows this is the case. But I reject, of course, the misdirection inherent in Mr. Enloe's presentation. If we are talking about the exegesis of Scripture, exactly what else are we to be addressing than the text itself? I'm sorry, but if someone is going to say my exegesis is in error, constantly avoiding doing exegesis isn't going to accomplish much in the long run, is it? What exactly is a "mere technological focus upon manipulating the raw Greek material of Scripture"? The fact is that as we have addressed theological issues I have constantly been seeking to ground the discussion in the exegesis of Scripture. I happen to believe Scripture had meaning when it was penned, and that that meaning does not change with time. If believing in sola scriptura means I have to abandon that view, then I will gladly abandon it. But, of course, that is the problem: that is not what sola scriptura means. Enloe goes on to say:
Reading the book critically one definitely gets the impression that White feels he has, in an intellectually independent manner, verified the doctrine of the Trinity only by reference to Scripture.Question: is it Mr. Enloe's position that the Scriptures do not teach the doctrine of the Trinity outside of an external framework of tradition? Yes or no? Is it his view that the exegesis offered is wrong? If so, where? Can Mr. Enloe even say the exegesis of any text is right or wrong? If so, upon what basis? What is the foundation? He then quotes the introduction to my historical chapter in the book, and writes,
This is a big part of why these discussions have yet to go anywhere productive. Notice the stark dichotomization in Dr. White’s thinking. He claims to know that tradition influences him, but whenever he says this it is always with the disclaimer (explicit or implicit) that he absolutely refuses to allow tradition to be any kind of “authority” for him.If by "dichotomization" Mr. Enloe means I believe that Scripture is God-breathed, and hence utterly unique, and nothing else is God-breathed, and hence everything else is subject to Scripture, well, yes, of course. This is something new? Surely not. Is Mr. Enloe saying he does not, and we should not, test our traditions (Matthew 15:1-4)? Is it being asserted that such a testing of traditions is a violation of the "true" sola scriptura? Enloe continues:
And the more you talk to Dr. White, the more you realize that determining what “insofar as…” means is for him merely a matter of properly manipulating Greek symbols and their grammatical and syntactical conventions. Properly handle the Greek text (that is, handle only the Greek text, without bringing any baggage with you into your manipulation of the symbols, grammar, and syntax), and you can be certain that you have achieved "timeless truth" understandings of doctrine.If I may offer a translation. "Properly manipulating Greek symbols" (I have no idea what he has against Hebrew, but that's part of it as well) = accurately handling the inspired Word so as to allow the original intention and meaning of the author to be understood and communicated. My, how that sounds so completely different! Do I believe Scripture is inspired? Yes. Do I believe it communicates "timeless truths" to the church in each generation and in every nation, truths about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that define the gospel, the church, and all of life? You bet your bottom dollar I do. Most importantly, does Mr. Enloe? If he doesn't, why bother with anything he's doing? And if he does, why this whole controversy? But just here Enloe's real agenda comes to light:
Fail to strip yourself of things not directly related to the naked techniques of the workings of the Greek language, however, and you will almost certainly wind up confusing "traditions" with the Divine Text itself. In other words, it is not merely that Scripture is for Dr. White the final authority, but that it is for him ultimately the only authority. Regardless of what he says with his mouth or types on his screen, his only authority in rubber-meets-the-road practice is the naked text of Scripture, as interpreted by himself, using his own personal mastery of Greek technological skills.OK, Mr. Enloe, here's a real simple question for you, one you've been asked before, by myself, and numerous others: how do you identify the difference between divine truth and human tradition? Please, be specific. How do you obey Matthew 15:1-4? Can you even know what that text tells us, and how one should obey the Lord Jesus in the matter addressed there? When the Spirit inspired Hebrews 8, was the text "naked"? What was its clothing as the letter lay in front of the writer as the last lines were written? Please, be specific. Was it authoritative at that point?
I look forward to hearing some specific answers to these questions, for there seems precious little reason to go beyond these issues. If Mr. Enloe wishes to say sola scriptura involves the subjection of the text of Scripture to the accretion of ecclesiastical tradition over time, and that its meaning changes with the passage of generations, and that this is the "real" sola scriptura, he is welcome to his opinion. I find no reason to accept it.