In our consideration of the topic of “Bible-onlyism” as Mark Noll describes it, I have tried to illustrate that there exists through history a continuing tendency among false teachers to misunderstand the role of the actual words of Scripture for our life as Christians.
In my first post on this topic I said that this can happen at the micro and macro levels. In my second post, I illustrated how this tends to occur on the micro level with a few historical examples in which theological words such as “Trinity” and “consubstantial” are rejected because they cannot be found in the Bible. This is a common pattern which has been used by heretics throughout church history to promote false teaching.
In addition to this historical survey of heretical groups there are some other issues to consider. In this post I would like to point out that this idea is also logically incoherent. The conviction that a Christian should only use the actual words of the Bible to articulate doctrine and belief breaks down quickly when you try to apply it with any logical consistency or objectivity.
First an obvious question about language emerges. If we can only use words found in the Bible to do theology, do we need to only use the words found in the actual original language of Scripture? In that case, no Christian could ever say anything true about God unless they were speaking Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic. This has never been the view of orthodox Christianity.
But what if we assume for a moment that we can find reasonable answers to these questions about language? If we make the leap to say that we can legitimately talk about theology in the English language, many other questions emerge. For instance, which translation of Scripture has the right words? Can we use any and all translations? Some of them? Would that include paraphrase Bibles or would a stricter philosophy of translation be necessary? If so, what translation philosophy would we have to follow and why?
If we came to a point of resolution about these issues (which to borrow Paul’s words, “I speak as if insane”), then we have to get down to the difficult job of making sure that we become so familiar with the vocabulary of the particular translation of the Bible that we use so that we never make the error of going outside of it. Certainly there is nothing wrong with familiarizing ourselves with Scripture. But unless we have an encyclopedic knowledge of every word in the Bible we would have to stop to check a concordance every time we wanted to say something about God.
So to summarize, in the last post we saw that the belief that a Christian should only use the words of Scripture to express Christian doctrine is historically suspect. Here I hope that we can see that it is also logically incoherent as well. Next I would like to show that it is both biblically untenable and pastorally unfaithful.