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Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Volume II: An Historical Defense of the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura Paperback – October, 2001
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"A work of immense value to anyone seeking to understand the high esteem in which the early Church held Scripture." -- Dr. John MacArthur, Pastor of Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA
"I predict this work will become THE standard work on the subject of the fathers and the authority of Scripture." -- Dr. Jay Adams, Co-Pastor of The Harrison Bridge Road A.R.P. Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina and editor-in-chief of Timeless Texts.
About the Author
William Webster is the Founder and Director of Christian Resources and author of several books dealing with Roman Catholicism, Church history, the Gospel and the Christian life.
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In the first chapter Webster discusses how the early church fathers viewed Scripture, Tradition, and how they related to each other. He goes into depth on the views of such church fathers as: Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil of Caesarea, and especially Augustine. Webster also discusses and refutes the Roman Catholic (R.C. from now on) apologetic use of passages by these church fathers. R.C. apologists abuse these passages in a number of ways: they frequently cite such passages as these in isolation from the surrounding context, equivocate on terms such as "tradition", or a combination thereof. Next, he cites the view during the early to mid Middle Ages by noting the writings of Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, and historical scholars. The amount of research that went into this work was quite likely extensive. He cites many a historian (even Roman Catholic) on the issue. Something that should be noted (though I can't remember if Webster addresses it in here) is that while most Roman Catholic apologists argue very strongly for the historical claims of the Roman Catholic Church, many (if not most) Roman Catholic historical scholars concede that the early church did, in fact, believe that Scripture was the only infallible authority for the church in their day (and for us today). Webster cites several of these scholars throughout his work.
Webster writes more about the view of "tradition" in the early church. He also notes that differences over what was the "true" apostolic tradition arose very early on in the history of the Church. He cites several examples (i.e. the Easter Controversy, Cyprian and Stephen, Irenaeus and the Age of Jesus, etc.).
Here, he discusses the tradition OF interpretation (i.e. Alexandrian vs. Antiochene, Middle Ages, etc.). He notes that, despite the claims of Rome, there is no such thing as "the unanimous consent of the church fathers" on any issue except for maybe monotheism. [Before any DaVinci Code fanatics start jumping for joy, I must note that I am referring to deeper theological matters, not the historicity of the four Gospels or the other basics of Christianity.] He then discusses the misuse of church father passages by R.C. apologists. Next, he gives a summary of the major points of what the church fathers taught about Scripture (i.e. the continuity of the Testaments, the rule of faith, the perspicuity of Scripture, the principle of context in interpreting the Scriptures, the belief that Scripture interprets Scripture, Scripture declares its own meaning, and the need for all Christians to study Scripture). Lastly, he discusses the early church's view of councils.
Here, he discusses and refutes the claims of the Roman Church in light of the historical evidence. He notes that the interpretations of the typical "Papal" passages, Matt. 16:18 and Luke 22:32, were not interpreted in the Roman Catholic fashion by the vast majority of the early fathers. [In Appendix A, he includes a plethora of quotations by the early fathers which interpret Matthew 16:18 in a way differently than what Rome claims they did.] Next, he discusses one modern dogma of the Roman Church, the Assumption of Mary, which the early fathers believed was heresy (or rather, came from heretical writings). On this point he definitely could have been more extensive by citing other examples such as the veneration of images and icons. Lastly, he discusses the errant "infallible" declarations of the Popes in the early church. Here, he could have went on and cited some examples from the Medieval Era, but the ones that he cited (from the Roman era) were quite sufficient.
Webster then shows (by citing Roman Catholic theologians themselves) that, in the final analysis, the Roman Church doesn't care about grounding its dogmas in the Scriptures or the "unanimous consent of the church fathers". Too many of its beliefs are contradicted by the early church, and the Roman Church's Magesterium claims the right to interpret what is the right "tradition" (as opposed to the wrong "tradition") as well as the proper interpretation of Scripture anyway. In the end, the Roman Church declares Divine Truth to be whatever it says it is. Instead of sola Scriptura, it is sola ecclesia.
Chapters 6, 7, and 8
In Part 2 of this volume, Webster discusses the historic view of the apocrypha throughout the history of the Church. He notes that almost all the church fathers who had any serious historical knowledge of those books did not view them as part of the Old Testament. This shows that the Council of Trent (one of the many R.C. ecumenical councils) was in error in placing those books in the canon. For a detailed analysis of how the canon we have today came about, I would suggest Michael Green's "The Books the Church Suppressed". [For those suspicious of the title, it's an anti-Da Vinci Code book.] Although it doesn't address the issue that the King/Webster series addresses directly, it demolishes the notion that the Church created the canon.
Now, I would like to address one criticism found in one of the reviews below (P.J. Porvaznik). After making the typical high claims that the church fathers were very "Catholic" (another fallacy of equivocation and ipse dixit), Porvaznik states that Webster's work would lead one to believe that the early fathers were Protestant. However, neither Webster nor King does any such thing. Both authors acknowledge that the church fathers are a very mixed bag of theological beliefs and many held different views than modern Protestants. [Though that varies greatly with the age in which a specific father wrote. The earliest (i.e. apostolic) fathers would agree much more with Protestants.] However, they are certainly not Roman Catholic since most of the fathers would repudiate half the Roman Church's dogma (or at least that which is in conflict with Protestant doctrine), especially on the issue of the sufficiency of Scripture. Another criticism of Porvaznik is that, while King and Webster like to cite the church fathers and agree with them on this subject, they don't like to do so when the fathers agree with Roman Catholicism. However, this is either a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation of the argument. The argument is not that Protestants believe in sola Scriptura because it was believed by the church fathers; rather, the argument seeks to undermine the R.C. argument from the "unanimous consent of the church fathers". Protestants would believe in sola Scriptura anyway, but historical backup doesn't hurt. The Roman Catholic, on the other hand, MUST have agreement with the church fathers since their arguments against Protestantism attempt to rely on the history and historical interpretation of the church.
This work is a must-have for any Protestant/Evangelical who doesn't know much about the church fathers and is discussing this issue with a R.C.
King and Webster demonstrate, in a comprehensive and unprecedented manner, that the unbroken succession of true Apostolic doctrine includes that which was defended by the Protestant Reformers who held to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. There is no topic more important to the discussion of the issues that separate the Protestant and the Roman Catholic churches than this one of authority. Roman Catholics have exerted much energy in trying to topple the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura, claiming it is unbiblical, illogical, and unhistorical. Protestants are being challenged to accept the idea that without an infallible teaching Magisterium, there can be no perpetuation of Christian truth. These allegations come in the form of asserting that Sola Scriptura is unworkable when forced to abide by its own rules or that the patristic writers never held to this Reformation principle. King and Webster silence all these criticisms, demonstrating that it is the Roman Catholic Church who has a number of novel doctrines. David King provides a thoroughly sound, biblical defense of Sola Scriptura that also interacts with the criticisms of its opponents, showing that what the Roman Catholic Church promises to deliver on the one hand as an infallible interpreter, it simply takes back with the other. William Webster has put together in the second volume an immensely useful and personally encouraging study of the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture throughout the patristic writings. In addition, there is a comprehensive examination of the Church's consensus over the deuterocanonical (apocryphal) writings of the Old Testament, overwhelmingly testifying to the Protestant position of the canon.
These three volumes are written in such a manner that they will benefit truth-seeking people of any rank and learning. The footnotes are a gold mine of facts that will keep the deep probing investigator turning up new nuggets of information at each turn. Yet this should not dissuade the average reader, for the main body proceeds along in a smooth, easy to read style that does not necessarily bog down the reader with every detail, but allows them to determine the extent to which they will mine. I wholeheartedly recommend that Christians of every rank and denomination get this work, read this work, and pass along these Reformational truths to their families and congregations. You will not be disappointed in the thorough research that King and Webster have bequeathed to the Church in this marvelous work.
Ruling Elder, First Congregational Church of Merrimack, NH
M.Div. candidate, Reformation International Theological Seminary
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He doesn't know what he has written.
Simply a heresy!
A good point made by King is the ambiguity in the word "tradition" as used by various Catholic scholars and apologists.Read more