There has been some lively discussion, as of late, on my post Theotokos, The Blessed Mary I don’t want to re-hash that specific issue here. But, appropriately that discussion on Mary spiraled into a discussion on perspectives surrounding hermeneutics, i.e. sola scriptura, solo scriptura, prima scriptura, and even sola verbum dei. These all represent different approaches, some more Protestant and others Catholic, that Christians bring to scripture. Each of these approaches have particular characteristics, by way of emphasis, that shape the way we interpret scripture (we will define these approaches later in a more general way). At the end of the comment meta on Theotokos Fr. Alvin Kimel makes a remark that needs to be clarified, he says:

. . . But I know that I cannot convincingly demonstrate any of this on the basis of Holy Scripture. Protestants understandably find the kind of typological and allegorical exegesis practiced by Catholics and Orthodox contrived and artificial. The problem lies in the sola scriptura principle.

History demonstrates that Protestant reductionism is virtually impossible to recover from. All attempts to recover catholic substance–and there have been such attempts in Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and the Reformed–ultimately hit the brick wall of the sola scriptura principle. And sola scriptura always wins.

This simply is not true. Protestants, historically, have followed a type anti-type hermeneutic, the kind that Fr. Kimel limits to the Catholic and Orthodox. This hermeneutic is best expressed within the Covenant-Amillenial “Christocentric” hermeneutic virtually followed by all Protestants, up until the emergence of Dispensationalism at the turn of the 20th century (who follow a so-called ‘literal hermeneutic’). The difference between the type anti-type hermeneutic that Protestants follow, and that of the Catholics, is best captured in the distinction between regula fidei and analogia fidei; the former correlates to the Catholic approach, while the latter with the Protestant. The Protestant, “analogy of faith” (vs. the Catholic “rule of faith”), assumes that scripture is its own best interpreter sacra scriptura sui interpres versus the “rule of faith” which presupposes that the “Church” or magisterium (through the centuries) is scripture’s best interpreter. Grant Osborne notes:

In contrast to the regula fidei (“rule of faith”) of the Roman Catholic, Luther propounded the analogia fidei (“analogy of faith”). Luther opposed the centrality of ecclesial tradition and believed that Scripture alone should determine dogma. On the basis of the unity and clarity of Scripture, he proposed that the basic doctrines must cohere with and cannot contradict the holistic teaching of Scripture. . . . (Grant Osborne, “The Hermeneutical Spiral, 11).

The biblical theology movement and canonical critical school (on the “Evangelical/Reformed” side, esp.) has recaptured this assumption, assuming the unity of scripture as the principle for the interpretive paradigm. But I digress, this is another post on its own, my point is to underscore that sola scriptura does not necessitate the over-literalist hermeneutic that Fr. Kimel’s quote suggests.

Sola Scriptura is the principle touchstone of the Protestant Reformation, tied inextricably to the idea of the “Priesthood of All Believers (cf. I Pet. 2:9). And it simply promotes the idea that, . . . [w]hen the Reformers broke with Rome . . . they . . . claimed the view that the Bible was to be the Supreme authority of the church (R. C. Sproul, “Knowing Scripture,” 46). In my mind, this approach actually fosters an atmosphere to allow an organic christocentrism to emerge from the pages of scripture, versus the rather arbitrary (to the protest of Catholics) interpretive decisions made by the Magisterium.

Is sola scriptura really the problem that Fr. Kimel is addressing? I don’t think so. Does sola scriptura, in principle, spawn an over-literalist hermeneutic? No. Does sola scriptura have the malleability and flexibility to allow for over-literalism (i.e. expressed most obviously by Classic/Revised Dispensationalism) in hermeneutics? Yes. Ultimately, then, the principle of sola scriptura is not the problem, rather, it is an issue, an a priori assumption that lies underneath or behind sola scriptura. That issue has to do with how one approaches the Old Testament/New Testament relationship (as continuous or discontinuous); but that is a topic for another post.

Suffice it to say, sola scriptura, from early on, has been shaped by a commitment to an type anti-type hermeneutic, much like the Roman Catholic version. Except for the important distinction, I highlighted above, viz. the regula fidei vs. the analogia fidei. I hope that helps clarify some nuance that clearly needed to be underscored, in light of Fr. Kimel’s assertion.

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