Sometimes, Bible-only apologetics just goes wrong.
Now, I won’t swear that the following incident actually happened and the guy sitting next to me on the plane won’t swear that it actually happened, either. In fact, I am pretty sure that there is a basement office somewhere in the Federal Aviation Administration building in Washington, D. C. with two special agents, one, a pretty red-haired doctor and the other a stoic Oxford-trained psychologist, who also won’t swear that this actually happened, either. I’m pretty sure that they are the only two people in that basement and I am pretty sure that they work on the Y-files, as in, “Why do things like this always happen to me?”
But…back to our story, or, “The Incident,” as the file folder reads (but you’ll never see it, trust me). I was sitting in a window seat on the plane next to a nice fellow who was dressed in a red and black-checkered hunting jacket reading a copy of, Of Moose and Men, (I think it was a hunting magazine, but it could have been a cookbook, not that I would swear to either, mind you). Me, I was just about ready to fall asleep, my ear to the window listening to the purr of the engines.
Then, he showed up.
History will never record his name, but I thought he said it was Reginald (or the moose was named Reginald or something. I know there was a Reginald in the story.). He leaned into the moose hunter/chef and said, quite matter-of-factly, “Excuse me, sir, but if you died tonight, would you be sure of going to Heaven?” My ear perked up. The other ear was frozen from resting against the window. Keep up, will you?
My checker-board-wearing friend tried to laugh it off. “Ha, ha. Do you know something I don’t?”
The man standing in the aisle (oh, let’s just get it over with and call him Reggie, okay?) was somber and a bit sad. He looked down on my friend and asked, again, “No, I’m serious. If you died, tonight, would you be sure of your eternal salvation?”
My friend looked up from his magazine and said, “Are you saying I’m going to die, tonight?” Reggie looked at him and said, “No, no, but, let’s just say you did die, tonight, suddenly, from…I don’t know, maybe a bomb or something…”
Friends, let me tell you that the moral of this story is to chose your words, carefully, if you are an apologist because, well, you can imagine what happened, next.
“Are you saying that there’s a bomb on this plane? Who are you? Steward, Steward…”
There is a reason the FAA doesn’t want you to hear about this incident and there’s a reason that Reggie was put in the Witness Protection Plan. It was something about there being a clear and present danger of going to Heaven, but I think I misheard that, what with my frozen ear and all.
What I’m getting at is that you need not be exposed to excessive G-forces as a plane does a quick 180-degree turn-around if you know The Proof. Here’s how I would have handled The Incident (if I actually wore plaid hunting vests and I had a thing for moose):
Reggie: “Excuse me, sir, but if you died tonight, would you be sure of going to Heaven?”
Me: “Well, if you died, tonight, would you still be sure that the Bible were the sole rule of Faith?”
Reggie: “Yes, of course. The Bible is the Word of God. It is God-breathed?”
Me: “Really? Who told you that?”
Reggie: “It says so. Here, let me get my Bible and we can go over the proof. There is no need to be uncertain about your salvation.”
Me: “Before we do that, I’ve got a different proof. May I go first?”
That is all that is needed. What is this Proof that makes moose-loving men cry and strikes fear in the hearts of apologists named Reginald? Here’s the deal: if I tell you the Proof, you must promise to act like The Incident never happened, okay? Let’s continue with our story…
Me: “Okay, you seem like a fair-minded guy, so let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the Bible is the sole rule of Faith. See, heathen can be broad-minded.”
Reggie: “Go on.”
Me: “If the Bible is the sole rule of Faith, then you must agree that it says so, somewhere in the Bible, right, since it wouldn’t be much of a sole rule of Faith if it didn’t say so.”
Reggie: “Certainly. Here, let me get my bible and show you.”
Me: “Zzzzt. Let me finish. Now if there is a statement in the Bible that says, “The Bible is the sole rule of Faith,” then, certainly, that is a pretty singular statement, right?”
Reggie: “Yes, of course. Look, just let me show you here in 1 Timothy…”
Me: “You said I could finish. Hold your horses. Now, if such a statement exists, then it must also be a sole rule of Faith since it specifies that the Bible is the sole rule of Faith and not something else, right? Sole means sole, singular, alone.”
Reggie: “Okay, I’ll buy that.”
Me: “Well, then, you have a problem, because the sentence, “The Bible is the sole rule of Faith,” can’t be the sole rule of Faith if the actual Bible, itself, is the sole rule of Faith. Sole means sole. You can’t have the Bible declaring that the Bible is the sole rule of Faith because the sentence which declares it to be the sole rule of Faith must, itself, be a sole rule of Faith, otherwise, there could be some other rule of Faith that it missed declaring. There can’t be two sole rules of Faith. That is a contradiction. It has been proven, logically, that if a sentence (or any sentence) of the form: ”The Bible is the sole rule of Faith,” is true just exactly in the case when the Bible really is the sole rule of Faith, it must contain a paradox.
Reggie: “I don’t understand.”
Me: “Okay, let me put this in academic terms. In 1931 a logician named Alfred Tarski proved an amazing result in elementary logic (we call it first-order logic) in a paper entitled, On the Concept of Truth in Formalized Languages .” The proof is somewhat technical (and, if there were an appendix to our story, it would be there, wouldn’t it?), but, basically, it says that any sentence that contains self-reference is undefinable in terms of its truth content. Let me re-state that: if a sentence is self-referential, it cannot be known to be true, in itself. Worse than that, the sentence is contradictory to itself.
What is self- reference? Self-reference is a property of speech where the sentence or word refers back to itself. An example is: This sentence has five words. See? The sentence has five words. It refers to itself.
Let W stand for any sentence in a simple language (called a first-order language) that only has the properties of:
- A and B
- A or B
- All (or nothing)
- Some one example of a thing exists.
In this restricted form of language, there is no concept of “some,” where some means only a few out of many.
Let W stand for any simple sentence that contains the two fundamental properties that define all self-referential sentences: 1) reflection and 2) universality (or all-inclusiveness) . By reflection, we mean the sentence refers or reflects back to itself. By universality, we mean that the sentence applies to everything. You can, easily, see that the statement, “The Bible [reflection] is the sole rule [universality] of Faith,” satisfies these two conditions.
Now, Tarski proved that, in this type of simple language, which is able to include the concept of Sola Scriptura (the Bible, alone, is the sole rule of Faith), if one makes the simple requirement that (called Tarski’s Schema T):
If W is true, if and only if the sentence, “W,” itself, is true (and why wouldn’t it be?), then any self-referential statement is undecidable in terms of its truth content. In fact, it is self-contradictory or paradoxical. Now, paradoxes contain no truth content that can be decided upon, but faith is an assent of the mind to the truth. If the statement, “The Bible is the sole rule of Faith,” were true, according to Tarski’s Theorem, called the Undecidability Theorem, then it would, also be false and the mind would not be able to assent to anything, since something that is both true and false at the same time is not a proper object of Faith. In other words, it would not be an object of Faith, itself, and, hence, would be excluded from Faith, but if it is excluded from Faith, then the Bible, itself, cannot be a sole rule of Faith, since it doesn’t contain its own statement.
There is a famous paradox (called, The Liar’s Paradox) that uses a similar sentences and illustrates this point. Suppose someone said:
This sentence is not true.
Now, if the sentence is false, then it must be true, but if it is true, then it must be false. This sentence is self-referential and universal (in that it is the only sentence to which it applies), so it satisfies Tarski’s conditions (and was the basis for a solution in an episode of the classic television series, Star trek).
This paradox is attributed to Epimenidies, but his form of the paradox does not quite satisfy Tarski’s criteria for self-reference, because there is a gap in the universality criteria (which need not concern us, here. The Liar’s Paradox contains a true universal, so it fits Tarski’s criteria).
Reggie: “But, but, that can’t be right…Wait! What about the sentence:
John is the sole person in the room?
There is no contradiction, there, but it meets your criteria, right?”
Me: “Nice try, but sole person implies a single person and one person is, “some,” so the theorem doesn’t apply. With Sola Scriptura, “The Bible is the sole rule of Faith,” the words, ” sole rule,” means a single rule that applies to everything or, “all,” so it meets Tarski’s criteria. No document can supply its own witness and not fall into Tarski’s trap.
Reggie:” So, you are saying that the Christian Faith is wrong?”
Me: “Not at all. There is a perfectly good way to have your Faith and keep it, too (or was that moose and eat it – I’m getting hungry – that cookbook had better be good). You see, Tarski’s Theorem was discovered, independently, by another logician, Kurt Goedel, around the same time, only he called his theorem, The Undecidability Theorem. The way he tells it, there are some statements (exactly the ones Tarski found) that are undecidable from within the statement. In fact, he found that for these types of sentences, adding more information about the situation from within the sentence will not make the statement any more decidable (he cast this in terms of mathematical statements, but it works just as well for the simple first-order sentences we have been discussing). Thus, there is nothing that can be added to the Bible, from the inside, that will ever make the statement, “The Bible is the sole rule of Faith,” any more decidable as being true or false.
Reggie: “Then all is lost.”
Me: “No, see, here’s the catch: both Tarski and Godel said that it might be possible to decide the truth or falsehood of these particular types of sentences from outside of the system. A Sentence made about another sentence is called a meta-sentence or a meta-level sentence. If there is an authority that genuinely can speak truth about the original sentence that exists at a meta-level, then it would be able to decide if the original sentence is true or false, because it is not trapped inside of the original sentence world. Now, Jesus, true God and true Man, knowing there would be this need, gave the genuine power to decide these specific types of situation as being true or false by word of mouth, in person, in real time 2000 years ago. He did this outside of the Bible, even though the incident itself is recorded there (it need not have been for it to still be a genuine establishment of authority). He did this when he said to Peter [Matt 16: 17 – 19]:
“And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.“
In giving Peter the keys, He was giving him the delegated authority to decide such statements as Sola Scriptura. Jesus, in His divinity as God, is, in logical terms, simple, meaning that He decides truth and falsehood, in himself. He is his own meta-authority, so he can never contradict himself and everything he says is true, in itself. Tarski’s Law does not bind to Him. Technically, the property of reflection does not apply to God because He is His own reflection. God cannot refer to Himself outside of Himself.
Jesus gave the keys to Peter and his successors and established a Church to support him. Such a Church must be visible or else one would not know to whom to submit questions of doubt and it must last until the end of time because there would always be questions that needed to be answered. The only Church that fits these criteria is the Catholic Church.
Me: “No, buts. I just proved with mathematical precision that the Catholic Church must exist to solve these sorts of questions. So, I ask you, again, if you died, tonight, would you be certain that the Bible is the sole rule of Faith?”
Reggie: “Well, is it?”
Me: “It has all of the material to act as a sole rule of Faith, but figuring that out in new cases of things that didn’t exist during Biblical times is very hard and the chances of error are great. The Bible, by itself is not the deposit of Faith, so it is not, formally, the rule of Faith, either. Theologians say the Bible is materially sufficient, but nor formally sufficient as a sole rule of Faith. Jesus gave us other aspects of the Faith that are not clearly contained in the Bible (or are very hard to find) and these have been passed down by word of mouth since He walked the earth. This aspect of Faith is called, Tradition. Now, I know the many Protestants are suspicious that Traditions are man-made, but the ones that apply to the Deposit of Faith are not man-made. The man-made traditions are called disciplines; the ones handed on by God are called, dogma. The Church has the ability to judge what is dogma by the power of the keys.
Reggie: “I’m going to go back to my seat and think about things for a while. You know, I was going to start evangelizing on this flight, but I think I’ll wait a while.”
Me: “Good choice.”
Now, I’d like to say that this is how things actually happened on that plane ride, but if I were you, I wouldn’t go looking for moose chefs who wear plaid hunting jackets in small towns, especially if there is a guy with a British accent who lives next door. I hear they have become good friends, but I wouldn’t swear to that.
Appendix One: Proof of the argument against Sola Scriptura (adapted from Bolanger ):
Let Tarski’s Schema T be written as: S ↔ T<S>, for all sentences S in a first-order logic. In words, this means: a sentence is true only if the actual sentence, itself is true. T<S> means S is true. ↔ is the logical biconditional, which is read, “if and only if.”
Anti-Sola Scriptura theorem
Any statement using only first-order logic and containing schema T is inconsistent. This applies to the statement (BS):
The Bible is the sole rule of Faith.
- Assume the existence of a world view, V, containing only first-order logical sentences and containing Schema T. BS is clearly in V, since BS is a first-order sentence and, trivially, BS ↔ T(BS).
- Apply the diagonal lemma without Schema T (see Bolanger  for a discussion of the diagonal lemma) to obtain a sentence S satisfying S ↔ ¬T <S> in V, where ¬ is the logical, “not,” operator. The sentence now says that the sentence is not true (as in the Liar’s Paradox).
- Now, use Schema T with the sentence S to give the case that S ↔ T<S>. The diagonal lemmas has yielded two different sentence: S ↔ ¬T<S> and S ↔ T<S> in V which can both be proven in V, and thus T<S> ↔ ¬T<S> in V. This is a contradiction.
- Since BS is a valid sentence in V, then T<BS> ↔ ¬T<BS> in V, which is a contradiction.
 Traski, Alfred. “The Concept of Truth in Formalized Languages”, trans. by J.H. Woodger in Logic, Semantics, Metamathematics, second edition, ed. by J. Corcoran. Indianapolis: Hackett. 1983. pgs. 152–278.
 Bolander, Thomas. Self-Reference, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available at: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/self-reference/
 Bolander, Thomas. “Self-reference and logic”, Phi News, 1: 9–44, 2002. Available at: http://www.imm.dtu.dk/~tobo/essay.pdf