Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Journey, Part 11.2: The Insufficiency of Scripture

This is part 11.2 of my rebooted series on my journey from Evangelicalism to Eastern Orthodoxy. The full series can be found here:

1Back to the beginning
2Cracks appear
3Questions multiply
4Questioning the "gospel"
5The big question
6A better hermeneutic
7Explorations in epistemology
7.5Excursus on oversystematization
8Back to the gospel
9The new direction
10Ecclesiological foundations
11.1Sola scriptura
11.2The insufficiency of Scripture
11.25Addenda on sola scriptura
11.3Holy Tradition
12Bridging the cracks
13.1Orthodoxy and Genesis 1–3
13.2A Better Atonement (Against Penal Substitution)
13.3Faith Alone?
13.4The Colour and the Shape of the Gospel
14Worshipping with the Church
15Mary, Saints, Baptism, and Other Odds/Ends
16Looking Back, Coming Home

Having given what I hope is a satisfactory explanation and defense of sola scriptura in the last post, I can now explain why I no longer agree with it.


The basic distinction my previous argument set up is highly dualistic. It views "God's word" and "the traditions of men" as two mutually exclusive categories which must be held separate. One is authoritative and infallible, the other is fallible and authoritative only in its agreement with the infallible source. This mandates a strong distinction between the Bible and the traditions of the Church.

Orthodox teaching would say that this view fails to take the Incarnation seriously enough. When God became man, the simple human-divine distinction was obliterated, like the veil in the temple of Jerusalem (Mat 27:51). The second Person of the Trinity put on flesh and lived with us, for our salvation. The destiny of Christians is now to be become like him, to become by grace what he is by nature. Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:15-16: "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love." Or, as St. Athanasius famously said, "God became man that man might become god." I lowercase the second "god" because, obviously, we will never become infinite or uncreated as God is. We will never become omnipotent or omniscient, never rule the cosmos as he does. God can never have an equal. Yet, in a very real sense, Orthodox view salvation as deification, increasing union with God and sharing with him in who he is.

Therefore, Orthodox believe the biblical teaching of the Church as the body of Christ the head (Eph 1:22-23, Col 1:18-20) has wide-ranging implications. The Church is the "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15) , built on the confession of Jesus as the Messiah (Mat 16:16-18), the recipient of the Spirit of truth (Jhn 16:13). Paul writes of the Church, "So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." (Eph 2:19-22) In light of all of these affirmations, it seems unjust to call the Church merely a human institution that perpetuates human tradition. The simple human-vs.-divine dualism of sola scriptura is no longer tenable if the Church is the body of Christ and the temple of the Spirit of truth, just as it doesn't apply to Christ himself. The aforementioned warnings against following human traditions (Jer 23:16, Mat 15:6, 1 Cor 2:4-5,10,13, Gal 1:10-11, Col 2:8, 1 Th 2:13) are not speaking of every tradition of the Church except Scripture, but against heretical teachings and corruptions of the apostolic tradition.

A few other observations: by implication, it seems like Protestants should simply repeat the words of Scripture in church, since saying anything else is simply speaking the words of man, and how can those possibly improve on the perfection of God's word? But of course no one does this, which means that, to some degree, Protestants unconsciously agree with the view of tradition I am stating. (As I will get to in a few more posts, the Orthodox liturgy arguably includes more words of Scripture than the typical Protestant service)

Luther's protests against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church were somewhat valid in that the Church really had corrupted its teaching. There really was a tension between the teaching of Scripture and the "words of men" (the Magisterium), so it's unsurprising that Luther would draw a contrast there. But Luther's contrast between the teachings of men and the word of God doesn't transfer to Orthodoxy, which testifies that it has faithfully preserved the apostolic faith without change (and whose testimony I have come to believe). If Luther had been Orthodox, there would have been no Reformation because there would have been no need for one. I don't know of anyone in the eastern Church who has championed anything like the Protestant "back to the Bible" approach without being influenced by the Reformation.

Apostolic tradition = Scripture?

I'll turn now to my argument's equation of the "apostolic tradition" with Scripture, and the implied exclusion of everything else. Obviously, if the apostolic tradition has the exact same content as Scripture, it is at least somewhat propositional in nature, the kind of truth that can be put into a book. But Orthodox believe that Tradition is much more than doctrinal truth about Jesus: it also includes the prayers and liturgy of the Church, the lives of the saints, and holy icons, music, art, and architecture. It is the whole "grammar" of the faith that Orthodox live consciously and subconsciously. Tradition is the very Spirit-breathed life of the Church. not simply its doctrinal teaching. In the early Church God was powerfully active, by no means restricted to writing. Has he so restricted himself now?

The Bible itself speaks against the idea that it contains the entirety of the apostolic tradition. John 21:25 says, "But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." Did the apostles, when orally passing on the teachings and works of Christ, restrict themselves to talking about what they would later put into writing? I hope not. Also, as N.T. Wright notes, since Jesus taught all over Judea he probably preached each of his sermons and parables dozens of times in total, with a certain amount of variance or improvisation in each telling. Yet each gospel only records a single copy of each. (Incidentally, this may account for some of the differences in details and ordering between the gospels) Also, in Paul's farewell speech to the Ephesian church he quotes a saying of Jesus (Acts 20:35) which is not found in any of the gospels. He cites other extrabiblical traditions in 1 Cor 10:4 and 2 Tim 3:8, as does Jude in vv. 9 and 14-20. (But are they really "extrabiblical" then?)

Additionally, the idea that we now know Jesus exclusively through the Bible seems to make the Bible into the definitive mediator between us and God, but "there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5). Is there a paper-and-ink mediator between us and Jesus as well?


I think sola scriptura also has less historical founding than the Orthodox view. It claims to be faithful to the practice of the early Church, but my studies have not borne this claim out. The Orthodox Church, like the early Church, has not understood tradition as something separate from the Scriptures and tacked onto them, a distinct source of authority. Rather, it views Scripture as the central and most important part of the Church's tradition. This is how Protestants can read the church fathers and claim they believed in sola scriptura, because they base their points on Scripture and not on a different thing called "tradition". That is simply not how tradition works. Tradition includes the Scriptures, and everything in it can be traced back to biblical teaching. I will explain this more below, but because Scripture needs to be interpreted, the fact that everything in tradition is "biblical" in some sense does not mean sola scriptura is true.

My argument's statement that after the apostles died, their oral tradition ceased and only the written tradition was left is simply false. Oral tradition can be passed down just like written tradition; Paul even commands it in 2 Tim 2:2. Also, the division between "oral" and "written" tradition is blurry, since many parts of tradition besides the Bible (writings of the fathers, liturgies, prayers, canons of church councils...) have been put into writing. This process began at least with the Didache, which was written just after or contemporaneously with Revelation, around 100. "Written tradition" isn't equivalent to the Bible.

Finally, sola scriptura leads to a kind of foundationalism (the quest to base knowledge on a foundation of certain beliefs) that I see nowhere in the early Church. Protestants today view the Bible as a body of truth from which to rationally, inductively construct a faith. Ostensibly starting from nothing (even knowledge of God or the nature of Scripture), they first discover Scripture's "self-authenticating" nature and then develop a complete theology from its teachings. But this is absolutely not how the early church operated, even after churches started to acquire reasonably complete collections of New Testament writings. It used the Scriptures more as an expression of an already-realized faith (that is, the apostolic tradition) than as a constitution on which to base such a faith. The faith preceded the Scriptures (at least the New Testament) and encompasses them; it does not originate in them.

The problem of authority

But these are all preliminary arguments. The main reason why I came to disagree with sola scriptura is this: it is based on a lie—the lie that there is effectively no difference between reading Scripture and interpreting Scripture.

Sufficient how?

This is the crucial distinction that so often gets forgotten in proclamations of the "sufficiency" of Scripture. Luther's belief in Scripture as the arbiter of tradition and judge of the Church's teaching assumed that it can speak with a clear, definitive voice, objectively governing the Church and deciding which traditions are or are not "biblical".

Within ten years of Luther's 95 theses came the first big disagreement about the interpretation of Scripture between reformers, namely Luther and the Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli's differing opinions about the nature of the Eucharist, the central and climactic act of Christian worship before its later replacement by the sermon. Luther pointed to Christ's statement, "this is my body" (Mat 26:26, Mar 14:22, Luk 22:19, 1 Cor 11:24) to substantiate his interpretation of the Real Presence known as consubstantiation. Zwingli pointed to John 6:63 ("It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail") to support his view of communion as a memorial and symbol of the atonement. Their disagreement proved irreconcilable before Zwingli's death and presaged future spats between the Lutheran and Reformed wings of the Reformation (to say nothing of the radical reformers that everyone else loved to hate).

What does this say about Luther's democratic view of Scripture, as the infallible basis for the rule of faith? Was one or both of the two unable to read the biblical teaching on the eucharist clearly because of sin? Or is it possible that the Bible itself does not conclusively label one view as "biblical" and not the other? Does it clearly enumerate the difference offices of the church (bishop, elder, deacon...) and their duties, or a comprehensive list of all the spiritual gifts, or instructions for performing the liturgy of the early Church? Does it clearly state how faith and works are supposed to intersect? Later variance among sola scriptura Christians on these and other matters strongly indicates that it does not.

What I am trying to get at here is, again, the distinction between reading Scripture and interpreting it (and between interpreting it and rightly interpreting it). The Bible certainly has things to say concerning all of these topics, but if Luther and Zwingli's feud is any indication, it does not give one clear, simple, authoritative teaching on them, at least not one that is equally evident to everyone throughout time and space. Interpretation is required to come to "biblical" views on these things, and not everyone interprets in the same way. It is not so clear on every subject of interest to Christians (no matter how important it may seem at the time) that everyone is able to come to the same conclusion on the matter by simply reading the Bible themselves. Trying to make the Bible into an arbiter of our modern disputes over faith and practice simply shifts the debate to the seemingly intractable question of which interpretation is correct or binding for Christians—what Orthodox often refer to as the "problem of authority". This is roughly the Catholic distinction between the material sufficiency of Scripture and the formal sufficiency, which I find quite helpful. How can Scripture be authoritative if it speaks different things to different people?


Does this mean that Scripture really is unclear, that God did not speak intelligibly? This distinction is too simplistic. As I argued above, sola scriptura, the belief that the Bible alone is sufficient to inform Christian faith and practice, tends to place the focus of belief on rational, propositional truth. So here with the clarity of Scripture. The concern of the argument in my previous post was to establish and defend the intelligibility of Scripture to the intellect: no layman is "unqualified" to read Scripture on his own or obligated to defer to an authority outside Scripture itself. This statement is qualified by the admission that our hearts can still keep us from understanding Scripture properly, but this is not taken as a big deal since we have received the Spirit which is from God (1 Cor 2:12) to heal our rebellious hearts and lead us to the truth.

Yet if the point of interpreting the Bible is more than just correct belief (and even Protestants maintain that it is), then this is a big problem. In fact, it's an even bigger problem than not being able to understand the Scriptures intellectually. What difference does it make if we follow the prescribed model of reading Scripture faithfully, understanding it soundly, and then applying it if our hearts refuse to listen? Doesn't this just make us Pharisees? When Protestants quote 2 Peter 3:16, it is almost always in the context of proving that even as the New Testament was still being written, Paul's letters were already being considered "Scripture", indicating their self-authenticating nature. But look at what comes before: "There are some things in [Paul's letters] hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures." Why do we assume that because we call ourselves Christians, Peter's warning never applies to us? "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer 17:9), so why do we place such trust in our own ability to interpret the Scriptures?

And if God does not guarantee that our hearts will understand the Scriptures, then why should we seek any such promise for our heads? Does a well-written textbook on calculus speak clearly? Yes, if the reader has the necessary background learning. Its lack of clarity to an uneducated person is not necessarily due to any mistake on the part of the author, but the nature of the content and the ability of the reader. Reading Scripture correctly requires discipline, discernment, and holiness. To flatly state that it is "perspicuous" doesn't do justice to its complexity and depth, in which those able to understand it find its richness. Fr. Stephen Freeman writes on the Protestant democratic view of Scripture:
The Scriptures are difficult to understand, simply on the most straightforward level. What often passes for understanding is nothing of the sort. To actually hear the Scriptures without the filters of cultural abuse and twisting they have endured over the centuries (and especially in the modern period) is a great spiritual feat, a miracle. 
This feat is even greater when it comes to reading the Fathers – for there the layers become even denser, the required contextual knowledge yet more complex. 
The scholarly reading of Scripture and the Fathers is inherently non-egalitarian. All are not equal. All will not have equal understanding. But neither is it truly and solely intellectual. For spiritual meaning is also spiritually discerned. And it is here that many make shipwreck of their understanding. For the arrogance of our times convinces many that “at least with themselves” the ability to spiritually discern will be present. Or, more commonly, they will champion this reader or that and choose sides like the crowds of a football match. Theological debate often resembles the conversation of sports clubs.
Orthodox don't believe the Bible is "perspicuous" to the head or the heart, not even on "salvific" subjects (as if it is made to be so divided). But this is not an issue, and does not mean that God has not spoken clearly or doesn't really want to save his people because salvation doesn't come from simply reading Scripture individually and then believing and applying what it says. We don't have to go it alone! Salvation is through the Church, which is itself the living interpretation of the Scriptures. It is through the instruction of the Church rather than any kind of common-sense principle or right methodology that we learn to read the Bible correctly, just as it has been from the first century onwards. This is not to discourage anyone from reading the Bible and seeking its riches for themselves, but a reply to the democratic rhetoric of the reformers that makes everyone's personal interpretation of Scripture authoritative and infallible for them.

Responding directly to the arguments I put forward for perspicuity last time, Paul's distinction between the "wisdom of men" and the gospel is a contrast between the pretensions of itinerant teachers and philosophers (against whom Paul was being unfavorably compared), not an argument for the simplicity of Scripture. "Making wise the simple" more likely means that the Scriptures are good and useful for the instruction of the simple to make them wise in Christian maturity, not that they are a metaphorically open book to the simple from the get-go.

Jesus' manner of correcting peoples' misreadings of Scripture actually argues for an undemocratic view of the Bible's clarity; in all but one of the cases I cited, Jesus is correcting Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, and other Jewish elites—people who were expected to know what the Scriptures said because they had studied them their entire lives and were considered qualified to teach others, not simply because they are equally clear to all. The exception is Luke 24:25, in which a) Jesus says the disciples are "slow of heart" to believe, not slow of mind, and b) He is about to embark on retrospective journey through the Scriptures to show how he fulfills them in ways not originally expected (and quite possibly allegorical). Paul's letters were written to entire churches, but of course they would have been read publically to the congregations and then expounded upon by a leader or teacher, not simply read and interpreted individually by each parishioner. The rarity of books in the ancient world made this impossible.

Pervasive interpretive pluralism

But perhaps the biggest argument against the clarity of Scripture is that Protestants who rely on the Bible and consider themselves "biblical" Christians disagree so much about what the Bible really says! There are over 32,000 hundreds of Protestant denominations who have divided with each other over almost any biblical subject imaginable—including the number and nature of the salvific "essentials" of the faith that Scripture supposedly speaks clearly about. Is this confusion the result you would expect if the Bible alone is really perspicuous and sufficient for matters of faith and practice? This is the problem of "pervasive interpretive pluralism", as Christian Smith calls it, and it began within ten years of Luther's 95 theses, even among his own followers. When Protestants equally seeking to read and apply the Bible aright interpret it in different and incompatible ways, how do you decide which interpretation is right? Can we even know? Who gets to decide this?

And the disagreement isn't just across space, but across time. Most any interpretation stands on the shoulders of some giant or another, so it's almost always possible to consider your view "traditional". But again, how do we know that we are right and the historical interpreters we disagree with are wrong? It seems like we'll always have to be ignoring some part of tradition. Aware of this selective approach, I journaled:
But...ignoring tradition is a kind of epistemological arrogance, albeit an unintentional, institutionalized one. (2014-2-1)
This all comes back to my point that the Bible never just "speaks" on its own. It has to be interpreted, and for a variety of reasons different Christians come to different conclusions. No one has a direct line to God through it. So just relying on "Scripture alone" will only generate pluralism and confusion. The problem, I realized in a pre-echo of the Orthodox approach to the Bible, is the individualism behind the assumption that anyone can pick up the Bible and understand what it means.
The expectation that someone can just pick up a Bible and understand it is unrealistic—it must be read in community to be understood holistically. (2013-6-13)

A nasty decision

Faced with this problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism, Protestants tend to pick one of three options to preserve the doctrine of sola scriptura.
  1. The modernist solution: Insist that you have read Scripture correctly or "objectively", and others have misread for various reasons, probably because of their sin or preconceptions. Most Protestants realize why this is not a solution at all—when everyone does it, it merely perpetuates the problem and even makes it worse. It effectively makes your own reading of Scripture as authoritative as Scripture itself.
  2. The postmodernist solution: Admit that maybe this pluralism is the the way it's supposed to be; we can't know what the Bible means for sure, but maybe its truth is found in the plurality of interpretations instead of boiling down to one right answer. Or maybe a truly "objective" reading of Scripture is an ideal that we can draw ever closer to but never actually reach, so we must be humble about our efforts. Aside from looking absolutely nothing like the approach of the early Church towards Scripture, I have found this option profoundly unsatisfying and hard to reconcile with the Bible's inspiration.
  3. The via media: Admit that some things in the Bible ("open-hand issues") are unclear, but the essentials (the "closed-hand issues"/"matters of salvation") are clear and and can be agreed on.
...except they can't. Protestants are unable to agree on even what is "essential" or "salvific". Some Calvinists hold that a Reformed understanding of God's grace is essential to be a Christian, but not all who call themselves Christians agree with this. Some young-earth creationists hold that agreeing with their account of origins is essential, but many Christians disagree. Quite a few Christians believe that a Nicene understanding of the Trinity is necessary to be a Christian, but not everyone self-identifying as a Christian (e.g. unitarians, Mormons) agrees with this. If you define the "essentials" as the things which all "Christians" (can we even agree on a definition of the word?) can agree on, the set of them quickly shrinks down to nil. If you adopt a stronger definition of what they are, you are asserting the correctness of your interpretation over someone else's. So this approach really reduces to one of the first two, though it is usually more humble about it. I expressed the pessimism of the second approach when I journaled:
There is also an opposite error to epistemological arrogance, on the other side of epistemological humility—an unwillingness to hold to crucial truth, to 'just get along'. But how do you decide what truth is worth holding to—or is that even the right question? (2014-2-2)
This search for the "essentials" or "fundamentals" of the authentic Christian faith also leads to a very boundary-oriented understanding of what Christian faith really is, defined by the beliefs that are merely "sufficient" for salvation. I now consider "mere salvation" an oxymoron, something we shouldn't even concern ourselves with for a moment. Orthodox theology, while it does have some clear boundaries, is much more center-oriented, focused on knowing and celebrating the mysteries of Christ, on laying hold of salvation and acquiring the Holy Spirit by any means possible. This is because the boundaries of Orthodoxy are well-known and universally agreed-upon, so no one tries to figure them out anew or challenge them. I also believe it's because they are correct, not excluding parts of the true faith or allowing for blatant heresies to coexist with it, so by and large no one feels called to question them as so often happens in Protestantism.

The search for the correct hermeneutic

To try to create some order in this chaos of different interpretations, Protestants seek a hermeneutical method that will allow people to agree on the "correct" interpretation of Scripture and establish it as the infallible rule of faith that Luther envisioned. (If such a method is needed and apparently not obvious, does that mean that Scripture alone really isn't sufficient?) These include:

Just read the Bible literally. Unfortunately, this doesn't work. As I have pointed out myself, there are plenty of instances where even staunch "biblical literalists" don't read it all literally. Does your church allow women to speak in church, or to worship with their heads uncovered? What about when Jesus said, "This is my body...this is my blood"? Or when the Bible uses anthropomorphic language to describe God the father, or says that he changed his mind? No one reads the Bible entirely literally, and that's a very, very good thing.

The Holy Spirit illuminates our hearts and guides us to the correct interpretation. Unfortunately, this approach compels one to de-Christianize those who disagree with you, since you both can't be led by the same Spirit to conflicting conclusions. Every difference in interpretation that can't be reconciled becomes an implicit accusation of some failure in the other's faith. As the number of denominations grows, it becomes harder and harder for a Protestant to maintain that the Spirit has led just one of them to interpret the Bible correctly—but he or she will probably believe that if it's any denomination, it's theirs.

Scripture interprets Scripture. As the Westminster Confession says, "the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly." Yet, as I have pointed out before, which passages are "clear" and which are "unclear" varies from person to person, dependent on preassumptions. So this approach doesn't work either.

The historical-critical/grammatical method of exegesis. This approach acknowledges the biasing role of preconceptions that makes the above three methods untenable, and seeks to see past them. By studying the Bible "objectively" or "scientifically", it is thought, its true meaning will be revealed. While this approach has yielded much useful scholarship, it runs unto the problem of hermeneutics not being an empirical science. Because of the impossibility of banishing preconceptions entirely, this approach often just results in the scholar reading his or hers back out of the Bible behind a mask of objectivity. Again, if reading the Bible in such an empirical way were really possible, we would expect all historical-grammatical exegetes to agree in their reading (or at least the major points), but again this is not the case. Again there is interpretive pluralism.

Read the Bible with the Church. This approach recognizes the dangers of allowing individual interpretations to rule, and even seems to learn a lesson from more traditional forms of Christianity. But it runs into trouble when applied in the context of a fragmented Church. Yes, you can read your Bible with your church, as part of a tradition of some kind, but what about the church down the street that has a different understanding? How do you adjudicate between different churches' different interpretations? The problem of pervasive intepretive pluralism has simply been kicked up a level to churches rather than individuals. If your definition of the Church is effectively "those who hold the beliefs I consider salvifically essential", letting church tradition guide your reading will do little to produce unity with other churches. Tradition is inseparable from ecclesiology.

Even seeking to align your reading with the historical traditions of the wider Church doesn't work if you continue to hold to the sola scriptura tenet of the Bible as the arbiter of tradition. How can you know which traditions are "biblical" and which are not? For example, on what basis aside from personal conviction do most Protestants affirm that the first ecumenical council of Nicea (which established the orthodox view of Christ's two natures and promulgated the first version of the Nicene Creed) is "biblical", while the second (which allowed for the veneration of icons) is not? I expressed something like this sentiment when I was coming to terms with the Orthodox view of tradition, not seeing the contradiction:
I might be willing to accept Tradition inasmuch as it expounds, interprets, clarifies, strengthens, applies, etc. Scripture—but not when it contradicts it or innovates on it, as with the perpetual virginity of Mary. (2014-4-23)
It's nice to see Protestants paying an increasing number of attention to the historical tradition of the Church, but as long as these traditions and writings are simply treated as additional "texts" from which to draw in the pursuit of unity, the individual still reigns as the final interpreter, as this post argues. Even if churches seek to consciously draw from the wellspring of tradition, while the plurality of churches remains, people can always just choose the one whose reading of the Bible and tradition aligns the best with their personal interpretation.
It’s not so much that Protestant traditions are the personal domains of individuals—although this does happen, and more traditions begin or are identified with a single person. The real issue is that choosing these traditions is highly individualized—it’s an a la carte approach to belief where we can easily surround ourselves with those we agree with. (2014-3-21)
As my interest in Orthodoxy was growing (but a few significant doubts remained), I journaled:
I’m inclined to remain Protestant (not evangelical) and freely extol the overall truth of Orthodoxy and borrow from its tenets and traditions. Yet this seems like the epitome of hypocrisy; such borrowing is an affront to what Tradition is supposed to be to us. (2014-6-4)
I realized this borrowing approach to Tradition, whether sipping or guzzling from it, was ultimately against the nature of Tradition itself. It is as united as the Church; there can be no picking and choosing.

Eck's challenge

Protestants like to quote Luther's simple statement of the principle of sola scriptura which he gave at the debate in Leipzig: "A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or a council without it." Much less popular (for some reason) is the response of his opponent, Johann Eck. (Emphasis added)
But this is the Bohemian virus [referring to the Bohemian proto-reformer, Jan Hus], to attach more weight to one's own interpretation of Scripture than to that of the popes and councils, the doctors and the universities. When Brother Luther says that this is the true meaning of the text, the pope and councils say, 'No, the brother has not understood it correctly.' Then I will take the council and let the brother go. Otherwise all the heresies will be renewed. They have all appealed to Scripture and have believed their interpretation to be correct, and have claimed that the popes and the councils were mistaken, as Luther now does.
Why, objectively, was Luther right and, say, Pelagius wrong? What gave Luther any more of a right to interpret Scripture against the teaching of the Church than Marcion? What guarantee have we that, by following Luther (or any other Christian leader promoting their own rule of interpretation), we are not plunging into heresy like the followers of Arius?

St. Irenaeus, when responding to Valentinianism (an early Christian gnostic sect) and its use of the Scriptures to support heresy, made a famous analogy:
Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked are in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skilful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king's form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king.
I'm not saying that all Protestants are like the Valentinians. But both follow the same dangerous approach to the Scriptures, that is, following one's own interpretation of them wherever it may lead rather than the "rule of faith" established by the apostles and passed down through the churches. This rule of faith, the teachings of Tradition on how to properly interpret the Scriptures, is the likeness of the king in Irenaeus' analogy, the guide to correctly assembling the mosaic. It is the universal faith, the teaching of the whole Church, which leads us to the truth, not simply whatever we think the text says. To disregard it and blaze a trail of one's own (or to follow those who do so) is to court heresy, false teaching and worship, and abusive theology and practice, institutionalized examples of which are plentiful even within American Protestantism.

Peter Bouteneff, referring to Irenaeus' analogy:
If Scripture inexorably produced the rule of faith from itself, it would be impossible to emerge from it reading it with the portrait of anything but the King. The apostolic witness—what the apostles preached based on how Christ taught them to understand the Scriptures—is what produces the rule, or canon, of faith. ... Holding to the rule of faith, then, naturally enables the Christian to reconstruct the mosaic of the King correctly, even as it also serves to unite him or her to the true church. Irenaeus readily admits, however, that Scripture does not present explicit solutions to all questions or completely penetrate the mysteries (e.g., of theodicy, the angels, the incarnation,  or the economy in general).
The Scripture itself does not explicitly rule on whatever matter of doctrine we may wonder about. Scripture alone is not sufficient for matters of faith or practice; it has to be interpreted, and if the present state of Protestantism is any indication, relying on your own judgment beholden to no other authority than the Bible is not a solution at all. The Bible does not, cannot, is not meant to establish a rule of faith; rather, the rule of faith guides the interpretation of the Bible and allows sound interpretations to be discerned from faulty ones. But which rule of faith is correct? Orthodox identify it with Holy Tradition, the subject of the next post.

More resources

Many Orthodox have written about sola scriptura and its differences from the Orthodox view of Tradition. Here are some articles I found helpful while composing this one.

A long article on the shortcomings of sola scriptura and summarizing the Orthodox approach to truth

Argument that solo and sola scriptura are effectively the same
Response of another blogger to the previous article

Another Orthodox critique of sola scriptura

Postcast by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick explaining sola scriptura and its differences with Orthodoxy

Several recent blog posts by Fr. Stephen Freeman, one of the Orthodox bloggers I follow, roughly centering around sola scriptura and Tradition:
A contrast between Protestant and Orthodox ways of treating the "Bible"
Follow-up addressing criticisms of the previous post
The "grammar" of faith, or how Orthodox Tradition is broader and much deeper than the Bible
Critique of the democratic assumptions undergirding sola scriptura
The concept of "authority" as understood in Orthodoxy

Q&A with Elder Cleopa on Scripture and its proper use in the Church
Q&A with Elder Cleopa on Holy Tradition and the sufficiency of Scripture

Finally, Orthodox-Reformed Bridge (a site in dialogue with Reformed Christianity form an Orthodox perspective) has a a fairly lengthy four-part series critiquing sola scriptura: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

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