If the Bible (which itself is an anachronistic term) is seen as a supratemporal deposit of divine truth, then the adherent of sola scriptura has to face the uncomfortable questions of the formation of the canon. Granted, witnesses to the truth do not replace the truth (a key distinction that Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics routinely fail to make), but still the problems do not go away.
With the narratival turn in hermeneutics, both Christian and secular, one is increasingly enabled to see the authority of Scripture (and necessarily the Church) in a different light. Following Robert Jenson, rather than asking, “Am I allowed to claim the Bible as the supreme authority?”, a better question is, “What right do I have to place myself within Israel’s narrative?”
Whether the “Church” (whatever that word means) created the canon is a moot point. It emphatically did not create the Old Testament canon. It received it (and at times stood under judgment from it; cf Paul’s warning to the Roman church in Romans 11). If God’s identity in Jesus of Nazareth is tied to Israel’s story, which it must be, then Israel’s story (which me must insist climaxed in Jesus of Nazareth) must judge the Christian and the Church.
Some implications and questions:
- How does the authority of the New Testament function today? When Paul wrote 2 Timothy 3:16 he did not have the New Testament canon in mind. Anchorites make a great deal of this point, presuming that it refutes Sola Scriptura. However, Paul does say the Old Testament is indeed sufficient for faith and practice–making the anchorites’ challenge return back to them. How then are we to view the New Testament?
- Apropos (1): Eastern Orthodoxy’s view of tradition actually shows promise at this point. Rather than committing to Romanism’s two-tier model of Tradition and Scripture, Orthodoxy places Scripture within the larger category of Tradition. This move allows us to see Scripture functioning as a witness to the truth while remaining within the larger context of the church. Unfortunately, this breaks down for them in practice. If the Fathers and Scripture are both norms of tradition, and we use tradition to interpret tradition (ignore the circularity for the moment; everyone does this), then we face a problem: if authors of Scripture and the Fathers are within the same continuum of Tradition, then why may we not use Scripture to interpret the Fathers?.
- Apropos (2): Orthodoxy’s initial move showed promise in solving the problem of (1): if the New Testament is not a free-standing ultimate, which appears to be the case in a plain reading of 2 Timothy 3:16, as Orthodox and Romanist critics of Protestantism routinely assert, but yet remains authoritative (as any sane Christian must also assert), then we can perhaps see it as a norming witness to Israel’s story which simultaneously judges our story. I should expand upon the use of the term “norming witness.” The New Testament does not norm the Old Testament. If it it did then it would be the ultimate norm (in which case 2 Timothy be self-contradictory). It is a witness to the Old Testament while norming our practices (thus the New Testament is authoritative for the life of the church and stands above any Father or Council).
- We have problems if we stop here, though. (3) can only work in a Christian theology and praxis if it is centered around the Person of Christ: God’s self-identity in the life of Israel. Our story has a conclusion. It’s conclusion entered into the midpoint of the story, if you will. This frees Reformed Protestants from the tired claim of its opponents of worshiping a book, not a person. If God’s identity in history is narratival, then there is no hard disjunct here. The Old Testament points us to Christ and Christ’s identity was unfolded in Israel’s story.
- We cannot escape a Hebraic emphasis. Any attempt to downplay the Hebrew scriptures, and I say Hebrew Scriptures, not the Old Testament in general, cannot escape the charge of Hellenophilism and supercessionism.