April 05, 2006

KJV-onlyism, sola Scriptura, and "monkey see, monkey do"

KJV-onlyists do not have a strong reputation for being "logic friendly." Pointing out the illogic in their arguments is a good way to get ignored, abused, or (on forums they operate) banned. (By contrast, on the Bible Versions Discussion Board, I don't ban KJV-onlyists just for disagreeing with me or being illogical. I prefer to keep their brand of irrationality out in public where we can all see it for what it is.)

One tactic I see frequently is the one I call "monkey see, monkey do." It works like this. Someone challenges an aspect of KJV-onlyism with a logical syllogism or pointed question. The KJV-onlyist does not answer directly; rather, he replaces all the terms with KJV-only ones - or sometimes deliberate absurdities - and throws it back at his opponent, smugly thinking to himself how clever he is. Unfortunately it rarely works, and the results are often rather amusing.

Here is a typical example:

Skeptic: Scripture doesn't say that God approves of the King James Version in some special way that he doesn't other Bible versions. Therefore, there is no reason to accept KJV-onlyism.

KJV-onlyist: Scripture doesn't say that God approves of the New International Version in some special way that he doesn't the KJV. Therefore, there is no reason to accept the NIV.

The rebuttal fails because, unlike KJV-onlyists, non-KJV-onlyists are not making theological claims for their English Bible of choice. They are questioning the validity of KJV-onlyists' theological claim ("the King James Version is exclusively the pure Word of God for English-speaking peoples today"). Simply repeating the assertion, substituting KJV-only categories, proves nothing: it's a straw man argument. Like monkeys imitating human behaviour with no understanding of its meaning, KJV-only monkey-boys ape the logical arguments of their opponents without understanding what actually makes them logical.

On the BVDB, one of the regulars has pledged over $1000 for any KJV-onlyist who could meet this challenge:

So come on, King James Onlyists! If I'm wrong in my assessment, then prove me wrong! Here is your golden opportunity to prove me wrong and prove KJVOism right, and make a few extra $$$ in the process. Simply prove KJVOism from Scripture alone and end the debate. Show us that the Bible not only is your final authority, but your ONLY authority in all matters of faith and practice.

True to form, one of the resident monkey-boys, who goes by the handle of "Holy Bible," tried out the "monkey see, monkey do" defense:

1 trillion dollars to robby [sic] or any on this board,that can prove from scriptures [sic] that they are saved because their literal full name is in scriptures.

This is just as reasonable an offer as yours. Come on, now, and it can't be a verse that applies to another of the same name. It must be your own full name completely including [sic] the year you were to be born again.

Still no Scripture!

I think it's plain that "Holy Bible" is crying sour grapes because he doesn't understand the true nature of the challenge. Our skeptic challenges him to prove his position from "Scripture alone." This is an appeal to the classical evangelical doctrine of sola Scriptura.

Simply put, sola Scriptura states that all necessary spiritual knowledge is contained in the Scriptures, as Paul writes to Timotly,

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

All the Christian needs to know pertaining to his doctrine and conduct is contained in the Bible. It is sufficient: it does not need to be supplemented by additional "holy books" or "sacred traditions." Properly understood, sola Scriptura does not reject all tradition. I am not talking about the "me 'n' the Bible 'n' the Holy Spirit" mindset that sometimes crops up in some Fundamentalist circles. We recognize that human wisdom is indeed useful and beneficial, but it too is subject to Scriptural evaluation, and where it comes short, we reject it.

A corollary to Scripture's sufficency is its perspicuity, or clarity: the Bible is not a mystical book that only those who have attained some sort of higher spirituality can properly understand. William Tyndale boldly claimed he could make an unlearned ploughboy understand the Bible better than the priesthood of the day; his English translation has earned him the nickname, "Father of the English Bible." The Bible was penned in ordinary human language, and its meaning can be discovered by any ordinary people willing to study it out through "due use of the ordinary means" (as the writers of the Westminster Confession put it, by which they meant such things as reading, research, and the ministry of preaching to explain the text).

So a correct understanding of the challenge is this: Demonstrate, through Scripture and sound reason, that the Bible necessarily demands that the King James Version is exclusively the pure Word of God in the English language. Do this, and there's a cash reward. But if you can't, kindly stop touting your human tradition as one having divine authority.

What sola Scriptura is not, however, is a claim that the Bible contains exhaustive knowledge, or even exhaustive spiritual knowledge. Paul acknowledged in his letter to the Romans that the teachings of Jesus did not cover every conceivable moral question, and he advised the church that in disputable matters each individual was permitted to make up his own mind (Rom. 14:5). (As an aside, it is evident from Paul's teaching on divorce in 1 Corinthians 7 that he also pulled apostolic rank at times, authoritatively teaching on situations with which Jesus had not specifically dealt.)

However, in the distorted version of sola Scriptura that "Holy Bible" is apparently assuming, Scripture contains even arcane spiritual knowledge such as the exact date and time that every individual comes to Christ. So he smugly offers "one trillion dollars," knowing fully that his ridiculous challenge will never be met. Why the time and circumstances of my salvation would be of spiritual importance to the millions of Christians to whom the Bible was given, is a mystery. Needless to say, it isn't there, nor should anyone reasonably expect it to be.

It is perfectly reasonable to expect another Christian to be able to defend his doctrines from the Bible. Offering an absurd amount of money to anyone who can meet an impossible demand is not, as "Holy Bible" claims, "just as reasonable." In fact it smacks of exactly the sort of hypocrisy that we have come to expect from the "monkey see, monkey do" KJV-onlyists.