by Luke Miner and Cjay Engel
Scripturalism is the system of truth that can be deduced from Scripture. It is entirely deducible from the axiom:
The Bible is the Word of God
The chief modern proponents of this system have been theologians such as Gordon H. Clark and some of those whom he influenced, such as Robert Reymond. One of the first things that a person notes after having understood the basics of Gordon Clark’s philosophy is it’s simplicity and clarity. Terms such as love, God, truth, Logos, knowledge, logic, person, being, language, proposition, meaning, philosophy, and theology are clearly and Biblically defined, and Clark then simply draws out the implications. The beauty of such a procedure is, firstly, that answers to the great philosophical questions of life are easily grasped by a reader willing to do some serious study, and, secondly, that such clarity and simplicity makes Clark’s views easy to attack. This point should not be overlooked as Clark welcomed debate from anyone who would define his terms and wield them to launch an assault on his views.
About a decade ago, one article was written called 10 Reasons to Reject the Scripturalist Package which was aimed at the philosophy of a man named Vincent Cheung. The present article is the first of a ten part series aiming to critique these reasons and offer a Scripturalist response. By writing this set of articles, we do not aim to join a battle that is not ours, but we do think that the 10 Reasons article poses some important questions that we would like to address from a Clarkian Scripturalistic perspective while fleshing out some of the important positive points of Scripturalism. Other relevant articles may be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Many of the objections are confused by the lack of a definition of one of the chief terms, namely, “knowledge”. This produces equivocations and sometimes begs the question. Therefore, it is essential that a brief definition of knowledge be given. For the most part, these objections take the form of a reductio ad absurdum argument. The objector argues from Scripturalist premises and attempts to demonstrates a contradiction. These objections are the easiest to treat because the terms are well defined within the Scripturalist system because of the scholarly and rigorous work of Dr. Gordon Clark. Sometimes, however, the objections drift away from this form and use non-Scripturalist premises (i.e. straw men) and, therefore, formally beg the question.
Moreover, some of the objections are similar to the better formulated objections of George Mavrodes which were reproduced and have already been addressed by Gordon Clark in his Festschrift which is now in print and is titled: Clark and His Critics. First consulting this material will be highly beneficial for the reader, whether or not he agrees with Mavrodes, since the relation of the axiom of Scripturalism to the doctrines of the Westminster Confession, among other related items, is discussed.
The first objection is as follows:
Scripturalism is self-referentially incoherent. The idea that all knowledge is restricted to propositions of Scripture and valid deductions from propositions of Scripture is itself neither a proposition of Scripture nor validly deducible from propositions of Scripture. Therefore, if Scripturalism were true, Scripturalists would have a good reason to reject Scripturalism.
Scripturalism, technically speaking, is not the belief that that all knowledge is restricted to propositions in Scripture and valid deductions from them. Rather, it is the system of truth that can be deduced from Scripture. This does away with the precise objection. However, it will also be shown that the Scripturalist is not inconsistent to affirm that all knowledge is restricted to propositions of Scripture and valid deductions from them.
For purposes of this article, knowledge is defined as justified true belief (JTB). A belief only counts as knowledge within a system if it is both true, and is deducible from the presuppositions (the axioms) of a system. In other words, knowledge must always be grounded. If I claim to know that the Giants will win the world series, whether they win or not, I do not have knowledge if I cannot justify my belief.
The objector has claimed that Scripturalists are inconsistent to claim knowledge is restricted to propositions of Scripture and valid deductions from them. The objection dissolves when one simply considers the nature that a presupposition– an axiom– has in relation to a system. In the Scripturalist’s case, the starting point of his acquisition of knowledge is the Bible, which is a remarkably large set of propositions. Justification of a belief always consists in showing that it follows from the axiom. Then, it follows by definition that all knowledge is deducible from the Scriptures, which is the axiom. Then it follows, again by definition, that no knowledge is not deducible from the Scriptures. In other words, there are no beliefs that satisfy the definition which are justified outside the above method. As in every epistemological system, the Scripturalist position contains within in it the very rubric by which to determine what is knowledge and what is not.
This argument proceeded strictly from the definition of Scripturalism, which is the system of Truth derived from the Scriptures. This fact should satisfy any further objection that we did not quote Bible verses. It also might be objected that revelation comes from other sources than the Scriptures. For example, the Israelites received revelation from Moses before the Scriptures existed. To this, the reply is that if we lived in an age of prophets, our epistemology would have to be adjusted. In this day, the Spirit reveals truth to the believer through the Scriptures. The physical book is just the way God has chosen to carry out his will to reveal truth to believers. It might also be objected that our definition of knowledge is not deducible from the axiom and it was used in the proof above. This objection depends on a theory of language which makes meaning depend upon language. Rather, we use words to express express meaning. For this article, we used the word “knowledge” to mean justified true belief. We don’t always use the word that way. The word “knowledge” is just black marks on paper. Any arbitrary word would suffice to complete the proof. Our system aims to defend true justified belief, and the word “knowledge” is chosen to represent this meaning.
It might also be objected that the proof above is circular. This objection would depend on a misunderstanding of the original objection. Remember that the objector asserted that the Scripturalist is incoherent upon his own principles. Therefore, it is permissible and logically necessary that any answer depend on Scripturalist principles.
In conclusion, Scripturalism is not technically the belief that all knowledge is limited to the contents of divine revelation. It is the system that is deducible from Scripture. It has one axiom from which it follows that knowledge means what is true, believed, and deducible from the axiom. Scripturalists are not inconsistent to believe this. Rather, Scripturalism requires this belief by its very definition.