by Luke Miner and Cjay Engel
Scripturalism is refuted by Scripture itself. According to Mt 24:32, humans know a variety of propositions not contained in Scripture or validly deducible from Scripture. This is because Jesus makes relatively unspecified reference to these known propositions by means of a temporal indexical. Therefore, what is known by Jesus hearers cannot be deduced from Scripture alone.
Matthew 24:32 says:
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near”
The simple answer to the objection is that in Mt 24:32, Jesus used the term in a different sense that it is used in most philosophical contexts. In other words, there is a difference between how we might use a word in precise epistemological contexts, and how it is used in colloquial conversation. Jesus was referring to common understanding of agricultural principles which may be true or untrue given various circumstances, while Scripturalists – in an epistemological discussion – are referring to justified true belief. Therefore, the objection commits the fallacy of equivocation.
The objector argues thus:
- Jesus said men “know” when summer is near
- Scripturalists say men can’t “know” when summer is near
- Therefore, Scripturalists say men can’t “know” what Jesus says they can “know.”
This would be perfectly valid if the term “know” was used the same way throughout. Consider a similar syllogism:
- A feather is light.
- What is light cannot be dark.
- Therefore, a feather cannot be dark.
Again, this syllogism appears to be valid but it depends on the fact that the meaning of the word “light” changes throughout the syllogism. In a valid argument, all terms must be used univocally (i.e. they must not change their meaning throughout the syllogism). The fallacy is hard to see at first, but is easily avoided when one defines their terms. Some other fun examples of equivocation can be found in this Texas University article.
It may or may not be a hermeneutical assumption of the objector that the Scriptures always use all terms in the same sense. We reject this assumption as wildly counterintuitive. The lexicon’s usually give at least a few different meanings for each word and the context must always be used to determine the precise meaning.
Scripturalism’s philosophical definition of knowledge is “justified true belief”. This is the knowledge found in 2 Peter 1:3 – “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” The knowledge of which Peter speaks here is infallibly true and is granted by the Holy Spirit. It is, therefore, a justified true belief. To set this knowledge on the same level as a peasant’s fallible knowledge of crop-growing is an odd assertion indeed, and is certainly an unwarranted assumption.
Furthermore, it is not as if Scripturalists only use a single definition of knowledge. Again, context is key, and defining our terms within our given context is even more key. Therefore, it is not inconsistent for me to use this term differently when my wife tells me that I need a haircut. I reply: “I know.” Sometimes, I use the term to mean “I understand”, “I agree”, “I have experience with that”, and a number of less similar meanings when I’m engaging in sarcasm. In a discussion of epistemology, we use the definition: “justified true belief.” For some, this is confusing. For others, it is helpful. The important thing is that we define our terms so people can know what we are talking about.