Scripture as Supreme and Infallible Judge of All Controversies and Interpreter of Itself (Part 3)

We are now in our third installment of Turretin’s argument on Scripture as infallible judge of controversies and interpreter of itself. In part 2 we discussed the first four of Turretin’s arguments in support of the claim that the Scripture is such a judge and interpreter. In this installment we will discuss the final three of his arguments. To that effect, Turretin first argues that if man is the final judge and interpreter of Scripture: 1.) Why did Christ not mention such a person? 2.) Why did Paul not mention such a person? 3.) Why did Peter not mention such a person? and 4.) Popes have not shown themselves to be infallible. The point of course is that it does not appear the Scriptures anywhere make such a claim, that in some future time a man, whether scholar or Pope, was going to be the rightful judge of controversies and final interpreter of Scripture.

As a reminder, we have argued to this point in our discussion that the current disputes over which Bible ought the English-speaking believers to read is a controversy. Furthermore, the disputes about whether the woman caught in adultery, the long ending in Mark, and I John 5:7 are also controversies all of which fall within the jurisdiction of the Scripture as judge and self-interpreting. In short, neither scholar nor Pope is equipped with the necessary tools, nor are they put upon morally or scripturally to determine the validity of this or that text of Scripture. Indeed, they believe the evidence points to this or that conclusion but that is exceedingly different than saying they have the true reading. Fair enough?

Turretin goes on in his next argument to declare that the institutional church is not able to be its own judge and therefore cannot be the final judge of what is Scripture and what is not. Turretin writes,

“The church cannot be regarded as the judge of controversies because she would be a judge in her own cause and the rule of herself. For the chief controversy is about the power and infallibility of the church, when the very question is whether the church is the judge, or whether the church can err.”

Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 20, Sec. XIII.

Here Turretin has in mind the authority of the Roman Catholic Magisterium. The church in this sense has neither the power nor the moral right to claim that they are infallible in this or that regard and the Bible is not. Therefore, it is claimed that the church is the final judge of controversies and interpreter of Scripture. If they were, it seems quite apparent that a conflict of interest would soon arise. To be clear, the same goes for the academy. Now I have heard in recent days, per Peter Gurry, that he does not see himself in the place to tell the believer what is or is not the word of God. He claims to say only what he believes the evidence demands. Fair enough. I do want to know, given certain Christian pre-commitments, what is the fundamental difference between saying the evidence compels me to believe X is part of the New Testament and the evidence compels me to believe X is part of God’s word?

Moving on. Turretin’s seventh and final argument for this question is a compilation of quotes from the ancients showing their reliance on the Scripture as final judge of controversies and interpreter of itself. Those quotes are as follows.

Constantine writes, “‘therefore laying aside warring strife, we may obtain a solution of difficulties from the words of inspiration.'”

Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 20, Sec. XIV.

“Optatus writes, ‘You say it is lawful, we say it is not lawful; between your permission and our prohibition the minds of the people fluctuate and waver. No one believes you, no one believes us, a judge must be sought from heaven, on earth we can get no decision; but why should we knock at the door of heaven when we have the Testament here in the gospel?'”

Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 20, Sec. XIV.

“Augustine says, ‘We are brethren, why should we contend? Our father did not die intestate; he made a will…open it, let us read, why should we wrangle?'”

Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 20, Sec. XIV.

Augustine goes on in another place, “‘This controversy requires a judge. Christ shall judge; the apostle with him shall judge.”

Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 20, Sec. XIV.

“Lactantius says, ‘God speaks in the divine writings as the supreme judge of all things, to whom it belongs not to argue but to pronounce.'”

Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 20, Sec. XIV.

“Gregory of Nyssa writes, ‘The inspired writing is a safe criterion of every doctrine.'”

Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 20, Sec. XIV.

To all of this, all seven of these arguments, Turretin concludes,

“As a prince must interpret his own law, so also God must be the interpreter of his own Scriptures – the law of faith and practice. And the privilege allowed to other authors of interpreting their own words ought not to be refused to God speaking in the Scriptures.”

Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 20, Sec. XIV.

AMEN.

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