Kerygma, gooses, ganders

In his book, _The Shape of Sola Scriptura_, Keith Mathison argues that Luke’s preface to his gospel undermines the integrity of apostolic tradition apart from or prior to the enscripturation period.

1Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

The key phrases for Mathison — “write an orderly account…that you may have certainty” — pertain to Luke’s motives for enscripturating the kerygma. Prior to Luke’s “orderly [textual] account”, Theophilus apparently had no certainty of his faith. Thus, according to Mathison, a written summary of it is superior to some alleged scattered oral tradition. Further, he claims Luke wrote a record of all things, thus negating any alleged extra-biblical tradition(s). Hence, sola scriptura is better — so nah!

His argument bothers me for numerous reasons. First, it’s sheer nonsense to claim Luke wrote the totality of the tradition since we find other things in the NT not available in his gospel, and since the Bible itself admits the intentional narrowness of the Gospels (cf. Jhn 20:31-32).[1] Presumably, the sufficiency of Luke (early) gospel would render anything written after it excessive and questionable.

Second, how did Luke himself have any certainty (“perfect knowledge”) of the faith prior to his own “superior” written summary? The reliability and integrity of the pre-scriptural paradosis is the entire basis for the written Scripture’s material worth! This truth shines on every page of the NT. Every epistle supposedly meant to “perfect” the sufficient albeit unwritten traditions presupposes those unwritten traditions. The great irony is that every thump upon the Bible in defense of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) admits the faith was already in finished form PRIOR to the (written) addition of Jude itself (or any other book written after it)! You can’t claim the Bible is and always was the only sure and total source of the paradosis when the Bible itself admits the tradition pre-dated the writing of the Bible. You can’t claim the paradosis (and the Church) was still in need of enscripturation when the Scriptures themselves defend the sufficiency of the tradition prior to any particular enscripturation (e.g., Jude, 1-3 John, etc.).

Third, Mathison, like all Protestants, makes a sola scriptural mountain out of a particular pastoral molehill. Why did Luke write his gospel? Not to sneer at the disorder of the oral paradosis — which he himself believed! — but to help his friend, Theophilus. Luke is not attempting to rectify the inferiority of unwritten paradosis, but to give a particular Christian a particular summary of that paradosis. Indeed, Mathison’s “graphocentric”[2] argument explodes from the gate. Luke admits others had already attempted to “draw up” IN WRITING (Greek: αναταξασθαι) the paradosis and that he was writing (Greek: γραψαι) an account drawn from these and other sources. So, if anything, Mathison’s argument collapses into the chief problem of Protestantism: the canon. If anything, Luke’s written gospel undermines the sufficiency of other early written Christian literature, NOT of unwritten tradition itself. Luke added to Theophilus’s certainty, not to the reliability of the tradition about which Theophilus needed certainty.

[1] John defends the canonicity of his gospel, but how does he help us out of the quagmire of canonicity without an authoritative Church?

[2] Renaissance-Enlightenment-Modernist snobbery was, at this point, dripping from Mathison’s pen. “Books and written truth is so much better than crude oral culture.” Oy. How small a God.


About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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