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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Scripturalism, Skepticism and Knowledge of Personal Salvation

Scripturalism does not allow one to know he is saved. It only allows one to know propositions contained in, or deducible from, Scripture. Scripturalists, also, contend that they cannot know that the Bible in their hands is not chocked full of errors due to a factory defect or, say, a cunningly devised scheme. This, of course, presents no problem for knowing propositions contained in Scripture because Scripture transcends a publisher’s printing of a "Bible." Scripture is, also, more reliable than a newspaper’s reporting of the outcome of a sporting event. Scripture is infallible; the daily rag is not. Now indeed, Scripture, as the Confession teaches, is not to be received on the authority of man or the Church (or Zondervan for that matter) but upon God, the author of Scripture. Given the self-attesting authority of God’s word, man can be fully persuaded and assured of its truth by the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word, in our hearts. (WCF 1.5)

If there were false statements in a publication that is called “The Bible,” we can expect that God would not persuade men they were true, let alone that they were Scripture. Moreover, as Gordon Clark intimated (and Ronald Nash concurred), Scripture is not ink on a page, let alone sounds in the air, but God’s living revelation to man. As such, Bible translations may theoretically contain propositions that are false, even heretical, which would both imply and corroborate that the propositions contained therein must be considered on their own merit and received not because they are bound in a book that bears a particular title but only if they have the fingerprint of God upon them. In this sense, strictly speaking, we cannot know that verses such as 1 John 5:13 are true simply because they are recorded in a “Bible” translation: “These, things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” That verse, like all verses, is a proposition that awaits divine confirmation of its truth yet it does not gain its authority upon that confirmation.

Regarding the proposition “R.A. knows he has savingly believed in Jesus,” that too is a proposition that exists in the mind of God, just like 1 John 5:13 does. (I couldn’t otherwise know that the proposition existed if it did not first exist in God’s mind.) It’s noteworthy that neither proposition in and of itself, whether written or not, is any more persuasive than the other. One proposition may come with more authority (depending on whether I am saved) and is certainly more universally able to be known; yet notwithstanding the persuasive power that must accompany the knowledge of either proposition rests solely on the Holy Spirit sovereignly working in conjunction with the truth of the proposition. Now of course God knows whether the personal proposition is true, just like he knows whether 1 John 5:13 is true. The only question is whether God ever bears witness to one’s personal salvation based upon promises contained in Scripture. I guess one’s answer to that question would at least in part depend upon what he thought of Romans 8:16: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” At any rate, if God were to persuade a person that an affirming proposition as it pertains to personal salvation is in fact true, then the subject would have an illumination of the truth of a personal application of a revelatory promise of God - that whosoever believes… shall be saved. This assurance of salvation, as the Confession teaches, is not a “bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God; which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.” WCF 18.2  Accordingly, the justification for the true belief of personal salvation is no mere inductive inference but as the Confession states it is according to “the testimony of the Spirit.” {That the Spirit justifies to the spirit in men that they are saved does not logically imply that the Spirit testifies that necessarily water caused salt to dissolve in water yesterday (assuming no accidental necessity); nor does it deny it; and certainly it does not imply that salt will necessarily dissolve in water tomorrow, or always. Again, nor does it deny it. So, from a Confessional standpoint we must draw a sharp distinction between inductive inference and the Spirit’s testimony that one is saved. No more, no less. I digress.}

There is, I think, a common lapse in thinking that occurs in discussions such as these. For instance, Scripturalists wrongly think that (a) as long as there is the possibility of substituting an imposter person for the real one, there is no chance of knowing that the person in front of us is who we think. I’ve even heard it said that (b) since we can be (have been?) wrong about another person’s salvation one therefore cannot know whether he himself is saved. Regarding (a), the Scripturalist needs to demonstrate that the justification for believing that we see x when x is actually and truly before us cannot be equally robust as the justification for believing Scripture aright upon the testimony of God himself. Or was seeing the resurrected Christ, or the miracles he performed, any less revelational or useful in bringing about epistemic certainty than the scriptural propositional-interpretation of what those sightings implied? Doesn't God testify not only to his Word but to all his works, whether creation, providence or miracles that he has performed? (All of this, by the way, has nothing to do with induction and asserting the consequent, as too often some Scripturalists complain.)

Scripturalists must show,

p: it is false that one can be as justified in believing he knows any non-Scriptural true proposition than believing he can know the most difficult proposition from Scripture, that p*

This line of reasoning, of course, is not to assume a position by definition (that one can know he sees x) and then argue for it fallaciously from silence. Not at all, but rather it presupposes a burden of proof.

Was it impossible in the realm of ordinary providence that those who believed they saw Jesus after the resurrection actually knew it was Jesus? Were the "eyewitnesses" to the risen Christ not capable of knowing it was Christ? Surely they were culpable for what they witnessed. Should Thomas have kept on not believing that he knew he touched Jesus after he had touched Jesus? Or, did he not know at all that he touched Jesus and, therefore, should have remained skeptical? Or maybe he knew only way after the fact, when it became a proposition of Scripture that he had touched Jesus. In the like manner, do the heavens declare the glory of God only after learning they do from special revelation? If so, then it would not be the heavens that declare God's glory. Wouldn't it have been ill advisable for the saints under both economies to affirm miracles they couldn't have known happened? Isn't that what Rome requires of its subjects, to believe that which cannot be known?

Regarding (b), there is no basis to believe that one ever knows the state of another’s soul. Consequently, being wrong on that front, even if one thought he knew he was right, is not analogous to the matter at hand. Moreover, the "certainty" one can have of his own salvation when not saved is a matter of self-deception that can easily be fleshed out from above {under “Regarding (a)”}. Stated positively, one’s justification when knowledge obtains can entail a more robust justification for holding any false belief, especially for a Sripturalist-internalist-infallibilist! So, I must disagree with Clark when he writes “So long as substitution is possible, certainty is impossible.” I'm afraid what Clark has done is not limit man in his finitude but God in his power to communicate. What’s worse, when this sort of limitation is applied by Scripturalists to man's knowledge of his own salvation (I don't say Clark does this) it is in the face of Scripture, which teaches one can know he has eternal life.

Finally, it’s interesting that Clark, for whom I have respect, been amused by and even profited from, when engaging George Mavrodes on revelation and epistemology referenced Romans 8:16 as a proof-text to defend the Reformed and biblical position that we know the word of God by the persuasive power of the Holy Spirit. The thing I find strange is that Romans 8:16 discloses the means by which we can know we are sons of God in Christ, one of the very things Scripturalists deny we can know.

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Ben Woodruff said...

I'm guessing that 1 John 5:13 is commonly taken to mean that those who believe in Christ are guaranteed salvation.

I'm new to reformed ideas, even though I left the Catholic Church in my heart quite a while ago. I'm still trying to test some of the ideas against my own understanding, which I believe is curbed by the Holy Ghost.

I understand that 1 John 5:13 could possibly mean that he was writing those things so that people could know they had salvation, not just that they had salvation because they believe in the Son of God. Jesus Himself said that many who believe will not be acceptable to Him.

I hope this is worth consideration to you. I pray you receive grace and truth, in Jesus' name. God bless.

Reformed Apologist said...

Hi Ben,

The epistle is one of fellowship with God and the saints through Christ.

The verse you referenced would seem to be teaching that one can know he is saved (not just hope he is saved), and the verse before that one (vs. 12) speaks to being in Christ as the only way of receiving that salvation. With that salvation, when we know in whom we've trusted, comes the blessed assurance and knowledge that brings about the sweetest form of fellowship, which a loving Father would have us possess in Christ.

Keep yourself from idols (1 John 5:21), so that you might enjoy that fellowship with God and his people through Christ to the fullest. :)

Tim H said...

Hey Ron,

I believe with this essay you have "crossed the Rubicon" from Clarkism. There's some good stuff here.

One question I would have for both you and the Clarkists, though for different reasons, is what you mean by saying "that too is a proposition that exists in the mind of God." Since every proposition is tagged as either true or false, is it not then the case that all false propositions also "exist in the mind of God," albeit tagged as false? If so, then it seems like the proposition is a second-order object even for God, who then tags it as "true" if it refers and refers correctly? Whereas it would seem that a proposition is the first-order act of consciousness, in positing (say) that "the cat Tibbles is on the mat." In saying that propositions are first-order acts of consciousness, this would exclude false propositions from the mind of God, who would not posit "Tibbles is on the mat" if Tibbles were not in fact on the mat. But in this, we immediately see that the WAY God knows and posits is qualitatively different than the way we do -- hence the "propositions" are not identical, as van Til insisted. But if they are themselves objects, and the positing is then a second-order act, then it would seem to lead to an infinite regress -- for then the act of positing proposition P1 as true would itself be a proposition, which "exists," and thus needs to be affirmed as true, and so forth ad infinitum.

Everyone, like you, feels the pressure to concede "I have surely profited from Clark," but of course the same could be said of Plato and Rousseau.

Joshua Butcher said...

False propositions can easily be formulated as true expressions.

For example, the proposition, "At 11 p.m. on March 9th, 2013, I have green hair," is false. I don't know the proposition as stated, since it is false, but I do know the following proposition, "It is false that at 11 p.m. on March 9th, 2013, I have green hair."

To know that any proposition is false is to know a truth regarding that same proposition.

Reformed Apologist said...


You're answering Tim H presumably. Yes, not sure what he is driving at.

Tim H said...

Joshua -- granted, but the point is that every assertion mirrors a propositional pair P, ~P, and BOTH must be asserted as "existing" (and "existing in the mind of God") if propositions exist -- since every prop has the quality of being either true or false.

It seems like the truth value of a proposition can't be part of the proposition, for then a proposition would not be "the meaning of a sentence." For any proposition P1, another pair of propositions seems to be created, "P1 is true" and "P1 is false," one of which is itself true and the other false. And so on.

These ideas need further development, but at least I think I am justified in cautioning against thinking that a philosophical problem is solved simply by proffering that some proposition is in the mind of God.

Joshua Butcher said...

Ron, please replace my previous comment with the one below, which has been edited to remove errors and add clarity.


I'm not sure I follow your opening short paragraph. If any proposition (true or false) exists by virtue of its being thought, why does it require the assertion of its existence (whether true or false)?

In the second short paragraph you say that the truth value can't be a "part" of the proposition, but in the first paragraph you've acknowledge truth value as a "quality" of every proposition. Again, I am not following this distinction between truth value as non-part, yet as a quality. Could you explain what you mean?

I asked Ron about your claims over email and here is what he gave as an example of the sort you may have in mind:

"For instance: "it is true that I don't have green hair at t1..."

But that proposition has a separate truth value than the what is contained in the proposition. It might be true and in this case it is, but what is true is the *proposition* and *all* it contains which is different than the truth claimed *within* the proposition. The former is predicating about the entire proposition *p* whereas the truth value within the proposition is predicating about hair."

Even if the example is what you are talking about, and even it it implies a infinite regress of "second-order" propositions about propositions, why would you consider this infinite regress, of itself, a difficulty in God's knowledge? Is an infinite regress itself impossible to know, or are you saying something else?

Please note I'm searching for your viewpoint and not trying to make an argument in response to anything you've said. I don't think I understand your original question quite clearly yet.

Justin said...

These are great links

Hugh McCann said...

Three questions:
[1] Isn't knowledge of one's personal salvation deducible from Scripture?
[3] How would have G.H. Clark disagreed with your third paragraph?
[3] What does the purple area in your diagram represent?

Reformed Apologist said...

[1] Isn't knowledge of one's personal salvation deducible from Scripture?

No, because the conclusion requires premises not contained in Scripture. This is why Clarkians (I don't say Clark but Clarkians) deny knowledge of personal salvation.

[2] How would have G.H. Clark disagreed with your third paragraph?

I assume you meant 2, not 3, so I retyped your 3 as a 2. Please don't hold that against me. :)

Too much to get into. If you have a more specific question, by all means...

[3] What does the purple area in your diagram represent?

Purple is the set of all true believes that are not knowledge.

Anonymous said...

The question about how Clark would answer something is informative. It informs me that this person wants to follow Clark no matter what. I find this true of *all* Clarkians. When they actually disagree with Clark they end up making his statements into a wax nose so they can be in agreement with him. They are not able to live with a theology of their own that is not identical to their leader. If Clark has not spoken on a particular topic then that topic must be a hidden mystery not available to anyone. This bondage stifles any chance of internalizing doctrine and owning it for oneself. It also robs Clarkians of any knowledge of personal salvation.

What's more is that Clarkians are not able to know they exist because that proposition is not in Scripture. I would think that knowledge of self is a prerequisite for knowing anything else!

Reformed Apologist said...

I see some of that too. Can't know if that's what we have here though. Good insights just the same.

Anonymous said...

Well, I just find it ridiculous and even irritating that you have to make a case to these wooden headed Clarkians that man's responsibility before God is a function of man's ability to choose what he wants. I am no Clarkian but I am confident that he never would have argued such nonsense as they that bear his name.

Reformed Apologist said...

No, he didn't argue that responsibility for personal choices was not a matter of liberty. In fact, he noted the very opposite when affirming Gill on the matter.

R.C. Dozier said...

Something to read from a Clarkian on the subject:

Reformed Apologist said...

Thanks RC.

There's a difference between Clark and Clarkians. What's worse, Clarkians disagree over Clark.

Regarding Ryan's post, I don't think knowledge of salvation is a deduction but in another sense it might begin that way. Too tired to explain now but I discuss it somewhere on RA, maybe in a comms box.

Where Clarkians mess up on Clark is that he said he can't know a person, but he was talking about whether he could know whether the propositions were true that were predicated about the person. Not being able to define a person whether self or not self doesn't preclude knowing how one behaves, which is to know the person given the behavior is the person's.

I'd recommend Clark to virtually no one. I enjoy him though.

Anonymous said...

It is quite amusing to see the Clarkians disagree over Scripturalism over at Thorn's Hammer. What is doubly amusing is that each Clarkian on the site from James, to Sean, to Roger, to Hugh has no clue what the issues are. It is like watching a bunch of children. What is most sad is that Hugh and Roger are on the right side of the issue but cannot argue to their conclusion. You might consider lending them a hand for the cause. :>)

Todd said...

Sean has no grasp of his own position. If he did he would realize that his position denies he can know anything.

Anonymous said...

They canmot know what any verse means because the words are not defined by Scripture. They cannot know that any verse is Scripture given the blasphemous contempt they have for the persuasive work of the Holy Spirit. Justification for belief for them is based on Scripture apart from the Spirit but Scripture does not inform us of which sayings are Scripture. Yet they say they know x is Scripture without knowing that they even exist. What is it to know without self knowledge? Sean says existence is meaningless. Hmmm, he exists and he does not exist mean the same thing or nothing at all? Clarkians do not know whether they are internalists, externalists, infalliblists or whatever. They have not really thought about this stuff. Aquascum, Steve H., Manata and others like yourself have demolished these guys.

Reformed Apologist said...

Scripturalism opposes itself. For one thing, if it were true nobody could know it. Scripturalists don't know their axiom yet they're to know things that are based upon it. I'd like to see them derive any doctrine from Scripture. They give themselves free passes all the time with respect to rigerous derivation coming only from using verses from Scripture, and as I said and someone picked up on - the Bible isn't a dictionary, which will make the derivation more difficult. One cannot come up with Trinity simply by listing verses in a row.

Anonymous said...

Scripturalists are dropping like flies.

Anonymous said...


How can somebody boast of being a Scripturalist on creedocult and think they can know they are saved? Also how do you think you can deduce personal salvation from Scripture?