Gavin Ortlund’s Sola Scriptura Proofs Prove Tradition

Gavin Ortlund’s Sola Scriptura Proofs Prove Tradition February 12, 2024

Including an In-Depth Analysis of the Term “Oracles of God” (Gk., Logion, Romans 3:2)

Dr. Gavin Ortlund is a Reformed Baptist author, speaker, pastor, scholar, and apologist for the Christian faith. He has a Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary in historical theology, and an M.Div from Covenant Theological Seminary. Gavin is the author of seven books as well as numerous academic and popular articles. For a list of publications, see his CV. He runs the very popular YouTube channel Truth Unites, which seeks to provide an “irenic” voice on theology, apologetics, and the Christian life. See also his website, Truth Unites and his blog.

In my opinion, he is currently the best and most influential popular-level Protestant apologist, who (especially) interacts with and offers thoughtful critiques of Catholic positions, from a refreshing ecumenical (not anti-Catholic), but nevertheless solidly Protestant perspective. That’s what I want to interact with, so I have done many replies to Gavin and will continue to do so. His words will be in blue. I use RSV for all Bible passages unless otherwise specified.

This is my 18th reply to his material.

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This is a response to an erroneous portion in Gavin’s video, “The 5 Minute Case for Protestantism” (6-8-23).

0:39 Only the words of Scripture are “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16), “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21), “the oracles of God” (Rom 3:2).
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Here, Gavin is attempting to prove sola Scriptura (Scripture as the only infallible authority in Christianity) in his summary five-minute presentation, with three quick New Testament passages. 2 Timothy 3:16 is the classic Protestant “prooftext” for sola Scriptura. It proves nothing of the sort, as I have written about several times:
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I addressed 2 Peter 1:21 in my article, Reply To Gavin Ortlund’s 6-Minute Sola Scriptura Defense (Including the Biblical Case for Prophets as Inspired and Infallible Authorities Besides Holy Scripture) [1-26-24]. In that piece I noted how St. Peter stated that prophecy in the New Testament was inspired revelation (“no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation”: 2 Pet 1:20). All agree on that. But in the next verse, the one that Gavin cites, Peter also refers to the larger category of prophecies, whether recorded in Scripture or not (“no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God”; or his chosen translation, “carried along by the Holy Spirit”).
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That statement is not confined to prophecies that are included in Holy Scripture. It’s a blanket statement about all prophecies. Gavin is assuming that it’s not a larger category because of the previous verse, but it clearly is, because prophecy is a larger category than simply the prophecies that are mentioned or presented in the Bible. This is why this passage doesn’t prove the truthfulness of sola Scriptura. In other words, inspired utterance which is “moved by the Holy Spirit” (i.e., inspired”) exists outside of the Bible, too, and is authoritative by the very fact that it originated from the Holy Spirit.
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There is no way out of that. It’s airtight. And of course, this directly contradicts sola Scriptura, because it entails infallible (and even inspired) utterance outside of the Bible. In that paper — along the same lines — I gave a summary of how many times prophets, prophecy, and prophesying were mentioned in the New Testament. Every time they spoke with the “word of the LORD” it was inspired utterance. How could such prophecies not be? After all, they came from God! All of His words are inspired or “God-breathed” (the literal meaning of “inspired”).
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But the rest of my present analysis will be devoted to Romans 3:2: “the oracles of God.” What does that mean? Must it mean “only the words of Scripture” as Gavin claims? It’s the usual Protestant “either/or” dichotomous mentality that is the culprit once again. “Oracles of God” is no more confined to the Bible itself than “word of God” or “Word of the LORD” are. Protestants simply assume the equation, but the Bible itself clearly teaches that there is no such equation. Those phrases have a much larger (usually prophetic) application. We can look at the word involved and see what the biblical linguists say about it. The word for “oracles” is lógia or  lógion: (Strong’s word #3051, related to logos, #3056).
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HELPS Word-studies defines it as “a divine declaration; a statement originating from God.” That can clearly go beyond the Bible. Strong’s Concordance defines it as “oracles, divine responses or utterances (it can include the entire Old Testament).” “Can” include is not the same thing as “must only be.” In other words, it can definitely mean or “include” the Old Testament but it’s not confined to that. If the Old Testament were its sole meaning, then the definition would simply say, “Old Testament.” Likewise, NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (“a saying, an oracle”).
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Liddell-Scott-Jones define the use at Romans 3:2 itself as “the sayings of the Lord” and compare it to Psalms 12:6 (“The promises of the LORD”). No one I know of would ever argue that “the promises” of God = (and can only equal) the Bible. Abbott-Smith Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament defines it as simply “oracle” and makes the comparison with the word used in the Septuagint for  Psalms 18:30 (“the promise of the LORD”) and Isaiah 28:13 (“the word of the LORD”). Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (one-volume, p. 514) states about the usage in Romans 3:2: “the divine lógia are specifically but not exclusively God’s promises to Israel (cf. the promises of Rom. 15:8).” Paul in the latter verse refers to “the promises given to the patriarchs”.
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The very fact that lógia / lógion are routinely translated as “oracles of God” in Bible translations proves that it has a larger meaning; else they would simply have used Scripture[s], just as 2 Timothy 3:16 does, and I wouldn’t be making this argument, because it wouldn’t apply. If we look at various translations of Romans 3:2, we find “oracles” used 31 times. We never find Scripture[s] as the chosen rendering. Terms besides oracles used are word[s], revelations, messages, teachings, utterances, law[s], sayings, spoke to: all of which can be and are used of phenomena beyond just Holy Scripture.
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Scripture[s] is used 51 times in the NT, including 14 times by Paul himself (with six of those in the book of Romans alone). If that’s what he meant in Romans 3:2 he certainly — it sure seems to me — would have used that word. But he didn’t, and so the case against Romans 3:2 being a prooftext for sola Scriptura is airtight, since it clearly doesn’t only refer to the Bible. The word in four different forms appears in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) 34 times. Here is a summary:
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“oracle”: Num 24:4, 16.
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“thy word[s]”: Dt 33:9; Ps 119:11, 67, 103, 162, 169, 170, 172; 138:2.
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“promises of the LORD”: Ps 12:6; 18:30.
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“words of my [i.e., David’s] mouth”: Ps 19:14.
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“word of the LORD”: Ps 105:19; Is 28:13.
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“words of God”: Ps 107:11.
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“thy promise”: Ps 119:38, 41, 50, 58, 76, 82, 116, 133, 140, 148.
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“thy righteous promise”: Ps 119:123.
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“thy commands”: Ps 119:158.
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“his command”: Ps 147:15.
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“the word of [God]”: Is 5:24.
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“his lips”: Is 30:27.
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“his tongue”: Is 30:27.
Again, this usage clearly goes far beyond only the Bible. This is the background in St. Paul’s mind when he chose to use the word oracle in Romans 3:2. It’s the only time he used it, whereas he used Scripture[s] 14 times, as I already noted. St. Peter uses it as originating wholly from man: “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God . . .” (1 Pet 4:10-11). It only appears two other times in the NT. One is from St. Stephen: “the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living oracles to give to us” (Acts 7:38). This could very well include the oral Torah as well as the written. See my articles:
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The fourth use in the NT is in Hebrews 5:12 (“God’s word”). We know that “word of God” and “word of the LORD” etc. have a very wide latitude of meaning beyond Holy Scripture.
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Conclusion: Gavin’s prooftext from Romans 3:2 and his other two in this particular video utterly fail in their purpose.
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Photo credit: Photograph by “klimkin” (7-19-16) [Pixabay / CC0 public domain]

Summary: Gavin Ortlund’s three quick prooftexts for sola Scriptura fail. I concentrate especially on “oracles of God” (Romans 3:2) & prove that it goes well beyond the Bible.

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