E. J. Hutchinson argues that sola scriptura follows directly from capacity of language to communicate and worries what a reliance on infallible interpreters does to God’s design in communicating by holy writ:
if we wish to affirm the full humanity of Scripture, we need to have a doctrine that does something like the work of sola scriptura. Why? Because, at a certain level, human communication is perspicuous, even if not exhaustively so. Every interaction we have throughout each day presumes this–and that not only for oral communication, but for written communication as well (which are only two modes of the genus “communication”). The entire edifice of contractual law, for instance, is built upon this presumption, and, if one violates his contract, he is accountable to the law for it, for he should have known–and did know–better.
The same is true of written literature. Take Homer’s Odyssey as an example. If one wishes to know what the Odyssey is about–what it means–one reads the Odyssey. In neither instance, that of contractual law or that of ancient literature, is there a need for an infallible umpire to secure understanding. If such were the case–which is to say, if human communication were deeply opaque by nature–we would need such an umpire for everything (though he could still only use human communication to grant us understanding, and so still and all we would be likewise befettered). 1 In other words, the assumption that we cannot understand each other, even in writing, requires a nihilistic and despairing view of an animal that is social by nature, and neither nihilism nor despair are Christian virtues.
Indeed, it is in principle possible to understand something of a text with no help at all from others, though it is also possible (and perhaps likely) to misunderstand a great deal more. For that reason, it is profoundly unwise to ignore all of the assistance that is available. With respect to the example of contract law, that is why we have lawyers (I knew I would find a reason eventually). With respect to the example of the Odyssey, that is why we have people who specialize in Homer and the reading of archaic Greek poetry. As Solomon says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Eric Parker helpfully explicated this principle yesterday via Zanchi. Expertise in exegesis is a great good, whether it is the exegesis of a contract, a poem, or the Bible, and in the case of the latter it is perhaps an even greater good, because the stakes are so much higher. None of this, however, requires infallibility, as we see if we are being honest and reasonable: these are, rather, questions of prudence. All three kinds of texts are instances of human communication, and in that respect there is no reason in principle why their reading should be generically different–and, again, the understanding of an interpretation, or of an interpretation of an interpretation, presumes the basic communicativeness of human language in any case. Perhaps paradoxically, then, Scripture’s humanity requires perspicuity (in the sense used above), which is ingredient in and fundamental to any construal of sola scriptura. If perspicuity exists, then sola scriptura is perfectly reasonable.