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Apologetics for the Masses – Issue #112 (Sola Scriptura)

Posted by catholicfaithdefender on March 16, 2009

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Topic: Apologetics for the Masses – Issue #112

General Comments

Hey folks,

I’ll be in Fayetteville, TN – St. Anthony’s parish – tomorrow morning to give a couple of talks. If you’re in the south central part of Tennessee or the North Central Alabama area, I’d love to have you come by. The talks start at 9:00 AM.

My travel schedule, combined with some other things that are going on right now, has put me behind in getting these newsletters out the last couple of weeks. The next several weeks, though, should be a little less hectic and the newsletters should be pretty regular.

As always, I have very much appreciated the comments regarding the individual chapters of the book. The comments are being read and are being given due consideration, and a lot of your advice and suggestions will be reflected in the final version.

Again, though, you don’t need to comment about spaces between letters and strange characters appearing in the copy – those are server-to-server email translation problems that I can do nothing about. Neither the spaces, nor the extraneous characters are in the original.

Introduction

This newsletter contains the second half of chapter 3 – the scriptural perspective on Sola Scriptura. Actually, I might go ahead and make it a separate chapter – to keep each chapter relatively short.

As always, comments and suggestions, and editing of typos, misspelled words, grammatical errors, etc. is welcomed and appreciated.

By the way, as it will be stated in the introductory pages of the book, all scripture quotations, unless otherwise stated, come from the Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition (RSV-CE) of the Bible.

Challenge/Response/Strategy

The Perspective Provided by Scripture

We have seen that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura fails the tests of logic and history, but what about the all–important test of Scripture? What does Scripture say about Sola Scriptura? Does the Bible teach that it is the sole infallible authority for deciding matters related to Christian teaching and practice? In other words, does the Bible teach that it is the sole rule of faith for the Christian?

Well, let’s look and see. First of all, it has to be admitted by all that there is no passage in the Bible which explicitly states that the Bible is the “sole authority” for Christians, or the “sole rule of faith” for Christians. But, are there passages that implicitly state this? Proponents of Sola Scriptura say that indeed there are such Scripture passages, and the first such passage they usually turn to is 2 Tim 3:16–17.

Tim 3:16–17 reads as follows: “All scrip ture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” First, as a Catholic, let me say that I agree 100% with this passage. “Amen,” I say! However, it nowhere says anything about the Bible being the sole rule of faith for the Christian.

There are two main things to note about this passage: 1) It says scripture is “profitable”, it does not say scripture is “all sufficient”; in other words, it does not say that the Bible is the sole rule of faith for Christians…the sole authority in matters of faith and morals for Christians; and, 2) Nowhere do we see the word “alone” in this passage, as in “scripture alone”.
What this passage is saying, and all this passage is saying, is that all of Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teachi ng and correction and so forth. As a Catholic, I agree…I agree with that 100%. With every passage of Scripture, I, as a Catholic, agree.
Scripture is indeed inspired and it is indeed profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. We need to read Scripture. We need to know it. We need to ponder it, soak in it, meditate on it, pray it, and be able to share it. But, this passage still doesn’t say Scripture is the sole rule of faith for Christians. People try to force this scripture verse to say something that it doesn’t actually say.
“But,” someone might say, “this verse says that the scriptures are given so that the man of God may be complete, or, as it says in the King James Version (KJV), that the man of God may be perfect.” And they argue that if the Scriptures make one perfect, then there is no need for anything else.
Ther e are, however, a couple of problems with that interpretation. First of all, it doesn’t say Scripture “alone” makes the man of God complete or perfect. For example, a soldier needs a rifle to be complete, to be made perfect for battle. But, is a rifle the only thing he needs to be complete? No. He needs his helmet, his boots, his fatigues, his backpack, his ammunition, and so on. In other words, he needs his rifle to be complete, to be perfect for battle, but not his rifle alone. Just so the man of God in relation to Scripture. He needs the Scriptures to be complete, to be made perfect, but it does not say Scripture alone.
The other problem with this interpretation is presented by Scripture itself. In James 1:3–4, it says this: ”…for you know that testing of your faith produces steadfastness [patience]. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James is telling us that steadfastness, or patience, makes the Christian, the man of God, “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
So, what are the implications here? Well, if we interpret this verse the same way Sola Scriptura adherents interpret 2 Tim 3:16–17, then we have a good case for arguing that patience “alone” is all that is needed for the man of God to be made perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Apparently he doesn’t even need Scripture, as long as he has patience. The Bible says that with patience a Christian is “lacking in nothing.” Again, using the method of interpretation used by Sola Scriptura adherents in 2 Tim 3:16–17, we have a pretty good argument that patience alone is all the man of God needs to be complete, perfect, lacking in nothing. It’s not Sola Scriptura, it’s Sola Patientia – patience alone.
Another big problem with 2 T im 3:16–17, for those who try to use this passage as scriptural support for the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, is found in the context of the passage itself. These verses apparently prove too much when interpreted as teaching Sola Scriptura. If you go back just one verse and read 2 Tim 3:15, you’ll see what I mean. In verse 15, Paul says to Timothy, “…and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The sacred writings that Timothy has known from childhood?! Now, even though Timothy was a relatively young man, few, if any, of the books of the New Testament had been written when Timothy was a child. In other words, the “scripture” being referred to here is the Old Testament.
Paul is clearly talking about the Old Testament here. So, if one wants to interpret this passage as “proving” Sola Scriptura, t hen what they are actually “proving” is that it is the Old Testament scripture “alone” that is able to make the man of God perfect. Sola Old Testament Scriptura. Again, Paul is talking about the O.T. here, not the N.T.! So, it would seem to be saying more than any proponent of Sola Scriptura would want to admit to – instead of Sola Scriptura…instead of the Bible alone – it seems to be saying the Old Testament alone is necessary “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Some have argued that even though when Paul wrote 2 Timothy he was indeed referring to the Old Testament, that his words came to include the New Testament scriptures as well, once the various New Testament books were written down. Well, I would agree with that. I agree that Paul’s words to Timothy are applicable to both Old and New Testament scriptures.
However, that does not solve the problem for those who try to find Sola Scriptura in these verses. Paul saying that all scripture is inspired of God and profitable for teaching and so forth is indeed true of all Scripture – Old and New Testament – even if Paul was referring specifically to the Old Testament scriptures at the time he wrote those words. However, if you interpret this verse as teaching Sola Scriptura, you still have an insurmountable problem. The problem is that a Sola Scriptura interpretation gives the verse one meaning when Paul wrote it, but a completely different and contradictory meaning now. It also makes the New Testament scriptures unnecessary for the early Christians.
According to a Sola Scriptura interpretation of these verses, Paul was telling Timothy that the Old Testament alone was the sole rule of faith – the sole authority in matters of faith and morals – for the Christian. That has to be the interpretation becaus e Paul is clearly referring to the Old Testament in these verses. But in our day, the Sola Scriptura Christian rejects the notion that the Old Testament alone is the sole rule of faith for the Christian. Which means, a Sola Scriptura interpretation of 2 Tim 3:16–17 necessitates a change in doctrine. What was supposedly true for Timothy and other early Christians – Sola Old Testament Scriptura – is no longer true for Christians of our age.
So, for a sola scriptura interpretation of these verses to be true, doctrine needs to have changed. Truth, in essence, needs to have changed. But, does truth change? Ever? Do you know of any other place where Scripture gives us a doctrinal teaching that was supposedly true for the early Christians, but is now false for Christians of our time?
Also, when Paul wrote to Timothy, around 65 A.D. or so, several books of the New Testament had indeed been written. But, these we re not books that Timothy would have known “since childhood.” So, again, Paul’s words to Timothy were not referring to these books of the New Testament that had already been written. But, if you interpret these words as teaching Sola Scriptura, then you in essence have Paul saying that, even though many books of the New Testament were in existence at the time of his letter to Timothy, they were basically unnecessary for the man of God to be made complete, to be equipped for all good works or, as verse 15 says, “to instruct you for salvation.”
In other words, to interpret these verses from 2 Timothy as teaching the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is to basically have Paul telling Timothy that the books of the New Testament, which were in existence at that time, were unnecessary for the man of God to be complete – unnecessary for the man of God to be equipped for every good work. Does that make any sense at all? All the Christian “man of God” of the time needed was the Old Testament?
For all of these reasons just mentioned, I think it is indeed a very reasonable position to reject the notion that 2 Tim 3:16–17 teaches the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
“But,” someone might ask, “what about the Bereans?” Acts 17:11 says, “Now these Jews [the Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the Word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” The King James Version of the Bible says that they “searched” the Scriptures daily.
You know, I keep hearing about these Berean folks from Acts 17. And, every time I hear about them, someone is using them to “prove” Sola Scriptura, to prove that one should go by the Bible alone. They say that the example of the Bereans proves Sola Scriptur a, because the Bereans were searching Scripture to see if what Paul was saying was true. But, again, the problem is that nowhere does this verse say the Bereans went by the Bible alone. In fact, it is well known that Jews, whether in Berea or elsewhere, did not go by the Bible alone – they did not practice Sola Scriptura – they believed in authoritative Scripture and authoritative tradition. Which means Jesus, being a good Jew, didn’t believe in Sola Scriptura. And, as I’ve already mentioned, neither did the early Christians.
What was going on here with the Bereans in Acts 17 was this: Paul was preaching to them about Jesus being the Messiah. And Paul, in his preaching, would quote Scripture verses – from the Old Testament – that he would say pointed to Jesus. Paul would say something along the lines of, “It has been testified somewhere…” and the Bereans would then simply open up their Scripture s to verify what Paul was saying. They were not searching the Scriptures to settle doctrinal disputes, they were searching the Scriptures to see if what Paul told them was actually in the Scriptures!
Plus, the fact that the Bereans: a) Didn’t already know the Scripture verses were there, and b) had to “search” the Scriptures to find the verses Paul was quoting, actually might indicate that they weren’t all that familiar with the Scriptures; which, if they were believers in Sola Scriptura, seems to be a pretty odd thing.
Plus, if this verse is a “proof” of Sola Scriptura then you again have the same problem that I mentioned earlier – the Bereans were Jews and the only scriptures they had were the Old Testament scriptures. So, if Acts 17:11 “proves” Sola Scriptura, then it would be proving Sola Old Testament Scriptura.
Furthermore, the fact tha t the Bereans obviously did not understand the true meaning of the Scriptures until Paul explained it to them, actually works against the Sola Scriptura position. One of the necessary corollaries to a belief in Sola Scriptura is the belief in individual private interpretation of Scripture. That each individual, guided by the Holy Spirit, has the ability to read the Bible for themselves – without answering to any outside authority – in order to come to a correct understanding of the truths necessary for salvation.
Yet, the example of the Bereans shows us that this obviously isn’t the case. The Bereans needed Paul to explain the Scriptures to them. The Bereans, left alone with the Scriptures, obviously had not come to a correct understanding of the truths necessary for salvation. They needed a guide, Paul, to correctly interpret Scripture for them. Which means the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, with its corollary of individual private interpretation of Scripture, obviously isn’t supported by this passage from Acts 17 about the Bereans.
Which means, when all is said and done, two of the predominant Scripture passages used by folks to “prove” Sola Scriptura, upon close and thoughtful examination, actually inflict serious, if not fatal, blows upon that doctrine. These passages clearly do not mean what the Sola Scriptura advocates try to make them mean. Furthermore, there are numerous passages that point to the fact that individual interpretation of Scripture…each person reading and interpreting the Bible on their own to determine for themselves what is and is not correct Christian doctrine and practice…is quite contrary to the Word of God.
The Bible states that fairly directly. If we look at 2 Ptr 1:20, we find the following: “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’ s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation. I don’t know if it can be said any more plainly or directly that the principal of private interpretation, one of the foundations the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is built upon, is contrary to the Bible.
Look at Acts chapter 8. Acts 8:27–31, “And he [Philip] rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah…So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And [the Ethiopian] said, ‘How can I, unless some one guides me?’”

< div>“How can I, unless some one guides me?” This was obviously an Ethiopian Jew. He was a very educated man, we know that from that fact that he was one of the Queen’s ministers, and not just any minister, but he was, in essence, the Secretary of the Treasury for the entire kingdom of Ethiopia. He was a man of worship, having come all the way from Ethiopia to worship in Jerusalem – no easy task in those days. Yet, what does the Bible say, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And the response, from this educated man who had come from so far away to worship in Jerusalem? “How can I unless someone guides me?”

And what did Philip say in response? Did he say, “Just pray to the Holy Spirit and He will guide you?” No! Philip got up in the chariot with this man and explained the meaning of Scripture to him. Philip was this man’s guide in reading, interpreting, and understanding Scriptur e.
Scripture is very clear, as we see in Peter’s letter, and the Book of Acts – both with the Ethiopian eunuch and the Bereans – and other places as well, that we must have a guide, an authority, other than the Bible, in order to properly understand the Bible. Having a guide to help us properly interpret Scripture is scriptural. Individual interpretation of Scripture, everybody reading the Bible on their own to decide what is and is not correct doctrine…what is and is not sound moral teaching…is not scriptural. In other words, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, is not scriptural.
And, please don’t take me to say that you cannot, as an individual reading Scripture, come to some knowledge of the truth. You can. As I said earlier, we must read the Bible, study the Bible, meditate on it, soak in it, pray it, live it, and breathe it. As St. Jerome once said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ign orance of Christ.” But, there are very many things in the Bible that are difficult to understand. The Bible itself tells us this. 2 Peter 3:16: “There are some things in them [Paul’s letters] hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.”
Scripture tells us that there are some things, in Scripture, that are difficult to understand, and that these things that are hard to understand are important to our salvation. They are not non–essential matters because, as it says, it is possible to twist these things to our own destruction.
What Peter was saying here in 2 Peter 3:16, is that there were a number of folks out there reading the Scriptures on their own, not paying attention to what Peter or Paul or the other Church leaders were telling them, and these people were misinterpreting things in Paul’s letters, and ot her parts of the Scriptures as well, in such a way that it was leading to their damnation. Peter was, in essence, issuing a warning to those who were relying on their own private fallible interpretations of Scripture. That should be a very scary and sobering passage for anyone who believes they can simply pick up the Bible and read it on their own to make a decision in any and all matters pertaining to the Christian faith.
There is another passage I want to mention on this particular topic of needing a guide to properly interpret Scripture. Listen to what St. John says in one of his letters, 1 John 4:6: “We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” This is a verse that wreaks absolute havoc with the notion of Sola Scriptura.
If you asked someone who believes in the doctrine of Sola Scriptura this qu estion: “How do we know the Spirit of truth from the spirit of error?” What do you think they would say? Would they not say something along the lines of, “You get yourself a good Bible and by reading Scripture, and praying to the Holy Spirit for guidance, you can discern the Spirit of truth from the spirit of error.” The problem is, though, that is not a biblical answer.
The Bible says that we discern the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error by listening to someone…to “us”…to John and apparently to his fellow leaders in the Church. It further says that if you know God you will indeed listen to these Church leaders. And, if you are not of God, you won’t listen to them. Does that sound like the early Christians believed in Sola Scriptura?
Another passage which tells us the early Christians did not believe in Sola Scriptura is from Acts 15. At the Council of Jerusalem, whi ch is described in verses 6–29, what do we see? We see that a doctrinal dispute arose in the early Church over whether or not the Gentile converts should be circumcised. Well, what did they do? How did they decide the matter? Did they consult Scripture as they should do if they believed in Sola Scriptura? No. They called a council. The leaders of the Church, in a council, decided the first doctrinal dispute in the early Church. The teaching of Sola Scriptura obviously did not exist in the early Church because if it had, and they had indeed gone solely by Scripture to decide this dispute, what would have happened? Well, they would have seen in Genesis how God required circumcision and they would have come to a completely different conclusion than the one they came to.
We have seen, from Scripture, that the early Christians did not believe in Sola Scriptura. We have seen, from Scripture, that relying upon individual interpretation of Scripture to decide on all matters of the Christian faith, is not scriptural. We have seen, from Scripture, that there are some important things in Scripture that are difficult to understand and that can be twisted to one’s own destruction through private interpretation. We have seen, from Scripture, that having a guide to help us properly interpret Scripture is indeed scriptural. And, we have seen that the passages often relied upon to prove the case for Sola Scriptura, when read in context, actually make the case against Sola Scriptura.
Now, one more thing that I wish to discuss, which further damages the Sola Scriptura argument – the matter of tradition. As I stated earlier, the Jews believed in authoritative Scripture and authoritative tradition. For many non–Catholic Christians, though, the word “tradition” is almost like a curse word. They cringe when they hear that word because they have been mistakenly taught that Cathol ics believe in the “traditions of men.” And, as they rightly say, Jesus condemns the traditions of men in the Gospels.
Jesus does not, however, condemn all tradition. Nowhere does Scripture say such a thing. Jesus condemns the traditions of men, but not even all traditions of men. Specifically, Jesus condemns those traditions of men which negate the Word of God. Traditions, in and of themselves, are not bad things. It’s when they negate the Word of God that Jesus has a problem with them.
Again, tradition, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. If it were, then how could the Word of God tell us this: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” That’s from 2 Thessalonians 2:15. Traditions! Traditions taught by word of mouth, in other words, oral tradition, and traditions taught by letter – w ritten tradition, also known as “Scripture.” Traditions which they are being told to “stand firm and hold to”. In other words, authoritative traditions.
What else does the Bible say about holding on to traditions? 2 Tim 2:2, “…and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Did Paul say, “What you have read in my writing pass on to others so that they may read it, too?” No! Did he say, “What you have heard from me, entrust to faithful men who will write it down for everyone to read for themselves?” No! He said to entrust it to faithful men who will “teach” others. What we have here is an instance, in Scripture, of Paul commanding the passing on of authoritative oral tradition.
1 Cor 11:2, “I [Paul] commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the tradit ions even as I have delivered them to you.” The Corinthians are being commended by Paul because they maintain the traditions that he passed on to them. Authoritative Scripture and authoritative tradition. Or, as we Catholics say, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
Back to Thessalonians: 1 Thes 2:13, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the Word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the Word of God, which is at work in you believers.” So, they received as the Word of God that which they heard, not simply that which they read in Scripture. In Acts 2:42 we read that the first Christians were “continuing steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine,” or the “Apostles’ teaching”.
That’s what Sacred Tradition is – the Apostles’ doctrine, or the Apostles’ teaching, as given to them by our Lord Jesus Christ. As we clearly just saw in several places in the New Testament, traditions that come from the Apostles – because the Apostles were taught by Jesus and guided by the Holy Spirit – are not condemned in Scripture. These traditions, these teachings, are considered, as we saw in 1 Thes 2:13, not the word of men – not the traditions of men – but the Word of God.
One last word about tradition. Every church has one or more “traditions” that are not found in the Bible, whether they want to admit it or not. Which books should be in the Bible? Not in the Bible – Tradition. Sunday as the Sabbath. Not in the Bible – Tradition. Wednesday night church meeting. Not in the Bible – tradition. Altar calls. Not in the Bible – tradition. Sola Scriptura. Not in the Bible – tradition. And this last one is a tradition of men that is contrary to the Word of God.

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To close, I believe I have made a very strong and rational argument – from logic, from history, and from Scripture – for why Catholics believe as we do in regards to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Nowhere in Scripture do we see Sola Scriptura used as an operational principle. Nowhere is anyone instructed to consult the Scriptures to solve a doctrinal dispute between Christians. The one place I’ve mentioned where it is said someone went to the Scriptures, the case of the Bereans, was a case of verification – they were simply verifying that the verses Paul quoted were indeed in the Scriptures – it was not a case of using the Scriptures, and individual interpretation of the Scriptures, in order to solve a doctrinal dispute.
Nowhere does the Bible say that, as individuals, reading the Bible on our own, the Holy Spirit will guide us to an infallible interpretation of any and every passage of Scripture. That verse simpl y does not exist. In fact, as I’ve shown, a number of verses do exist that directly contradict that belief.
Ultimately, under a Sola Scriptura system, any dispute between Christians – on matters of doctrine, on matters of morals, on matters of worship, on matters of anything Christian – comes down to this: My fallible, non–authoritative, non–binding, private interpretation of a particular verse or verses of Scripture vs. your fallible, non–authoritative, non–binding, private interpretation of a particular verse or verses of Scripture.
Actually, the problem is even worse than that, because under a Sola Scriptura system, as I mentioned earlier, we can’t even be sure of what the Scriptures are in the first place. So, it essentially comes down to my fallible, non–authoritative, non–binding, private interpretation of a particular verse or verses of something that I th ink is Scripture, but cannot be infallibly sure about; vs. your fallible, non–authoritative, non–binding, private interpretation of a particular verse or verses of something that you think Scripture is, but cannot be infallibly sure about.

Questions to Ask:

1) Did the leaders of the early Christian Church believe in Sola Scriptura? If, yes, then why did they call a Council (Acts 15) to decide a doctrinal dispute, why didn’t they just consult the Bible to settle the matter?

2) When Paul wrote 2 Tim 3:16–17, was the Old Testament alone sufficient for the man of God to be made complete, or perfect? Yes or no? If, yes, then of what need does the Christian have for the New Testament? If, no, then what books of the New Testament, in addition to the books of the Old Testament, did Timothy know since childhood? And, is it then only these books of the New Testament along with the Old Testament that the Christian of the time needed to be made complete, or perfect?

3) Where in Scripture does it say that each person should read Scripture for themselves, to determine by themselves – without reference to any outside authority – what is and is not correct Christian doctrine and practice?

4) At what point did authority for deciding doctrinal matters pass from the leaders of the early Church (as we see, for example, in Acts 15 and 1 John 4:6) to each individual reading the Bible on their own?

5) Is it scriptural to have an authoritative guide for the proper interpretation of Scripture (see Acts 8, for example)?

6) Did Paul commend the Corinthians and the Thessalonians for keeping the traditions he had passed on to them? Yes or no? If, yes, where does the Bible record that every one of these traditions was subsequently recorded in Scripture?

7) If all of the oral traditions Paul passed on to the Corinthians and the Thessalonians, and which he comman ded Timothy to pass on, were not recorded in Scripture, then where is the Scripture verse that says those traditions should no longer be maintained?

Strategy: Asking questions – “How to be Offensive Without Being Offensive” strategy. Any time someone might dispute a Catholic interpretation of Scripture – “But That’s My Interpretation” strategy.

An example of using both of these at one time: If someone says that 2 Tim 3:16–17 isn’t referring to the Old Testament, you can first ask, “Then what are the scriptures Paul is referring to that Timothy has known ‘since childhood’?” Then, when they ignore your question, no matter how many times you ask it, or they provide some explanation that doesn’t really make any sense given the context of the passage, you can simply say, “Look, that’s my interpretation of this passage. Am I not allowed to interpret Scripture for myself? And, if I am allowed to interpret Scripture for myself, then how can you tell me I’m wrong? By what authority do you say that I’m wrong?”

In Conclusion

I hope all of you have a great week! Remember to pray for the economy to bounce back and to especially keep in prayer those who have been put out of work, and to pray for the conversion of our President.

Author:

Link: http://www.biblechristiansociety.com/

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Apologetics for the Masses – Issue #111 (Sola Scriptura)

Posted by catholicfaithdefender on February 23, 2009

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Topic: Apologetics for the Masses – Issue #111

General Comments

By

Link: http://www.biblechristiansociety.com/

I want to thank all of you who showed up for my talk in Dixon, CA, this past weekend – I enjoyed seeing each and every one of you…I appreciate you being there. One very unexpected result of my time in Dixon is that someone who was in the audience has offered to cover the expenses for getting my talks recorded into Spanish! So, we are moving ahead immediately with that project. If all goes well, maybe we can start turning out Spanish language tapes within a few months.

I’ll be at St. John the Evangelist in Borger, TX – outside of Amarillo – on Feb 27th and 28th. For more info, call the parish.

For those who have asked, the Bible quotes that I am using in my book come from the Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition (RSV-CE) unless otherwise noted. That fact will be in the front of the book when published.

Introduction

Below is the first half of Chapter 3 of my book – the chapter on Sola Scriptura. I should have the 2nd half out next week; although, since next week is a travel week, there is the possibility of a delay, but I’ll do my best.

This half covers the logical and historical perspectives on Sola Scriptura, while the next issue will cover the scriptural perspective on Sola Scriptura.

Challenge/Response/Strategy

Chapter 3Sola Scriptura

There are two basic doctrines that separate Catholic Christians from most Protestant Christians. Those two being: Sola Scriptura – which means Scripture Alone; and Sola Fide – which means Faith Alone. There are other doctrines that separate us as well, but these are the two most fundamental ones. While I have come across Protestants who do not believe in the doctrine of Sola Fide, I have yet to come across any who do not believe in the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. That’s not to say there aren’t any, I’m just saying that I haven’t run into any.

So, near as I can tell, this doctrine of Sola Scriptura is the one doctrine that all, or almost all, Protestants believe in.

First, let me define the term “Sola Scriptura”, as I understand it, so that you know exactly what I mean when I use the term. It is simply this: The Bi ble is the sole authority that one needs when it comes to deciding what is and is not authentic Christian teaching and practice. That is not to say that one cannot learn things from sources other than the Bible, but these other sources are not infallible, as is the Bible, and do not carry the binding authority that the Bible does.

In other words, the Bible is the sole rule of faith for the Christian. If it’s not in the Bible, then I, as a Christian, am not bound to believe it. This definition of Sola Scriptura is not something of my own making, but is based on what I have been told by the many Protestants I have discussed this particular doctrine with.

Using that definition as a basis for this chapter, I wish to examine this doctrine from several different angles, ask some questions about it, and contrast it with Catholic teaching. And speaking of Catholic teaching, I want to say at the outset that Catholics hold the Bible in the highest possible regard. We believe it is the Holy Spirit–inspired, inerrant Word of God. The Scriptures are central to Catholic Christian belief and practice.

Having said that, however, we do not believe in the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura – the doctrine that Scripture “alone” is the sole rule of faith for the Christian; we believe rather in Sola Dei Verbum – the Word of God alone. For Catholics, the Word of God consists in not just Sacred Scripture, but in Sacred Tradition as well. Which is exactly what the Bible tells us, as I will show later in this chapter.

I will examine this doctrine of Sola Scriptura from three different perspectives – logical, historical, and scriptural – and show that it fails the test in all three of these areas. What you may occasionally run into, as I have in the past, is that there are those who immediately dismiss the first two perspectives, since they believe Scripture alone is sufficient to decide the issu e. In that instance, I simply remind them that God gave us our minds and He told us that we must love Him with all of our mind, as well as our heart (Matt 22:37). In addition, we see from 1 Cor 12, that wisdom and knowledge are gifts of the Spirit, and in Isaiah 1:18, the Lord says, “Come, let us reason together.” Logic, sound logic, is of God.

Also, God is the Lord of history. What happened in history, particularly in Christian history, is very important for us to know. The early Christians are important witnesses as to what Christianity was in their time, and thus to what it ought to be in our time. So to simply dismiss logic and history out–of–hand as not being important perspectives to consider when it comes to Christian teaching and practice, is to dismiss the God Who gave us our brains and told us to use them in loving Him, and to dismiss the testimony of those who gave their lives to defend and pass on the Faith that we hold so dear. So I will start with logic and history, then move on to Scripture.

The Perspective Provided by Logic:

All Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike, consider the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant Word of God. The question that needs to be asked, however, is: Why? Why do we believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, Word of God? What authority do we rely upon for our belief that the Bible is what we believe it to be? Where did the Bible come from? Most people never consider these questions. They merely take it for granted that the Bible is what they believe it to be. But the fact is, everyone who believes the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant Word of God, relies on some authority for their beliefs about the Bible.

So what authority do they rely upon? Is it the Bible? Well, for those who believe that the Bible is the sole binding authority for the Christian – those who believe in Sola Scriptura – it must be the authority of the Bible that Christians rely on for their belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. After all, the Bible is the sole authority for them in matters of Christian belief and practice.

But this presents a little bit of a problem. There is a logical inconsistency here. We cannot believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, based solely on the authority of the Bible. Why not? Three reasons:

1) The Bible cannot bear witness to itself. There are a number of writings that claim inspiration from God, but we don’t accept them as the inspired, inerrant Word of God, just because they claim to be. The Koran being one very obvious example of this. If we should believe something is what it says it is, simply because it says it, then we should accept the Koran as the word of God. But, we don’t, do we?

If I had written in the Foreword that this book is inspired of God, does that mean it is simply because it was writt en down in this book? Of course not! Just so, we cannot accept the Bible as the Word of God based solely upon the witness of the Bible. As Jesus Himself said, “If I bear witness to Myself, My testimony is not true,” (John 5:31).

2) The Bible never claims that it is the sole, infallible, authoritative source for all matters pertaining to Christian belief and practice, as I will explore show in the following pages when discussing the perspective from Scripture.

3) We can’t even be sure of what the Bible is if we rely on the authority of Scripture “alone” in matters of Christian belief and practice.

Let me explain why I say that. You see, the Bible wasn’t put together as we have it today for more than 300 years after the death of Christ. One of the problems in putting the Bible together was that there was a lot of disagreement, among Christians, over what should and should not be considered inspired Scripture. There were a l ot of books back then that people were saying were inspired; yet, these books did not end up in the Bible as we have it today. Books such as the Letter of Clement to the Corinthians, the Letter of Barnabas, the Acts of Paul, the Acts of Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter, and several more.

There were also several books that did end up in our Bible that a lot of Christians were saying were not inspired and should not be considered as part of Scripture – books such as Revelation, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Hebrews, and others.

In other words, there was a fair amount of dispute among Christians, over just what was and what was not inspired Scripture. So, how did they settle the disputes? Well, according to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, you just look in the Bible to find the authoritative answer to any question regarding the Christian faith. So, did they consult the Bible to find out what books should be in the Bible? Obviously not – they couldn’t! There was no Bible to consult because the content of the Bible was what the disputes were over.

So the question is: How does someone who believes in Sola Scriptura go about deciding a dispute as to which books should and should not be considered Scripture? You cannot consult the Bible for an answer, because the Bible is what the dispute is over. And, even if you consulted the non–disputed books of the Bible, that still wouldn’t help you because there is no list in any book of the Bible that tells us which books should be in the Bible.

Which means in order to decide one of the most fundamental issues of Christianity – which books should and should not be in the Bible – which books are and are not inspired Scripture – some authority outside of the Bible had to be relied upon.

Again, a big problem for those who believe that the Bible is the sole binding authority in matters of faith and morals is that the Bible doesn’t tell us whi ch books should be in the Bible! There is no list – in the Bible – of which books should be – in the Bible. Some person, or group of persons, had to decide which books were, and which books were not, inspired Scripture. Think about it, folks. In order to know which books should and should not be inside the Bible, we have to rely on some authority outside of the Bible to tell us. Yet, the belief in Sola Scriptura states that the Bible is the sole authority in matters of Christian belief and practice.

Which presents a logical dilemma. The question of where the Bible came from presents the same kind of problem to those who believe in Sola Scriptura, as the question of where matter came from presents to those who believe in evolution, yet do not believe in God.

If you believe in evolution, you have to believe the matter used in evolution came from somewhere. But, if there is no God, then where did matter come from? Big problem. If you believe in Sol a Scriptura, you have to believe that an authoritative decision was made as to which books did and did not belong in the Bible – as to which books were and were not the inspired, inerrant Word of God. But, if there is no binding authority outside of the Bible, then where did this authoritative decision come from? Big problem.

In other words, if you believe in Sola Scriptura, you believe in something that is logically inconsistent. You believe the Bible is the sole authority in deciding Christian belief and practice; yet, you believe in a binding authority – whether you realize it or not – outside of the Bible which gave us the Bible in the first place. Therefore, the Bible cannot be the sole authority in matters of faith and morals. There is some authority outside of the Bible that we have to have in order to have the Bible in the first place!

I would like to add that as a Catholic I believe – and historical documentation backs up my belie f – it was the Catholic Church that put the Bible together as we have it today. There are many Protestants who disagree with me on that, but whether you agree that it was the Catholic Church that put the Bible together or not, you have to agree that someone did. Someone with binding authority on Christians decided the disputes about which books should and should not be in what we now call the Bible. The Bible was not consulted in order to determine the question of which books should and should not be in the Bible.

In other words, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura fails the test of logic.

When I’ve used this line of reasoning with Sola Scriptura believers in the past, I have received several different responses. One such response is: “God put the Bible together – He gave it to us.” Yes, He did. Catholics believe that God is the primary Author of Scripture. The question remains, however, as to exactly how God put the Bible together. Did H e do it all by Himself and then the Bible just dropped down out of Heaven one day and all the people on the Earth heard a voice that said, “Here it is – read it for yourselves?”

Or, did He first use human beings, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to write the Scriptures, and then He used human beings, guided by the Holy Spirit, to authoritatively decide the disputes as to which books were and were not written by Him? All Christians agree that He used human beings to write the Scriptures, so it’s logical to assume that He also used human beings to authoritatively decide the disputes regarding Scriptures. The question is, which human beings did He use to decide these disputes? Sola Scriptura believers ultimately have no answer for this question.

Another response I have received when using this line of reasoning is this: “We rely on the witness of the early Christians for our knowledge of what books should and should not be in the Bible.R 21; Do you know what we Catholics call the “witness of the early Christians?” Tradition. That’s a word that Protestants will not use, however, when discussing their religious beliefs. All of their beliefs, they claim, come straight from the Bible and only from the Bible. Yet, when discussing where their beliefs about the Bible came from, they inevitably have to conclude that they came from tradition – whether they use the actual word, “tradition,” or not.

Also, if they respond that they rely on the witness of the early Christians for their knowledge of what is and is not Scripture, then one needs to ask how they know what the witness of the early Christians was. Is the witness of the early Christians on this matter written in the Bible? No. In other words, their knowledge of the witness of the early Christians comes from extra–biblical sources, also known as – tradition. They cannot get away from that word – traditi on – no matter how hard they try.

Questions to Ask:

1) Where did the Bible come from?

2) What authority do we rely on for our belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, Word of God?

3) Is there a list of books in the Bible, which tells us which books should be in the Bible?

4) What authority decided the disputes among Christians as to which books should and should not be considered inspired Scripture?

5) What authority prevents me from disagreeing with the canon of Scripture as we currently have it and putting my own Bible together?

Strategy: By asking these questions you are using the “How to be Offensive (Aw–fensive) Without Being Offensive (Uh–fensive) strategy, which is all about asking questions. Ask these questions and keep asking them over and over until you actually get answers to the questions. And, if the answer you get involves “tradition,& #8221; whether they use that particular word or not, make sure you point that out.

The Perspective Provided by History:

What does the perspective of history tell us in regards to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura…the belief in the Bible as the sole rule of faith for Christians?

Well, the main thing the perspective of history tells us is that the early Christians did not believe in this doctrine. We know that because there was no Bible, as we have it now, for them to consult as their authoritative guide in questions of Christian teaching and practice. As previously mentioned, the Bible did not come together as the document that we now call “the Bible” for more than three hundred years after the death of Christ. Plus, the first book of the New Testament was not written for at least ten years or more after the death of Christ. So, for at least ten years, Christians were having to decide questions of doctrine and practice without a single book of the New Testament to consult.

Furthermore, the last book of the New Testament wasn’t written for at least forty, and probably more likely sixty years or more, after the death of Christ. Also, because of the state of transportation and communication in the world of the 1st century, it could take a while before a particular Christian community received a copy of this or that book of the New Testament – which were all written as individual books and letters at different times, in different places, and addressed to different people. In other words, the early Christians went many decades without even the possibility of being able to use the Bible as the sole source of authority in matters of Christian teaching and practice. Which means they could not, and did not, believe in the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

The question is, though, without a Bible as their sole authoritative source for their beliefs, to what, or whom, did the early Christians turn for authoritative decisions on matters of faith…on matters of doctrine? Who decided doctrinal disputes when they arose between Christians if there was no Bible to consult? Who? Well, as I’ll show in a moment, from the Bible, it was the leaders of the Church who made binding decisions in matters of doctrinal disputes. So, again, we see a binding authority, outside of Scripture, that was relied upon by the early Christians.

Another part of the historical perspective is this: When Martin Luther broke from the Catholic Church, and started teaching the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, it was around the year 1520. By the year 1600, it is said there were more than two hundred Protestant denominations. By the year 1900, it is estimated the number of denominations was almost a thousand. And, now, in the year 2009, there are estimated to be more than thirty thousand or more Protestant denominations! Each denomination claims to be based on the Bible alone, and most claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit; yet, none of them have the exact same body of doctrine, and many, many of them have doctrines that absolutely contradict one another.

How can that be? Can the Holy Spirit – which is supposed to lead us unto all truth – can this same Holy Spirit lead different people into different doctrines – doctrines that contradict each other? No. In other words, the historical perspective shows that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura tends towards division within the Body of Christ. The lesson of history teaches us that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura has done nothing but divide the Body of Christ.

The doctrine of Sola Scriptura fails the test of history.

There are generally two arguments that I’ve heard in response to this historical perspective. The first goes something like this: “Of course, the early Christians did not believe in Sola Scriptura before the New Testament was written. Sola Scriptu ra was not ‘operational’ during periods of enscripturation – in other words, during the period when new revelation was being given. But, after revelation was complete, then the principle of Sola Scriptura became operational.”

There are several problems with this response, however. First, how did the early Christians know the period of “enscripturation” was over? Who told them? What authority said to the early Christians, “The period of enscripturation is now over; therefore, the era of Sola Scriptura has started?” When exactly was the period of enscripturation over, and how do we know? Does the Bible tell us, or would that be something that Sola Scriptura believers know from…tradition?

Furthermore, where in the Bible does it tell us that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura will become “operational” after the period of enscripturation is over? Or is that also something Sola Scriptura believers know from& #8230;tradition? When exactly did the authority that the leaders of the early Church had, which is clearly displayed in the pages of Scripture, give way to the authority of each individual reading the Bible on their own to decide between true and false doctrine? And who told everyone that they no longer had to listen to their Church leaders in regard to doctrinal disputes, that they only had to pick up their Bible and read it for themselves?

In other words, this argument about Sola Scriptura not being “operational” during periods of “enscripturation” is an argument not found in the Bible – which makes it a tradition – and it is an argument that simply cannot hold up under any level of scrutiny.

The other argument I hear to counter the historical perspective is this: “There are as many divisions within the Catholic Church as there are within Protestantism.” The point being that one cannot, therefore, pin the blame fo r the divisions within Protestantism on the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, seeing as how there are just as many divisions within Catholicism, and Catholics do not believe in Sola Scriptura.

This argument does not hold, however, because there is a fundamental difference between the divisions within Protestantism and the division within the Catholic Church. Each division within Protestantism has its own particular “official” set of beliefs and practices. These differing sets of beliefs and practices from one denomination to another are generally viewed within Protestantism as being acceptable. If a Baptist disagrees with a Methodist who disagrees with a Presbyterian who disagrees with an Episcopalian on doctrinal matters…well, that’s all okay. There are thousands of sets of beliefs, all of which are generally accepted as legitimate within Protestantism itself.

Not so in the Catholic Church. In the Catholic Church, there is one, and only one, se t of beliefs that is recognized as “official” Church teaching, and everyone knows it. There actually is just one division within the Church – between those who accept Church teaching in its entirety, and those who do not.

The historical argument that links Sola Scriptura to the divisions within Protestantism is valid, therefore, because the thousands of different belief sets – from which the divisions stem – are a result of each individual reading Scripture on their own to decide what is true doctrine and what is false doctrine. For every “new” interpretation of Scripture that someone comes up with, you have the possibility of a new denomination forming.

Questions to Ask:

1) Did the early Christians believe in the doctrine of Sola Scriptura?

2) When there was a doctrinal dispute in early Christianity, did they simply consult the Bible to decide the dispute?

3) Is it possible that the Holy Spirit is guiding some Christians into beliefs that contradict the beliefs He is guiding other Christians into? If not, how do we tell which Christians are really guided by the Holy Spirit and which ones are not? How do we tell which Christians are really interpreting the Bible correctly and which ones are not?

4) Has the doctrine of Sola Scriptura proven historically to be a unifying factor or a dividing factor within the Body of Christ?

Strategy: Again, this is essentially the “How to be Offensive (Aw–fensive) Without Being Offensive (Uh–fensive) strategy – asking questions.  Since we’re not in Scripture here, there is no need for the “It’s the Principle of the Thing,” or the “But That’s My Interpretation!” strategies.  The ”Ignorant Catholic” strategy could come into play at any time, whether you̵ 7;re talking about Scripture or not, so just always remember: if you’re asked a question you don’t know the answer to, respond with: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you.”

In Conclusion

As always, all comments, edits, spelling and grammar corrections, etc. are welcomed and will be read and considered.

Hope you have a great weekend!

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