The first topic (and one of the most foundational ones) that we will discuss is the issue of authority. Catholics look to a combination of Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium as their final authority, while most Protestants believe in “Sola Scriptura” (the Bible Alone). But what do Catholics think of Sola Scriptura? This concept is very often misunderstood and misrepresented by most Catholics (and some Protestants, as well). When we say “Bible Alone,” we do not mean that we cannot use other sources of information to help us along in our Christian walk. Neither does it mean that the Bible contains every bit of spiritual information that exists. It is not an exhaustive encyclopedia containing every word that God, the Father, or Jesus Christ, the Son, has ever spoken, nor does it tell us of every single event in Church history. Sola Scriptura does not mean that there are no other authorities, or that the writings of the church fathers are useless. It does not mean that all tradition is bad, or that the Holy Spirit cannot deal with our hearts by other means, as well. It also does not mean that something has to be specifically mentioned in the Bible to be true, or that a person can wrecklessly interpret the Bible any way he wants to.
Ok, so what does Sola Scriptura mean then? Here is a simple definition:
It means that the Bible is the only infallible Rule of Faith for the
That’s it. It is a simple concept. The Scriptures are therefore the ultimate authority for the Christian, since there is nothing above, or equal to, their authority. All other sources, teachings, tradition, “revelation,” etc., are subject to this ultimate authority. We must test all of these and determine if they line up with God’s Word (I Thessalonians 5:21; I John 4:1; Matthew 15:1-9; Acts 17:11). If any teaching does not line up with the Scriptures, it cannot be binding on the Christian.
CATHOLIC CLAIM – SOLA SCRIPTURA IS A SELF-REFUTING CONCEPT, SINCE IT IS NOT BIBLICAL, THAT IS, IT CANNOT BE FOUND IN THE BIBLE
Let us now turn to 2 Timothy 3:16-17. There we find the apostle Paul telling Timothy:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” [NASB]
This passage, to me, seems to be pretty simple and straightforward, but there are a number of Catholic objections to this verse, as to whether it proves Sola Scriptura, and I will address some of them now.
Objection #1- “Paul says all Scripture, not ONLY Scripture, is inspired. And anyway, he says that it is merely ‘profitable / useful’. ‘Profitable’ does not mean sufficient.”
Answer – It is true that the word “only” is not used in this verse, but the impact of the phrase “for every good work” in the next verse seems to be ignored by those using this type of logic. If Scripture equips us for every good work, then by definition, it is sufficient as a Rule of Faith.
Let me use an analogy. If you were an auto mechanic and your boss gave you a toolbox that equipped you for every mechanic’s job that you could possibly run into, would that toolbox be sufficient? Yes, it would. Do you need another toolbox for foreign cars or pick-up trucks? No, not if the one he gave you equips you for every mechanic’s job.
In the same way, Scripture is our “toolbox” which equips us for every good work. Since this is true, there is no other source needed today TO FUNCTION AS AN INFALIBLE RULE OF FAITH. By definition, Scripture is all that is needed.
Objection #2 – “It is the ‘man of God’ which is described as adequate, not the Scriptures.”
Answer – The “teacher” is always greater than the student. Is that which is infallible and which teaches and equips us, LESS THAN the one that it is teaching? Absolutely not. If the “man of God” becomes adequate through the teaching of Scripture, how much more adequate is the Word of God?
Objection #3 – “Paul is not only speaking of Scripture in this context, but he is also speaking of Sacred Tradition which was handed down to Timothy when he says, ‘You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them’ (verse 14). So, we need Tradition also.”
Answer – First, no external “tradition” is named or identified in the context here. Secondly, can anyone say exactly what it was that Timothy had learned from Paul? To say that Paul was speaking of some “Catholic Tradition” is just begging the question. And even if he WAS speaking of some kind of external traditions, Paul definitely shifts gears in the very next verse (15), and he starts focusing on and speaking specifically of Scripture through to the end of the chapter.
Objection #4 – “Paul could not have meant Sola Scriptura here, since he was speaking of the only Scripture that was available at that time: the Old Testament. If Sola Scriptura applied here, wouldn’t we have to say that the Old Testament is all we need?
Answer – It is probably true that very little of the New Testament was written when Paul wrote 2 Timothy, but verse 16 says “All Scripture”, not all Scripture given to us “up until this point.”
As an example, if a Catholic stated that all official pronouncements of the Catholic Church are true, would anyone think that he was trying to say that only those official pronouncements which were given up to the present were true, but future ones may be false? Of course not. “All official pronouncements” means all official pronouncements, and “All Scripture” means just that… ALL Scripture… not just the Scriptures which happened to be available at the time.
Objection #5 – “There are other things besides Scripture that can make us ‘perfect and entire’, ‘lacking in nothing’, like patience (James 1:4). Or, we can exercise purity to make us ‘ready for any good work’ (2 Timothy 2:21), and good deeds are also said to be ‘profitable’ for us (Titus 3:8). So, Scripture is not the only thing that we need.”
Answer – The context in these verses is NOT the establishing of a Rule of Faith, as 2 Timothy chapter 3 is. But the context in the above verses is about sanctification, or the APPLICATION of that Rule, i.e., actually LIVING by its principles. For example, you can have a Bible sitting on your coffee table gathering dust, but if you don’t APPLY yourself to it, it won’t do you any good. Just as failing to apply the principles of Catholicism will make you a less-than-ideal Catholic. A Rule of Faith is a critically important guide, but it is not expected to do the work for you.
In 2 Timothy chapter 3, Paul is giving instructions on what to do when difficult times will come (verse 1), when men (even those in the church) will be boastful, arrogant, unholy, etc. (verses 2-5), opposing the truth (verse 8), and deceiving and being deceived (verse 13). Paul is showing us where to turn in these times of deception and uncertainty… to our Rule of Faith, which will be an anchor to keep us from being tossed about by every wind of doctrine… to the Word of God, that which is inspired (which means “God-breathed”– verse 16). If this Rule of Faith (Scripture) is the only thing that is ever called “God-breathed” in the New Testament, and it gives us doctrine / teaching, corrects us, trains us in the way of righteousness, and equips us for EVERY GOOD WORK, then what else do we need as a Rule of Faith?
Thus, we see that these Catholic arguments do not hold water, and that Sola Scriptura is, indeed, a biblical concept. We will tackle another Catholic claim next time. Comments, questions, and objections are welcome.
In His Name,