“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 – NASV)
This is the second article in a series on Sola Scriptura (“Bible Alone”), in which the above passage is most important. We assert that this passage does indeed support the concept of Sola Scriptura, and we want to address some specific objections to it (mainly from Catholics).
Today’s specific objection is this:
Argument #2 – 2 TIMOTHY 3:16-17 CANNOT BE SPEAKING OF SOLA SCRIPTURA, BECAUSE JUST TWO VERSES BEFORE THIS (V. 14) WE SEE PAUL ALSO TELLING TIMOTHY TO “CONTINUE IN THE THINGS YOU HAVE LEARNED AND BECOME CONVINCED OF,” WHICH REFERS TO INFALLIBLE SACRED TRADITION. SO SCRIPTURE IS NOT THE *ONLY* INFALLIBLE RULE OF FAITH HERE.
Ok, so this argument assumes that there are TWO different infallible sources, or “rules of faith” here, for the church today… namely Scripture AND Tradition.
But first of all, can somebody tell us exactly what it was that Timothy learned? Anyone? If this information is supposed to be available to the church today, then what is it exactly, and where can we find it? Can we know precisely what Timothy was convinced of? No, none of us were there and Paul never reveals this information. This was personal, first-hand interaction between Paul and Timothy.
Catholics may say, “Oh yeah, that was US back then! Paul is talking about OUR Tradition in 2 Timothy 3:14.” But that’s just reading a Catholic idea back into the text. No group can just assume that Paul was speaking of their own brand of “tradition.”
But perhaps “what Timothy learned” is simply what Paul alluded to in verses 10 and 11 (i.e., Paul’s teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions and sufferings). But do Catholics have an infallible record of Paul’s teachings, conduct, persecutions, etc. (other than Scripture)? No they don’t, so they need to quit putting words in Paul’s mouth and quit pretending that Paul is speaking of Catholic Tradition.
For the record, Catholicism’s “Sacred Tradition” has an identity crisis all its own. See here:
Second, if the passage is speaking of TWO sources of infallible revelation, then why does Paul only describe Scripture as inspired / “God-breathed”? And why does he mention only “the sacred writings” (v. 15), but NOT mention “Sacred Tradition” here? In fact, even if it could be shown that v. 14 is really about some kind of “tradition,” notice that Paul doesn’t mention the idea of anything being INSPIRED until the subject of Scripture comes up. Catholics are assuming (and insisting on) a second infallible rule of faith for the post-apostolic church, but without just cause in this context. So this is wishful thinking on their part, and pure eisegesis (i.e., reading whatever you want into the text).
Third, Catholics are assuming that the things Timothy learned here are unwritten. One may even be able to make a case in saying that “the things you have learned” (v. 14) might actually be referring to Scripture itself, instead of some unidentified “tradition.” It would actually seem to flow right into verse 15. So, it could be possible and acceptable to interpret verse 14 in this way. We’re not saying that this has to be the case – just that it’s a possibility. But, in spite of what Catholics say, what Paul was speaking of doesn’t HAVE TO BE “Catholic Tradition.”
Fourth, we know that “the things you have learned” in verse 14 would never contradict the Scriptures. However, the “Tradition” that the Catholic Church embraces CANNOT be the same thing that Paul was speaking of, since the Catholic Church’s Tradition contains a number of teachings that either contradict, or are foreign to, Scripture.
So, in conclusion, we can see the weakness of this Catholic argument. The phrase “the things which you have learned” does NOT refer to some infallible Catholic Tradition. Catholics are just trying to hi-jack this phrase for their own purposes by trying to read the Catholic Church’s own (supposed) “infallibility” into the text.
It is obvious that the FOCUS of this passage is on Scripture. And Scripture, as a Rule of Faith, does not need some “equal” or “infallible” supplement.