Last month, we specifically addressed the “authority to interpret Scripture” concept which we found in one of John Martignoni’s newsletters (#268). Martignoni is a well known and influential Catholic apologist who has thousands of people who subscribe to his newsletter and other materials. So, we feel that it is important to address some of his errors and misrepresentations.
This month, we will take a look at Martignoni’s view of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (“Bible Alone”). In newsletters #83 through #85, which can be found here
Martignoni addresses Sola Scriptura and claims that this doctrine is not logical, not historical, and not scriptural. But his foundational argument is based on a couple of false premises. For example, Martignoni first defines Sola Scriptura in this way in newsletter #83:
“First, let me define the dogma of Sola Scriptura so that you know exactly what I mean when I use the term. As I understand it, it is the belief that the Bible, and the Bible alone, is the only thing that a Christian needs in order to know whatever they need to know about Christian teaching and practice.”
This definition is the first false premise. Perhaps there are some Protestants who would define Sola Scriptura in this way, but that is certainly not a biblical definition. We believe that Sola Scriptura is indeed a biblical concept and we would simply define it this way:
- Scripture is the only infallible Rule of Faith for the church today.
Key word, “infallible.” There are indeed other sources of authority (or rules of faith) in the church today, like church leaders, theologians, the writings of church fathers, archaeological and historical evidence, traditions, councils, Bible commentaries, catechisms, etc. We are free to use these things to help us learn and grow spiritually, but none of these are infallible. Scripture is the ultimate Rule of Faith today because it is the only infallible one. But John Martignoni’s false premise is that those who believe in Sola Scriptura must use ONLY the Bible to learn anything spiritual. But that is a misrepresentation of Sola Scriptura.
At the end of this particular newsletter, Martignoni appeals to his audience to help him by asking for advice from his readers so he can “tweak” his upcoming article on Sola Scriptura. And, in fact, in newsletter #84, his readers are the ones who pointed out that his original definition was “too narrow,” and convinced him to use a somewhat more biblical definition of Sola Scriptura. His second (refined) definition is this:
“The Bible is the sole authority that one needs to decide what is and is not authentic Christian teaching and practice. Now, 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 kind of binding authority that the Bible carries.”
Here, it appears that he is starting to understand the meaning of Sola Scriptura. But immediately after this, Martignoni turns right around and contradicts this new definition by saying:
“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.”
He misses the fact that Sola Scriptura allows for the Christian to believe in other rules of faith, as long as that rule does not conflict with Scripture. Again, he goes from “sole authentic teaching” to “sole rule of faith.” He reverts back to his original (faulty) definition.
And once again, in newsletter #85, Martignoni does another word switch:
Do you see what he does here? In the first half, he gets the biblical definition right, but then turns right around and switches back to his original wording. This is a typical bait-and-switch tactic.
Still again, he later contradicts his refined definition of Sola Scriptura by saying:
Martignoni seems to have trouble maintaining a consistent definition of Sola Scriptura. How many times do we need to remind him that Sola Scriptura DOES NOT mean that the Bible is the sole rule of faith. It is the sole INFALLIBLE rule of faith. There is a world of difference.
Is Martignoni intentionally muddying the water? A professional apologist like himself should know better; he should easily be able to recognize the difference between the two definitions. Apparently (by his own admission) even his readers can tell the difference, since they were the ones who suggested the new definition.
John Martignoni’s second false premise in these articles is that we need infallible authority when we interpret the Bible and we cannot allow “individual interpretation” of Scripture. But we already addressed that error in last month’s article here:
Again, this “authority to interpret” argument is one of Martignoni’s foundational arguments that he uses often. For him, it is a major building block for many (if not most) of his teachings. But exposing this false “need” for infallible interpretations undercuts Martignoni’s whole “authority argument” and brings it crumbling down.
We cannot emphasize this enough: Even if John Martignoni’s church was infallible (and we strongly assert that it is not) and if they were able to perfectly and infallibly interpret Scripture, he would still be in the same “trap” as the Protestant. He must still use his own fallible mind and faculties, along with common sense, to interpret his supposed infallible source (the Catholic Church). He cannot claim that fallible interpretations are a problem for Protestants, but not for Catholics. We are all fallible.
So, John Martignoni is off to a very bad start if he cannot even get the definition of Sola Scriptura right, and if one of his most foundational arguments (“authority to interpret”) is invalid. Interested readers can find, in this blog, answers to Martignoni’s other arguments against Sola Scriptura, as well. See these links:
We also have an eight-part series on Sola Scriptura starting here: