Friday, August 16, 2013


“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 will be the eighth and final article in this particular series on Sola Scriptura (“Bible Alone”).  Today we will specifically address an argument that is very commonly used by Catholics (as well as others).  Many enemies of Sola Scriptura consider this argument to be the super-duper, one-punch-one-kill, granddaddy-of-all-arguments against the teaching of Sola Scriptura.  It is an argument about the canon (i.e., the list of books that are included in Scripture).  And it goes like this:


Again, let’s remember the definition of Sola Scriptura… that the Bible is the only infallible Rule of Faith for the church today.  And because of that, it is our ultimate moral standard.  But this does not mean that the Bible has to be an exhaustive source of every bit of spiritual information that ever existed.

It is true that the Bible does not contain a specific list of all its books.  God indeed chose not to place such a list within its pages, but this doesn’t make the Bible insufficient as a rule of faith (as is evident in 2 Timothy 3:16-17). 

But the premise of the “canon argument” is wrong to start with.  This whole argument is ASSUMING the need for “infallible certainty.”  That’s what the argument is really all about, and this supposed “need” is a widespread assumption in the Catholic Church.  But this article is not about WHO determined the canon… it’s not about HOW we got the canon… it’s not even about WHAT the true canon is.  It’s simply demonstrating that:  1) the canon does NOT NEED to be listed in the Bible and 2) Catholics don’t really have the certainty that they claim to have.

Catholics often boast about their infallible certainty, but if infallible certainty on the canon is so important to the Catholic Church, then why was the canon not “infallibly” defined until the Council of Trent in 1546?  It seems that the Catholic Church talks a good talk, but has done a very poor job of actually providing its members with any real certainty, much less the certainty that it so proudly claims.  For the first 1500 years of church history, Catholic Tradition has failed to provide infallible certainty on the canon issue.  Not only that, but their present canon also has some problematic issues (see the links below).  So, this “infallible-certainty-on-the-canon” argument sounds good, but it is nothing but a delusion.  

See also these articles:

So, we have reason to question the Catholic’s claim to certainty on the canon.  But we also have reason to question his certainty on Bible interpretation, as well, because the Catholic Church also claims to have infallibly interpreted certain Bible verses.  But there are over 31,000 verses in the Bible, and only a tiny percentage of these verses is “infallibly” interpreted by the Catholic Church.  Catholic apologists disagree on the actual number of these verses (some say 8, some 11, some 20, etc.), but even if there were 100 verses that the Church had officially and “infallibly” interpreted over the centuries, that would still only be about THREE ONE-THOUSANDTHS OF ONE PERCENT (.003%) of the Bible infallibly interpreted!  To get an idea of the size of this percentage, this would be equal to only 16 feet out of a full mile, or only 26 hours out of a full year.  If a company had 2,000 employees, this would be like having only 6 of them show up for work.  Again, these examples represent the extremely small percentage of Bible verses that carry the Church’s guarantee that they are correctly interpreted.  This is pretty weak for a group that so often scoffs at Protestants for their “lack of certainty.”    

Only 100 verses in 2,000 years?  If this is any indication of the rate of progress for “infallible certainty” in the Catholic Church, then take heart, dear Catholics – you only have a half-million years or so (620,000 to be exact) to achieve complete infallible certainty on the whole Bible!  This should hardly be reassuring to Catholics.  If the Catholic Church is all that it claims to be, and it is really concerned about giving its people “infallible certainty,” it surely could have done better than this in 2,000 years.

If the Catholic Church feels the need to infallibly interpret Scripture in the first place, then why so few verses?  Why not all of it, or at least most of it?  And isn’t it interesting how certain uniquely-Catholic concepts (however unbiblical) have made their way into this list of “infallible” teachings (e.g., the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary, etc.).  Is it just me, or is this suspicious to anyone else?   Are they perfectly satisfied with just a few verses interpreted this way, as long as some of their pet doctrines can achieve this “infallible status”?

Catholic apologists may object and say that it was never the intention of the Church to infallibly interpret ALL Bible verses, and they only did this when disputes came up.  But many, many disputes came up over the centuries that never ended up in the “infallibly declared” category, so this is not a valid objection.  

Ironically, there is so much confusion and disagreement about this, even among Catholic leaders and apologists.  Catholics will admit that this topic is complex and multi-layered, and no one seems to really be able to say exactly which statements are properly considered “infallible.”  This fact simply emphasizes to us, all the more, that the great “certainty” that the Catholic boasts about is a mere fantasy.  

Another problem with the canon argument is that many (if not most) Catholics today seem to believe in the “material sufficiency” view of the Bible (See Part 6 of this series).  This view states that the Bible has all the necessary “material” in it.  If that’s true, then the canon (which is not in there) must not NEED to be in the Bible.  So, if the “material sufficiency” view is correct, this canon argument against Sola Scriptura cannot be true.  No one can hold to the canon argument and to the “material sufficiency” view at the same time.

One more objection against the canon argument is that if a rule of faith (the Bible) must have a list of its contents (the canon), then what about the Catholic Church’s own rule of faith?  Where is the “canon” of Catholic Tradition?  It does not exist.  So, if the concept of Sola Scriptura fails because the Bible doesn’t have an infallible list of its own books, then Tradition also fails since it doesn’t list its own contents, either.  This is certainly a double standard on their part.

In conclusion, this “granddaddy-of-all-arguments” is based on the false premise that we MUST have “infallible certainty” of the canon.  But the fact is, only God can have this kind of certainty.  We can’t.  Still, by His grace, we humans can have a reasonable and sufficient certainty on God’s inspired books.  He leaves us free to search out other sources (e.g., church history, the fathers, etc.), to use discernment, evaluate the available evidence, and use our fallible minds to arrive at a reasonable conclusion.

So, the fact that the canon is not specifically listed within the pages of Scripture does nothing to affect the Bible’s sufficiency as our Ultimate Rule of Faith.