Originally posted on The Catholic Thinker: https://whysoseriousdotcom.wordpress.com/2017/06/29/who-is-your-teacher-scripture-alone/
To anyone who adheres to Sola Scriptura, they have gotten it right…The Bible is the sole authority when it comes to Christian doctrine…
The above phrase was taken from the article: Who Is Your Teacher? — by Modconspiracy (Link at bottom).
Is the Bible really the sole authority? Does the Bible teach that it is the sole authority? Was this always believed by Christianity? Is Scripture the only infallible teacher?
Well first, how did the Bible come together?
The Bible is a collection of writings considered to be inspired by God, written by man. The canon of the Bible refers to the definitive list of the books which are considered to be divine revelation and included therein. A canon distinguishes what is revealed and divine from what is not revealed and human. The Council of Laodicea, 360 AD, produced a list of books similar to today’s canon. This was one of the Church’s earliest decisions on a canon. Around 367 AD, St. Athanasius came up with a canon of books he thought were divinely inspired. Pope Damasus, 366-384, in his Decree, listed the books of today’s canon, the same canon listed by Athanasius. The Council of Rome, 382, was the forum which prompted Pope Damasus’ Decree. Later Councils of Hippo, 393 AD, and Carthage, 397 AD, ratified this canon listed by Pope Damasus. In 405 AD, Pope Innocent I wrote a letter to the Bishop of Toulouse reaffirming the canon, which contained 73 books.
This is roughly how the Bible came to be. The Catholic Church was the one, who, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, determined what books belonged in the canon, and which did not.
The New Testament is a collection of letters written by the first Christians, primarily the Apostles, to the churches in their care, or their students in the Faith. The Gospels are a written account of what occurred in Christ’s life. These events were previously taught orally, before they were written. We are both lucky and thankful that Christ’s Apostles decided to write down His teachings, as Christ never commanded them to write any of it on paper.
Catholics believe that the Bible is the written form of God’s Word, and it is inerrant. Along with Sacred Tradition, it is a source of Revelation to man. Tradition is all the Christian teachings that are not found in the Bible, but are still doctrinal truths. These two sources of Revelation are interpreted and taught infallibly by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, the Pope.
This is where the Protestant churches disagree. They believe that the Bible alone is the sole authority of Christian doctrine, and it alone is the infallible teacher. This doctrine is commonly referred to by its Latin name of Sola Scriptura, or Scripture Alone.
Is Sola Scriptura true? Does it have any biblical or historical roots? For Sola Scriptura to work, it would have to be found in the Bible. The most commonly cited verse by Protestants when attempting to prove Sola Scriptura is:
“All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
This verse does not say that Scripture is sufficient; it says that Scripture is profitable. It does not say that we are to go by the Bible alone. Also, read in context with the preceding verses, St. Paul is talking to Timothy about the scriptures that he has known from his infancy (2 Timothy 3:15). The only scriptures at that time was the Old Testament. Paul’s epistles were not regarded as Scripture at the time of its writing. If this is proof of Sola Scriptura, then in reality it is Sola Old Testament! The real message of this passage is that all scripture is profitable, but not sufficient.
The Greek word pasa, which is usually translated as “all”, means “every”, in the sense of referring to each and every individual piece of the class denoted. That is to say that the Greek literally reads that each and every individual scripture is profitable. Profitable, not sufficient. If profitable is to be taken as sufficient, then that means that every individual book of Scripture is sufficient to teach all Christian doctrine, and that is utter nonsense.
This passage doesn’t teach formal sufficiency, which excludes a binding, authoritative role for Tradition and the Church. If we look at the overall context of this passage, we can see that Paul makes reference to oral Tradition three times (2 Tim. 1:13-14, 2:2, 3:14). And to use an analogy, examine a similar passage:
“And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:11-15).
If 2 Timothy 3 proves the sole sufficiency of Scripture, then Ephesians 4 would also prove the sufficiency of pastors and teachers for the attainment of Christian perfection. The pastors, teachers, etc. are able to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, building Christ’s Church, and unity in knowledge of the Faith. Using the Protestant mindset for 2 Timothy 3:16, it appears that the leaders of the Church are sufficient, since this passage doesn’t even mention Scripture. So if all non-scriptural elements are excluded in 2 Timothy, then, by analogy, Scripture would logically have to be excluded in Ephesians. Another passage that could be mentioned such as James 1:4.
“And patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing.” (James 1:4)
It appears that, using the Protestant mentality applied to 2 Timothy 3:16, patience is enough to perfect a man, and only patience. James makes no mention of Scripture being sufficient.
Or perhaps 2 Corinthians 12:9 which states:
“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness‘ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Maybe even Matthew 19:21.
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21)
Nowhere does the Bible claim to be the sole teacher of Christian doctrine, implicitly or explicitly. Why should one believe Sola Scriptura if the Bible itself does not teach it?
One cannot argue that Sola Scriptura is a doctrine of the Early Church either–they didn’t have a Bible for several centuries. The early Christians relied on oral Tradition to learn about God and Christian doctrine. Tradition, like the Bible, is the Word of God.
“Word” in Holy Scripture often refers to a proclaimed, oral teaching of prophets or apostles. What the prophets spoke was the word of God regardless of whether or not their utterances were recorded later as written Scripture. So for example, in Jeremiah:
“For twenty-three years…the word of the Lord has come to me and I have spoken to you again and again…’But you did not listen to me,’ declares the Lord…Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: ‘Because you have not listened to my words…’ ” (Jer. 25:3, 7-8).
This was the Word of God even though some of it was not recorded in writing. It had equal authority as writing or proclamation-never-reduced-to-writing. This was true also of apostolic preaching. When the phrases “word of God” or “word of the Lord” appear in Acts and the epistles, they almost always refer to oral preaching, not to Scripture. For example:
“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.” (1 Thess. 2:13)
The Scriptures are not the only form of the Word of God. The word of God is oral Tradition also, as shown above. Before Paul wrote down the Word of God, it was oral–but it was still the Word of God.
Many Protestants quote verses in the Bible where corrupt traditions of men are condemned (Matt. 15:2-6; Mark 7:8-13; Col. 2:8). They seem to think that since Jesus condemned man-made traditions that nullify the Word of God, then all tradition is to be regarded as bad. The Bible says otherwise.
Let us remember that Jesus Christ commissioned the Apostles to “preach the Gospel to every creature”(Mark 16:15), not to “write down everything that I have taught you in one big book.” The Apostles oral teaching was to be believed, as it was binding (Luke 10:16). The prophet Isaiah prophesied of how the Word of the Lord would not depart from his people’s mouths; and would remain with them forever (Is. 59:21) This shows how important Tradition really is; not only the Bible holds the authoritative Christian teaching. This oral teaching will last forever, says Simon Peter.
“But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel hath been preached unto you.” (1 Peter 1:25)
Be aware of the word preached–it was oral. This was guaranteed to last. Just because the Word was not written down does not mean that it wasn’t the Word of God. How did the Bible come to be?? Did several typewritten papers fall from Heaven one day? No. God inspired men to preach and later write down His Word. The oral Word holds the same authority as that which is written.
“And they were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles, and in the communication of the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42)
The first Christians persevered in the doctrine of the apostles, not solely on the Bible. Why did these Christians not persevere in Scripture alone? Because, they acknowledged the Apostles as their teachers, and also because the only part of the Bible in existence was the Old Testament. The New Testament was not written at this particular time, so this does not help the Protestant argument.
“Now I praise you, brethren, that in all things you are mindful of me: and keep my ordinances as I have delivered them to you.” (1 Cor. 11:2)
These “ordinances” that Paul has delivered to the Corinthians is tradition; something that is to be upheld, according to the Apostle. Why should the Christians have kept Paul’s ordinances? Should they have said that they didn’t see his ordinances in the Bible? Oh right, there was no Bible at that time.
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle.” (2 Thes. 2:14)
St. Paul commands the holding of oral and written Tradition–not Scripture alone. He says to observe the tradition that has been learned by word, oral tradition, or written, scripture.
“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Tim.1:13-14)
Paul tells Timothy to keep the sound teaching he has heard from him–oral Tradition.
“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”(2 Timothy 2:2, emphasis added)
Paul tells Timothy to entrust to “reliable people” the teaching he has heard him say. This teaching that Timothy has heard is oral teaching–Tradition. Tradition is taught to be held as binding by the Church’s believer’s; not only Scripture. St. Paul approves of Apostolic Tradition, apart from the harmful traditions of men.
Tradition is of the same authority as the Bible. Why? Because it too, along with the Bible is God’s Word. They are just two different sources of Revelation in different forms. Before the Gospels were put on paper, they were oral Tradition. In reality, the New Testament is Tradition on paper. Why argue that Scripture alone is authoritative when Scripture says otherwise?
Did Paul not teach Christians to follow the Tradition given them? The Tradition he gave was authoritative. It would be very foolish to ignore the importance of Tradition. St. Paul knew that what he was teaching was infallible, or else he would have been commanding his followers to adhere to a mistaken doctrine. He writes:
“If any one refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.” (2 Thes. 3:14)
“Take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them.” (Rom. 16:17)
Why should someone adhere to Sola Scriptura when Scripture does not teach that it alone is authoritative? The Bible clearly says that both Tradition and itself are rules of authority. Protestants defending Sola Scriptura will claim that Jesus and Paul accepted the authority of the Old Testament. This is true, as we witness Christ’s showdown with Satan in the beginning of Luke 4, but they also appealed to other authority outside of written revelation. For example:
In Matthew 23:2-3, Jesus teaches that the scribes and Pharisees have a legitimate, binding authority based “on Moses’ seat,” but this phrase or idea cannot be found anywhere in the Old Testament.
In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul refers to a rock that “followed” the Jews through the Sinai wilderness. The Old Testament says nothing about such miraculous movement.
“As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses” (2 Tim. 3:8). These two men cannot be found in the related Old Testament passage (Ex. 7:8) or anywhere else in the Old Testament.
The reference to “He shall be called a Nazarene” cannot be found in the Old Testament, yet it was “spoken by the prophets” (Matt. 2:23). Therefore, this prophecy, which is considered to be “God’s word,” was passed down orally rather than through Scripture.
Why should these references be believed by those that were being spoken to, if they were not written in Scripture? In 1 Corinthians 10, shouldn’t the Christians have rebuked Paul for going beyond Scripture and teach them from Tradition? No, because they were never taught to go by Scripture alone. None of the first Christians or Jews followed the rule of Sola Scriptura. The Jews listened to the prophets and other teachers God set before them, instead of going by Scripture Alone.
To give two examples from the Old Testament itself:
In Nehemiah 8:3, Ezra reads the law of Moses to the people in Jerusalem. In verse 7 we find thirteen Levites who assisted Ezra and helped the people to understand the law. Much earlier, we find Levites exercising the same function (2 Chr. 17:8-9).
Ezra, a priest and scribe, studied the Jewish law and taught it to Israel, and his authority was binding under pain of imprisonment, banishment, loss of goods, and even death (Ezra 7:26).
So the people did indeed understand the law (Neh. 8:8, 12), but not without teaching assistance. The Old Testament teaches the need for authoritative interpreters, just like the New Testament.
The Bible, like any book, cannot interpret itself. There must be a truthful, teaching authority. There are people who do not understand the Scriptures and twist them to their own destruction. St. Peter mentions this in his second epistle, when speaking of St. Paul’s writings.
“As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)
Someone with reasonable biblical knowledge must teach the meaning of the scriptures to others. Someone must show others the meaning of the sacred writings, so they may understand. Who better to do this than the Catholic Church, the institution that put the Bible together?
“And he was returning, sitting in his chariot, and reading Isaiah the prophet. And the Spirit said to Philip: Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip running thither, heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. And he said: Thinkest thou that thou understandest what thou readest? Who said: And how can I, unless some man shew me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.” (Acts 8:28-31)
People must be shown the meaning of the Scriptures that they may know their meaning, and that they may not twist them to their own destruction. How can a person of no religious training be able to correctly decide the true meanings of Scripture passages? There are many seemingly contradictory passages in the Scriptures.
Matthew 23:9: “And call none your father upon earth; for one is your father, who is in heaven.”
Romans 4:12: “And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.”
So did Paul sin by calling a man on earth his father?
John 13:34: “A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
Luke 14:26: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”
We have to hate our parents to follow Christ? Or are we to love one another? Which one?
With so many passages that are difficult to understand, there must be a teacher. Even the Twelve Apostles did not understand some of Christ’s parables, and needed them explained (Mark 4:33-34). The prophesies in Scripture are not to be privately interpreted (2 Pet. 1:20), lest people twist their meanings (2 Peter 3:16).
Here we see the Bible itself stating in no uncertain terms that its prophecies are not a matter for which the individual is to arrive at his own interpretation. St. Peter is obviously contrasting genuine, Apostolic teaching with false prophets and false teachers, and he makes reference to private interpretation as the pivotal point between the two. The clear implication is that private interpretation is one pathway whereby an individual turns from authentic teaching and begins to follow erroneous teaching.
Who can correctly teach the Bible’s meaning?
The Bible itself refers to the Church as “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The truth of the faith has been revealed primarily to the leaders of the Church (Eph. 3:5), who with Jesus Christ, are the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20). The Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, which keeps it’s teaching from corruption forever (John 14:16).
It is evident from the above passages that the teaching Church should be infallible, or else it would not be the pillar and ground of truth. If the Church is the pillar and ground of truth, then it is unable to teach erroneously on Christian doctrine. The only plausible conclusion is that Our Lord was very deliberate in establishing His Church and that He was referring to its infallibility when He called it the “pillar and ground of truth”.
Beginning with Peter, the Apostles received authority from Jesus Christ Himself.
“Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18)
“If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17)
It is clear that God gave authority to his Apostles. The judicial power of binding and loosing is not just an everyday accomplishment! With their authority evident, why would one teach that Scripture alone is the sole authority? If the Church is the pillar of truth, how can the Bible be the only infallible authority? The notion of Sola Scriptura diminishes the authority of the Church, and leaves the ground of truth inferior to the Bible.
In the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:6-30), we see Peter and James speaking with authority. This Council makes an authoritative pronouncement (citing the Holy Spirit) that was binding on all Christians:
“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity” (Acts 15:28-29).
In the next chapter, we read that Paul, Timothy, and Silas were traveling around “through the cities,” and Scripture says that “they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem” (Acts 16:4).
Why did the Apostles make a decision on something not clearly taught in Scripture? Why did the Early Christians not object to this? Because the Apostles were appointed as teaching authorities by Christ. They did not adhere to, and were not bound by Sola Scriptura.
Sola Scriptura underemphasizes the fact that the Bible came from the Church, the Church did not come from the Bible. The Church got along quite nicely in the world without having a Bible for a few hundred years. If Sola Scriptura was true, how did the early Church evangelize and overthrow the Roman Empire, survive and prosper almost 350 years, without knowing for sure which books belong in the canon of Scripture? They didn’t go by Scripture Alone. There was no Bible for quite some time. The canon of Scripture was not settled till the 4th century. Who or what served as the final Christian authority up to the time that the New Testament’s canon was identified? And if there was a final authority before the establishment of the canon, on what basis did that authority cease being final once the Bible’s canon was established? The whole position is utterly illogical. The notion of Sola Scriptura, like the ancient Jews, was alien. They held Tradition and Scripture in the same regard as the Catholic Church. Epiphanius of Salamis summarizes the Catholic position quite neatly:
“It is needful also to make use of tradition, for not everything can be gotten from sacred Scripture. The holy apostles handed down some things in the scriptures, other things in tradition.” (Medicine Chest Against All Heresies 61:6 [A.D. 375])
The Bible itself would not be in existence if not for the Catholic Church. How else would it have come together? The Catholic Church determined what books belonged in the Bible canon. The Bible did not drop out of Heaven with an inspired table of contents. How would one determine, from Scripture alone, what books belong in the Scriptures? How would one determine, from Scripture alone, who wrote what books of the Bible? The manuscripts did not begin titled “The Gospel according to Luke”, or Paul’s Epistle to the Romans”. The Magisterium of the Catholic Church, using Sacred Tradition, determined the canon of Scripture, and knew who wrote the books. Those conclusions could not be gotten from solely the Bible, especially if no one knew what was inspired Scripture.
Essential to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is the idea that the Holy Spirit will enlighten each believer as to the correct interpretation for a given Bible passage. This idea presupposes that each believer possesses a Bible or at least has access to a Bible. The difficulty with such a presumption is that the Bible was not able to be mass-produced and readily available to individual believers until the advent of the printing press in the 15th century. Even then, it would have taken quite some time for large numbers of Bibles to be printed and disseminated to the general population. How could Christians possibly have access to an authoritative source prior to this time? Did Christ leave His people in the dark about Christian doctrine after he ascended to Heaven? How would they know?
Christians did not need a Bible to know God’s Word, as they had His Word in the oral form of Tradition, and were taught by His Church, the Pillar of Truth. Really, if Jesus intended for Christianity to strictly be a “religion of the book,” why did He wait 1400 years before showing somebody how to build a printing press?
And, if Sola Scriptura were true, wouldn’t all Christians who adhere to the doctrine be in agreement on Christian teaching? There are thousands of “Christian” denominations, all teaching different doctrines. Are they all correct? Some denominations teach that once you are “saved” you can never lose your salvation, while others believe it is possible for a true Christian to sin gravely and cease being “saved.” Some teach the need for infant baptism, others condemn it. Who’s right? Shouldn’t they be on the same page since the rely solely on Scripture?
If every person gives his own private interpretation on a passage, how does he know if he is correct or not? Are any individual Protestant interpreters infallible? Many will answer no. In that case, you really don’t know what is the truth, do you? What a sad position.
With all the above problems stated, it is evident that Sola Scriptura is just another unbiblical (how ironic), man-made tradition. The only God-given institution that is infallible and error-free is the Catholic Church, as founded by Christ Himself. Christ’s Church teaches that Sola Scriptura is a heretical, man-made tradition that leads one away from the Truth, not closer to it.
The Catholic Church, using her Magisterium, infallibly teaches Christian doctrine, using the sources of Revelation; the written form of God’s Word, the Bible, and the oral form, passed down from generation to generation, Sacred Tradition. This alone is how Christ intended his flock to be taught. Only by accepting the Catholic Church as possessing the complete rule of faith can one be certain that they possess the whole truth Christ taught. Delving into the traditions and religions of men will not bring you truth; it will lead you astray.
— Patrick E. Devens