Discussion on Sola Scriptura with a Fundamentalist


(This was from an ongoing discussion in the RCatholic-L mailing list)

Hello Rich and everyone.

Rich> Well, here it is. It took me longer than I thought because of other commitments and studies I have going on. My life has become quite busy telling others of God's Word. Thank you both for being patient. Take your time and read it thoroughly, looking up the scripture, etc. Am looking forward to both of your correspondences and thoughts. >>

Cool. I'll respond today but you can take your time to reply as this will be rather detailed. I'll probably post this on my web site when finished. Thanks for taking the time to respond to our ongoing challenge to demonstrate Sola Scriptura from the Bible. What you should really do is purchase and read the best book on the subject from a Catholic perspective: Not By Scripture Alone: A Catholic Critique of the Protestant Doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Queenship Publishing, 1997) edited by Robert Sungenis.

Rich> First, let me state that I am not defending God’s Word, the Bible. I will let it speak for itself. Those that claim the bible does not teach “Sola Scriptura” or “The Bible Alone”, in my opinion, are mistaken. From the time of the giving of the Decalogue on Mt. Sinai, when God Almighty Himself wrote with His finger on the tablet of stones (Exodus 31:18, “And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon Mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God”), until this present day, the written Word of God has been extant in the world. “It is written” means exclusively transcribed and not hearsay. >>

I am glad you agree that the Bible should teach Sola Scriptura if that is what Christians should follow as their rule of faith today. Some Christians simply assume Sola Scriptura, with no attempt to argue for it. In this reply to you, here is the definition of Sola Scriptura that I will be working with:

Sola Scriptura means that "the written Word of God is the only infallible rule of faith for God's people."

That seems to be your definition also. I want to establish five points as an introduction to our discussion:

(1)Before the time of Moses, there was no written word. How did God's people obey God's Word, the Bible, when there was no written word? Before Moses or whoever authored the book of Genesis, the knowledge of the Covenants with Adam, Noah, and Abraham was carried on through oral tradition until Genesis and the rest of the Penteteuch was authored. Even in the time of Moses, the written Word never supplanted the oral as Leviticus alone shows: Lev 1:1-2; 6:25; 17:2,8; 21:1,17; 22:2-3,18; etc.

(2)God's Word continued in oral form all through the Bible and was never restricted to writing. When the prophets of the OT and the apostles of the NT preached or spoke from God to the believer, this was God's inspired Word and infallible command no matter whether this word was ever written down.

To prove this, I will quote from a standard Protestant source, The Pattern of Religious Authority by Bernard Ramm (Eerdmans, 1965) :

"The Old Testament believer was under the authority of the revealed word carried to the prophet by the Holy Spirit -- WHETHER ORAL OR WRITTEN....the divinely revealed and therefore authoritative word is presented to the world through the SPOKEN OR WRITTEN WORD of the Spirit-inspired prophet" (page 27, 28, emphasis added).

The same goes for the New Testament believer. Here I'll quote from an Evangelical Protestant scholar, F.F. Bruce, in his standard work on The Canon of Scripture (InterVarsity, 1988) :

"Some New Testament documents were evidently designed from the outset to be written compositions, NOT substitutes for the spoken word. But in the lifetime of the apostles and their colleagues THEIR SPOKEN WORDS AND THEIR WRITTEN WORDS WERE EQUALLY AUTHORITATIVE....The teaching and example of the Lord and his apostles, WHETHER CONVEYED BY WORD OF MOUTH OR IN WRITING, had axiomatic authority for [the earliest Christians]...." (page 118, 255, emphasis added).

John MacArthur, in his chapter in the book Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible (Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995) in response to Catholic apologists, admits the same about the spoken and written words of the apostles:

"Let it be stated as clearly as possible: Protestants do not deny that THE ORAL TEACHING OF THE APOSTLES WAS AUTHORITATIVE, INERRANT TRUTH, BINDING AS A RULE OF FAITH ON THOSE WHO HEARD IT....the apostolic message...was as inspired and infallible and true as Scripture itself....So the written words of Scripture are binding. Apostolic preaching was equally binding for those who heard it from the apostles' own mouths." (page 171,178,182, emphasis added)

The same is taught by Protestant scholars Greg Bahnsen, Carl F.H. Henry, J.I. Packer, Norman Geisler, and Bruce Milne (see Sungenis, page 249, footnote 56). So we can take this as an established fact: the spoken and written words of God's prophets (2 Peter 1:21) and God's apostles (Matt 10:19-20; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 3:16f; 1 Cor 2:4,7,13; 14:37; etc) were equally binding, authoritative and inspired words from God.

Where we seem to disagree, is whether there was ever a suggestion from the Scripture itself that the written Word of God would entirely supplant or replace or rescind the command to pass on the tradition of the apostles in oral form (for example, 2 Thess 2:15 and 2 Tim 2:2 are quite explicit that the oral teaching of the apostles is to be maintained). Without such a suggestion from Scripture itself, Sola Scriptura (that the written Word of God is the only infallible rule of faith) I believe is shown to be unbiblical.

Several examples of God's Word passed on by tradition in oral form and followed by God's people will be given below both from the Bible (see 2 Chron 29:25 which is a clear OT example of this) and from the Church Fathers (who are important witnesses to the oral tradition of the apostles).

(3)While the written Word of God became extant, that Word was never handed to God's people individually so they could interpret it for themselves. Moses and the later priests and prophets of the Old Testament mediated God's Word to God's people. It was never privately interpreted. They were the authority in the Old Testament and God's people were required to listen to and obey them (for example, Deut 17:8-13; 2 Chron 19:6-8). Subsequent generations of priests and Levites learned the requirements of their sacerdotal office from their predecessors by oral instruction, not by each possessing their own personal copy of the Bible. Priestly tradition mediated the Scriptures, as well as their meaning (cf. 2 Chron 15:3).

(4)This is exactly what we find in the New Testament period. God's Word was completely oral from Jesus to His Apostles, then to the apostolic Church (God's saints in the NT period). Decades later some of that oral word from Jesus and His Apostles was written down by the Apostles or their close associates (what we find in the Gospels and the NT epistles), but there is never a suggestion that the written word would ever supplant or replace God's Word passed on by tradition in oral form (Acts 2:42; 2 Tim 1:13-14; 2:2; 1 Peter 1:25; 1 Cor 11:2,34; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:15). The Gospels and epistles were never handed to the saints individually so they could interpret them for themselves; rather, they were required to obey their elders and leaders over them who mediated God's Word and teaching to God's saints (1 Tim 4:6,11,16; 1 Tim 5:17; 1 Tim 6:3ff,20f; Titus 1:3,9; 2:1,15; 3:1; Heb 13:7,17; Philip 1:1; Eph 3:1-10; 4:11-16; Acts 15:2,4,6,22,28; Matt 18:17f; 28:18-20; Luke 10:16; Rom 10:14-17; Jude 3; etc).

So this is an issue concerning not just the "material sufficiency" of the written word (which Catholics can accept), but also of the correct interpretation of God's Word, and who has the authority to define doctrine for Christians. Do we have the authority to teach and define Christian doctrine for ourselves, or was there a God-established living authority for teaching and defining Christian doctrine? Sola Scriptura says the former (the only living authority for interpretation is ourselves), I say the Bible teaches the latter (that there is a God-established living authority in the Church).

That is the biblical pattern we find in both the Old and New Testaments: God's Word, both oral and written, mediated by God's chosen leaders to God's people. Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) was never practiced in the Bible and the concept itself is nowhere found in the Bible. It is an invention suggested by Wycliff, and later taught by the Protestants of the 16th century. It is also contradicted by the early Fathers of the Church. Sola Scriptura is therefore a "human tradition" that should be condemned (Matt 15:1-9; Col 2:8; etc) by all Christians today. However, apostolic tradition, oral and written, is to be followed and obeyed:

"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter." (2 Thess 2:15; also 3:6; 1 Cor 11:2)

You had no comment on this text from St. Paul. Since this is important to the Catholic understanding of apostolic tradition vs. the "tradition of men" (Mark 7:8), you need to make some comment on 2 Thess 2:15.

(5)A final point to remember is the only way we know we have God's Word in written form is from the tradition of the Catholic Church. The canon of the New Testament was closed by the Bishops of the Catholic Church in the fourth century, based on the tradition they received. That is how we know what books are apostolic and inspired, and what books are not. And that is a historical fact. The question is, why should we obey and believe those Catholic Bishops on their New Testament canon, while ignoring or rejecting what they taught concerning other doctrines and beliefs of the Christian faith? Finally, the Bible as we have it today was inaccessible before the age of printing (before 1450 AD). How in the world were God's people to read and believe God's Word for 1,400 years when (A) the Bible as such did not exist, and (B) the Christian people were largely illiterate (they could not read) ? These questions demonstrate that Sola Scriptura is not only unhistorical, but entirely illogical and inconsistent.

If these (5) points are established from Scripture (which I shall do below) and Church history, then Sola Scriptura is proven to be unbiblical, unhistorical and illogical. Rich, nothing you have said below contradicts the five points I list above, and a couple of the biblical texts you use to prove Sola Scriptura actually demonstrate my five points.

Here we go. Now I shall reply to some of the biblical texts you use to defend Sola Scriptura.

Rich> Let us start with 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Every word of Holy Scripture is inspired or “God-breathed”. Without impairing the intelligence, individuality, literary style, or personal feelings of the human authors, God supernaturally directed the writing of Scripture so that they recorded in perfect accuracy His comprehensive and infallible revelation to man. If God Himself had done the writing, the written Word would be no more accurate and authoritative than it is. >>

Catholics have no problem with this. We believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. That Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine does not establish that "the written Word of God is the only infallible rule of faith for God's people." You have not said anything that the Catholic Church would disagree with. Please establish that the written Word of God is the only infallible rule of faith.

There are three points you should notice about this text and the context (2 Tim 3:14-17):

(1) Scripture says it is "profitable for doctrine" not that it is "sufficient for doctrine" -- "sufficient" or "enough" (hikanos or arketos in Greek) is a word St. Paul knew, for example see 2 Cor 9:8 which teaches that grace is sufficient, that we may have an abundance "for every good work" (also 2 Tim 2:21; Col 4:12, James 1:4; Heb 13:20-21 which uses similar language to 2 Tim 3:17). But St. Paul did not use that word: Scripture says it is profitable (ophelimos in Greek) for doctrine, not sufficient.

(2) The "holy Scriptures" or "sacred writings" referred to are the Old Testament that Timothy has known "from childhood" (2 Tim 3:15). So the "God-breathed" inspiration of the OT is what is in view, the inspiration of the NT can only be inferred (i.e. "holy Scriptures" vs. "all Scripture"). The immediate context concerns the OT alone.

(3) A third point is to notice that Timothy (one of the early leaders in the apostolic Church) is told to "continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed" (2 Tim 3:14) not to "disregard what you have learned and follow the Scripture alone." Again, both the previous oral and the written teaching is to be followed, passed on and continued in (also 2 Tim 1:13-14; 2:2; and especially 2 Thess 2:15).

Please know that this text (2 Tim 3:16-17) is quoted over and over again in the Catholic Church (for example, by Vatican II in Dei Verbum and by Pope Pius XII in his famous 1943 encyclical on biblical studies, Divino Afflante Spiritu). What you are stating is that the Scripture is inspired and inerrant. Catholics agree. You need to demonstrate, not inspiration, but the sufficiency of the written word: that the "written Word of God is the only infallible rule of faith for God's people." As I've explained, Scripture itself contradicts this since both the oral and the written were binding and infallible for God's people, and God's Word was never interpreted privately but was mediated by God's chosen leaders (Timothy being one of them).

Rich> The inspiration of Scripture is attested by Old Testament writers, 2 Samuel 23:2-3 “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and his word was in my tongue. The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spoke to me, He who ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” Isaiah 59:21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord: My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and forever.” and Jeremiah 1:9 “Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth, And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.” And by hundreds of instances where the expression “thus saith the Lord” or its equivalent is used. >>

Again, you are demonstrating, not the sufficiency or inspiration of the Scripture (the written word), but the Spirit inspiration of God's prophets who mediated God's Word. And God's Word is never restricted to writing: notice 2 Sam 23:2f; Isa 59:21; and Jer 1:9 refer to the word of the Lord in the mouth or tongue of God's prophets. There is nothing here about writing anything. Jer 1:7 says the Lord told the prophet Jeremiah: "whatever I command you you shall speak." It does not say "you shall write." Isa 1:10 says "Hear the word of the Lord...Give ear to the teaching of our God...." Ezek 33:30 says "Come, and hear what the word is that comes forth from the Lord..." Please examine the biblical text closer. Granted, when the prophets (David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) wrote these words, they were inspired written words, but the biblical text itself is referring to their spoken Spirit-inspired words (the text quite explicitly says "speak" "mouth" "tongue" not "pen" or "write"). Nothing here about Sola Scriptura or restricting the passing on of God's Word to written form only.

Again, these establish my point above: that the word of the Lord from the prophets was God's Word whether or not these words were ever written down. They were the inspired words of God's prophets. We totally agree. However, you are not establishing the sufficiency or exclusivity of the written word (the Scripture), but clearly backing up what I am saying: that God's Word, oral and written, was binding and infallible for God's people, and mediated by God's prophets.

Rich> Christ affirms the inspiration of the Old Testament, Matthew 5:18 “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no way pass from the law, till all be fulfilled”, Mark 12:36 “For David himself said, by the Holy Spirit, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Here the Lord Jesus Christ affirms both the Davidic authorship and the inspiration of Psalms 110) and John 10:34-35 “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken”. (Here again Jesus affirms Old Testament scripture by quoting Psalms 82:6). John 4:24-26 “God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. The woman saith unto him, I know that Messiah cometh, who is called Christ; when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he” (Here we see Old Testament prophesy fulfilled). >>

Again, we totally agree. These statements of Jesus affirm the inspiration of the Old Testament. Catholics also believe in biblical prophecy. No problem. You need to show how these texts demonstrate Sola Scriptura.

Rich> The apostles bear the same testimony. Acts 1:16 “Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of David, spoke before concerning Judas, who was guide to them that took Jesus”, 4:24-25 “And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, who hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is; Who, by the mouth of thy servant, David, hast said, Why did the nations rage, and the peoples imagine vain things?”, 28:25 “And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after Paul had spoken one word, Well spoke the Holy Spirit by Isaiah, the prophet, unto our fathers” >>

You are demonstrating my points above. These texts refer not only to the written words of God's prophets, but also to the spoken words which were just as inspired, binding, and infallible as the written -- quite explicitly these texts say that the Holy Spirit spoke by the mouth of the prophet David, and by Isaiah (also 2 Peter 1:21 which you quote below).

Now here is the verse I've been waiting to quote for you (mentioned above) :

"And he [King Hezekiah] set the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king's seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets." (2 Chron 29:25 KJV)

"He [King Hezekiah] stationed the Levites in the temple of the Lord with cymbals, harps and lyres in the way prescribed by David and Gad the king's seer and Nathan the prophet; this was commanded by the Lord through his prophets." (2 Chron 29:25 NIV)

What we can conclude from this text is this:

(1) First, David, Gad, and Nathan were dead about 250 years at this point;

(2) Yet, they passed on a "commandment of the Lord" which was prescribed by God's prophets on how worship was to be conducted in the temple;

(3) That prescription and commandment of the Lord is nowhere found in the Old Testament Scriptures.

So what we have here is a clear OT refutation of the Sola Scriptura principle. Other OT texts refer to the non-canonical written and non-inscripturated oral tradition of prophets and seers: 2 Chron 35:4; 9:29; 12:15; 33:18-19; 1 Sam 9:9; Isaiah 30:10; Jer 26:18; Zech 1:4-6; 7:7; 8:9; etc.

Rich> and 2 Peter 1:20-21 “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not at any time by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (“Any private interpretation” might read “its own interpretation”; i.e. not isolated from what the Scripture states elsewhere. >>

This text demonstrates that the written and oral words of the prophets were equally authoritative and inspired words from God. Notice it says the prophets "spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." That is a rather strong NT text proving what I have said about the OT prophets. The meaning of "private interpretation" is disputed by Catholics and Protestants: some would say it refers to the "private interpretation" of the individual ("one's own interpretation" as the RSV has translated 2 Peter 1:20) who can misinterpret the prophecies or words of Scripture (also 2 Peter 3:16 which says some distort the OT Scriptures "to their own destruction") or that it refers to the origin of OT Scripture, the prophet's own interpretation (for example, see the NIV translation).

Rich> Fulfilled prophecy is a proof of inspiration because the Scripture predictions of future events were uttered so long before the events took place that no mere human sagacity (farsightedness) or foresight could have anticipated them, and these predictions are so detailed, minute, and specific as to exclude the possibility that they were simply fortunate guesses. Hundreds of predictions concerning Israel, the land of Canaan, Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, and numerous personages - so ancient, so singular, so seemingly improbable, as well as so detailed and definite that no mortal could have anticipated them - have been fulfilled by the elements and by men who were ignorant of them, or who utterly disbelieved them, or who struggled with frantic desperation to avoid their fulfillment. It is certain, therefore, that the Scriptures, which contain them, are inspired. >>

No argument here. Scriptures are inspired. All Christians believe in fulfilled prophecy. However, this does not demonstrate Sola Scriptura.

Rich> By means of divine inspiration the writers of Scripture spoke with authority concerning the unknown past, wrote by divine guidance the historical portions, revealed the law, penned the devotional literature of the Bible, recorded the contemporary prophetic message, and prophesied the future. Inspiration extends equally to all Scripture, although only a small portion was given by direct dictation of God, e.g. Exodus 10;1 “And the Lord said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these my signs before him;”, Leviticus 1;1 “And the Lord called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying,” and Deuteronomy 5:4 “The Lord talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire”. >>

Inspiration extends equally to all Scripture, as well as to the spoken words of the prophets and apostles (for example, 2 Peter 1:21; 1 Cor 2:4,7,13; Matt 10:19-20; 1 Thess 2:13). No problem. Does not demonstrate Sola Scriptura.

Rich> The inspiration of the New Testament was also authenticated by Christ (John 16:12-13 “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Nevertheless, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself, but whatever he shall hear, that shall he speak; and he will show you things to come.”). The apostles claimed inspiration for their portions of the New Testament (1 Corinthians 2:13 “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”, 14:37 “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord”, >>

The words of the apostles were inspired and authoritative, whether spoken or written. Agreed. However, you have a problem saying "the New Testament" was authenticated by Christ since nothing was ever said to the apostles (in the Gospels at least) about writing anything. Jesus did not command them to write, but to preach and gave them the authority to disciple all nations and "teach them all that I have commanded you" (Matt 28:18ff). The New Testament was "authenticated" by the Church Christ founded, which occurred formally in the fourth and fifth century by the Bishops of the Catholic Church and in such councils as Hippo and Carthage. The promise of the Holy Spirit (John 16:12f; 14:16f) therefore cannot be simply limited to the recognition of the New Testament canon, but logically and naturally would extend to the recognition of the Christian and Catholic faith as a whole.

Granted, the apostles acknowledged they wrote the Gospels so that we could know Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and that we could "have life in his name" (John 20:31; also 1 John 5:11-13; 2 Tim 3:15), and the epistles were written for instruction in the Church (1 Cor 14:37; 2 Tim 3:16f; Rom 15:4,14f). However, nothing was ever suggested that these would be the only authority, or the final authority, or that they would supplant, replace, or rescind the command to pass on the Christian faith by oral tradition (2 Thess 2:15; 2 Tim 1:13f; 2:2; also 1 Peter 1:25; 1 Thess 2:13; Jude 17; 2 Peter 3:2; Hebrews 13:7,17; John 20:30; 21:25; 2 John 12; 3 John 13f; etc). The apostles themselves stated they wrote only "briefly" (Eph 3:3; Heb 13:22; 1 Peter 5:12). There is no suggestion that these writings were the sole and sufficient rule of faith for the Church (Sola Scriptura), or that they would become such anytime in the future.

Rich> Galatians 1:7-8 “Which is not another; but there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed”, 1 Thessalonians 4:2 “For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.”, 4:15 “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them who are asleep”, 2 Thessalonians 3:6 “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly and not after the tradition which he received of us”, 12 “Now them that are such we command and exhort, by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.”, 14 “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed”). >>

Again, what these texts demonstrate are the Apostles' authority to preach the gospel and write God's Word. What they passed on to the Christian believers was the teaching and commandment of Christ. As Jesus said: "He who hears you, hears Me" (Luke 10:16; also 2 Pet 3:2; 1 Thess 2:13; 4:2). We totally agree. However, this was never restricted to writing. Second Thess 3:6 refers to the tradition of the apostles which is not limited to the written (2 Thess 2:15). St. Paul told the Corinthians not only to hold fast and maintain the traditions he delivered to them, but that he would teach them other things when he returned (1 Cor 11:2,34). This tradition of the apostles was never simply restricted to writing, and there is no command that the passing on of the Christian faith was restricted to writing or that it would only be authoritative and inspired in that form (2 Tim 1:13f; 2:2; 2 Thess 2:15).

Rich> Paul quotes both Deuteronomy and Luke as Scripture (1 Timothy 5:18 “For the scripture saith, (Deuteronomy 25:4) Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the grain; and, (Luke 10:7) The laborer is worthy of his reward”). >>

Rich> Peter declares all Paul’s Epistles to be Scripture (2 Peter 3;16 “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction”). Although the New Testament sometimes quotes the Old Testament loosely, in paraphrase, or interpretively, this is never done in a way to deny the authority or accuracy of the original text. The early apostolic church receives the New Testament Scriptures as the inspired word of God as they were written. Because the Scriptures are inspired, they are authoritative and without error in their original words, and constitute the infallible revelation of God to man. >>

Of course Catholics officially teach Biblical inspiration and inerrancy also, so we fully agree with this. While these texts point to a general recognition of Scripture in the early Church, you have a problem knowing precisely what the canon is -- unless of course you appeal to the tradition of the Catholic Church. None of these texts demonstrate Sola Scriptura, and there is the implied refutation of the concept in 2 Peter since the Scriptures (at least "some things" in Paul's epistles) are "hard to understand" and certain individuals (at least those "unlearned and unstable") can wrest the Scriptures "to their own destruction." Who says who is "learned and stable" anyway?

Rich> Other written words on what the Bible says about Scripture… Given by inspiration of God through the Holy Spirit: Acts 1:16, 2 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 3:7, 2 Peter 1:21 ...Profitable for doctrine, instruction, and rule of life: Psalms 19:7, 119:9, John 17:17, Acts 20:32, Romans 15:4, 16:26, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ....Make wise unto Salvation: 2 Timothy 3:15, James 1:21 ....Formerly given by God through the prophets: Luke 16:31, Romans 3:2, 9:4, Hebrews 1:1 >>

text commentary here

Rich> Christ confirms and teaches out of: Matthew 4:4, Mark 12:10, Luke 24:27, John 7:42 ....To be taught diligently: Deuteronomy 6:9, 17:19, 1 Peter 2:2 ....To be kept unaltered: Deuteronomy 4:2, Proverbs 30:6, 2 Timothy 1:13, Jude 3, Revelations 22:18-19 ....To be searched: John 5:39; Example: Acts 17:11 ....In the last days through Jesus Christ: Hebrews 1:2; Fulfilled by Him: Matthew 5:17, Luke 24:27, John 19:24, Acts 13:29 >>

text commentary here

Rich> Appealed to by the apostles: Acts 2, 3, 8:32, 17:2, 18:24, 28:23 ....Rejecters will be judged by: John 12:48, Hebrews 2:3, 10:28, 12:25 ....Importance of keeping the written Word: Joshua 1:18 ....Jesus reads from the written Word: Luke 4:17 ....Paul reads the gospel of Jesus in written form: 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ....Jews were the custodians of the Scripture: Romans 3:1-2 ....Salvation written down so you can know salvation: 1 John 5:13 ....We are told to study the written Word: 2 Timothy 2:15 >>

text commentary here

Rich> What Scripture says about Tradition… What Jesus says: Matthew 15:2-7, Mark 7:3-13 >>

Rich> Zealous of the traditions from your fathers: Galatians 1:14 ; After the Tradition of men: Colossians 2:8 ; Received by tradition from your fathers: 1 Peter 1:18 >>

text commentary here

Rich> If Christians couldn't read back then and were illiterate then why did the men of the New Testament write letters to churches and such? No where do we see any evidence that the majority of the population was illiterate. On what information are you basing this statement on? >>

Just check out an encyclopedia on the Middle Ages. The general Christian population was largely illiterate. Simple historical fact. We're talking 90-95 % illiteracy rate. I'll get you some exact figures later (check Philip Hughes for this). The Bible was hand-copied, in manuscript form, and very rare. It was copied and preserved by Catholic monks and priests. Your main scholars back then (the ones who could read the original Biblical languages) were the Church Fathers: men like St. Jerome (who translated the Latin Vulgate) and St. Augustine.

"Jerome wrote in something between the Ciceronian Latin of intellectuals and the Vulgar language of the streets (the language that eventually became vernacular French, Spanish, and Italian). His 'Vulgate' (popular version) was entirely correct and grammatical, in no way offensive to scholars, yet it could be read and understood by the masses if the masses were literate at all. (It was not Jerome's fault that the schools of the empire failed in the fifth century and that there were no literate masses to profit from his work until the 11th or 12th century." (The Civilization of the Middle Ages by Norman F. Cantor [Harper Collins Publishers, 1993], page 70)

"From the sixth to the tenth centuries, during the times of cultural and economic stagnation that followed the fall of Rome, the monks held the Western world together. They provided most of the great missionaries. Reasonably secure, they preserved the ancient culture in their libraries, copying old books, making new ones, conducting almost the only schools. Monastery walls sheltered men with the impulse to escape the world, to seek virtue, to reflect on man's soul and his destiny. The monasteries were often compared to little paradise, refuges in an evil wilderness." (The Middle Ages by Morris Bishop [Houghton Mifflin, 1968, 1987], page 12)

"During much of the Dark Ages, monasteries were Western Europe's only centers of scholarship. In this eleventh-century German illustration two industrious monks are busy at work, copying manuscripts at their desks beneath a cloister's arches." (Bishop, caption under picture, page 29)

"But how, it may be asked, could the people who were unable to read (and they were admittedly a large number) become acquainted with the Bible? The answer is simple. They were taught by the monk and priest, both in church and school, through sermon and instruction. They were taught by sacred plays or dramas, which represented visibly to them the principal facts of sacred history, like the Passion Play...They were taught through paintings and statuary and frescoes in the churches, which portrayed before their eyes the doctrines of the Faith and the truths of Scripture: and hence it is that in Catholic countries the walls of churches and monasteries and convents, and even cemeteries, are covered with pictures representing Scriptural scenes." (Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church by Henry G. Graham [Tan Books, orig 1911, 1977], page 85)

"The Catholic Church, then, had to do the best she could in the circumstances; and I submit she did all that any organisation on earth could possibly have done for the spread of Scripture knowledge among her children. Vast numbers could not read; I admit it; the Church was not to blame for that. Latin was the universal tongue, and you had to be rather scholarly to read it. but I protest against the outrageous notion that a man cannot know the Bible unless he can read it. Can he not see it represented before his eyes? Can he not hear it read?....I am contending for the genuine, real, practical working knowledge of the Bible among the generality of Catholics in the Middle Ages: and, whether they could read or not, I do not hesitate to assert that, with few exceptions, they had a personal and intelligent knowledge and a vivid realisation of the most necessary facts in the Sacred Scripture and in the life of Our Divine Lord to an extent which is simply not to be found among the millions of our nominal Christians in these islands today. Whatever ignorance there was -- this at least all impartial scholars must concede -- the Church was in no way to blame for it." (Graham, page 86, 87)

These were Catholic Bishops, priests and monks, so the illiterate Christian believers learned the faith as passed on to them from these Catholic Bishops and priests, who in turn were passing on the tradition of the Apostles. And it was these same Catholic Bishops who established the Biblical canon in the fourth century.

Get out your secular encyclopedias or read the articles from the old Catholic Encyclopedia online at www.NewAdvent.org on the history of the Church and the Church Fathers. And read my web site for what these Church Fathers believed the Christian faith was and how they interpreted the Bible.

Now as to the original epistles being addressed to the churches, granted they were, but as I said in my previous message, these were not individually handed to Christian believers for them to read. For example, St. Paul commands that his epistles "be read to all the brethren" (1 Thess 5:27; also Col 4:15f). There is no command that his epistles should be diligently copied (granted they were later, by faithful Catholic priests and monks) and handed out to the brethren so they could interpret them for themselves.

The first Christian believers had authorities over them (originally the Apostles, and later their successors the first Bishops). Very, very few people could read. Simple historical fact. The leaders and rulers over the Christian believers "spoke the word of God" to them (Heb 13:7,17), and delivered the tradition of the Apostles to them (1 Cor 11:2,34). At first the entire faith was only and completely in oral form (Acts 2:42; 2 Tim 2:2; etc). It was decades later written down, and centuries later formalized by Catholic Bishops into a Biblical canon (the same OT and NT that Catholics have today). And there is no statement that the NT canon replaced the tradition of the Apostles, or ever rescinded the command to pass on the tradition of the Apostles (2 Thess 2:15 again). The Church Fathers also clearly contradict this.

(see Scripture and Tradition: The Rule of Faith in Patristic Thought by Joe Gallegos)

And as I keep saying, people were not handed the Bible as individuals so they could read it for themselves since the Bible was very rare and inaccessible before the age of printing (1450 AD). There were no "Christian bookstores" on every corner. Besides this, the average Christian believer was illiterate. Simple historical fact.

Rich> By the fourth century the church formalized the canon. And the reason for this was because of a heretic by the name of Marcion who came along in the second century and formed his own tailor-made heretical canon. His movement started catching on, and in the face of this the church had to provide believers with an official teaching on what was and was not the true New Testament. It wasn't that the New Testament had to be established so much as it was that this false teaching had to be confronted. So official pronouncements were made. But the important thing to know in this situation is that the current books had already been agreed upon within the first/second century. We can discern this just from the way early church clergy cite the New Testament as authoritative. Over 90 percent of the New Testament can be reconstructed from quotes of the early clergy up through the third century. You see the inspired works of the New Testament were received as such by people of faith almost from the start. There wasn't a whole lot of controversy about this. These works were circulated among all the churches, and gradually a pretty well-defined body of literature was generally recognized as the New Testament. Thus, the unofficial formation of the canon came first, followed by the controversies like those of Marcion, then followed by official formations of the canon.

Your comments on the NT canon need some corrections. There were plenty of disagreements and "controversy" on what the NT canon was -- the following were disputed at various times: Hebrews, 2 Peter, Revelation, James, Jude, 2 and 3 John, etc. Other books had authority as Scripture: the Didache, Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, etc. The Bible as such was not formally collected into a Christian canon until the fourth century AD. Again, simple historical fact -- I'm glad you admit "the church formalized the canon" in the fourth century, since that is what happened. And that "church of the fourth century" is clearly the Catholic Church, with its hierarchy of Catholic Bishops (your "early clergy"), Catholic sacraments, Catholic liturgies and prayers.

Conclusion

Rich, I just read through your first note, and your subsequent notes again. The Biblical texts you have brought up demonstrate the following:

(1) The apostles and prophets were inspired to preach and write God's Word;

(2) the Bible is inspired and profitable (leaving aside the important question how we even know what the OT and NT canons are);

(3) fulfilled prophecy demonstrates the OT prophets were from God;

(4) Some tradition is mere "traditions of men" and should be rejected (Matt 15:1-9; Col 2:8);

Catholics agree with all (4) of these points. These do not demonstrate "the written Word of God is the only infallible rule of faith for God's people." Nor do they demonstrate the sufficiency or exclusivity of the written word.

My messages in this discussion so far demonstrate the following:

(1) BOTH the written AND the oral teaching of the prophets and apostles were equally authoritative and inspired words from God (1 Thess 2:13; 2 Pet 1:21);

(2) There is no command in the New Testament that the passing on of the tradition of the apostles should cease at some point, nor is there any statement in the NT where the tradition of the apostles is reduced or restricted to writing (2 Thess 2:15; 3:6; 2 Tim 1:13f; 2:2; 1 Cor 11:2,34; etc);

(3) The passing on of the Christian faith was completely oral from Christ to His apostles (Acts 2:42), decades later the New Testament was written down, while it took centuries for the 27-book NT canon to be officially recognized by the Church;

(4) The unanimous position of the early Fathers and the first 1,500 years of Christianity on Baptism, Eucharist, nature of the Church as hierarchical and sacramental, moral teachings and others demonstrates the Catholic Church has interpreted the tradition of the apostles and the Bible correctly on these issues;

(5) Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) could not even be practiced (in the way you have defined it in your messages) for the first 1,400 years of the Church since Bibles were rare (the printing press had not been invented), the general Christian believers had no access to Bibles and were almost entirely illiterate -- they were taught the Catholic Christian Faith from their priests and bishops;

(6) Further, we cannot know what is "essential Christian doctrine" from the Bible alone given the existence of heretics (past and present) who define their beliefs from the Bible alone. It is impossible to define what is "orthodox Christian" doctrine and impossible to know what is true Christianity from the Bible alone.

That's how I see the discussion going so far. Have I left anything out?


Back to Apologetics Articles

Back to Home Page

About | Apologetics | Philosophy | Spirituality | Books | Audio | Links