Catholic Apologetics

Introduction

 

Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”), the teaching that the Bible contains all that is necessary for salvation and holiness, is one of the two great pillars of Protestantism (a term that factually includes all non-Catholic Christians).

 

Before critiquing, let us first examine the official teaching of the Catholic Church regarding Scripture:

 

102 Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely:

 

You recall that one and the same Word of God extends throughout Scripture, that it is one and the same Utterance that resounds in the mouths of all the sacred writers, since he who was in the beginning God with God has no need of separate syllables; for he is not subject to time.

 

103 For this reason, the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord's Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God's Word and Christ's Body.

 

104 In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, "but as what it really is, the word of God". "In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them."

 

II. INSPIRATION AND TRUTH OF SACRED SCRIPTURE

 

105 God is the author of Sacred Scripture. "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit."

 

107 The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures."

 

108 Still, the Christian faith is not a "religion of the book." Christianity is the religion of the "Word" of God, a word which is "not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living". If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, "open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures."

 

So, we see that the Church acknowledges the Scriptures as the inerrant Word of God.  But, as Scripture Itself teaches, the Word of God exists not only in the Scriptures.

 

In this essay, we will see clearly that all of the following are true:

 

-           Sola scriptura is not only not taught by Scripture itself, it is flatly contradicted by it.

-           The doctrine of sola scriptura was not taught by any Christian anywhere before at least the 14th century (not surprising, considering the above), and did not gain any sort of widespread credence before the 16th century. 

-           Sola scriptura is also inherently illogical and leads to a system of faith that cannot withstand rational scrutiny.

 

It should be duly noted that sola scriptura is a requirement of Protestantism; Protestantism as a system simply has no choice in this matter.  In throwing off the authority of the Church and the oral Word of God (both clearly established by Christ as described in Scripture itself), Martin Luther was left with Scripture and nothing else.  Of course, it was the Church itself that gave him this Scripture – as he himself acknowledged[1] - which, as we will see below, is one of the elements making the doctrine of sola scriptura internally inconsistent (that is, illogical).

 

Sola Scriptura Is Not Taught By Scripture

 

There are several “proof texts” that Protestants use to support the doctrine.  We will see shortly that none of them teach what they are purported to.

 

The most ubiquitous proof text for sola scriptura in the history of Protestantism has been 2 Tim 3:16-17:

 

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

 

Ophelimos, the word here translated as “profitable”, means just that[2].  Without being disdainful, it is a simple and obvious fact that “profitable” implies the good, even the necessary, but certainly not the sufficient.  That is, this passage does not by a long shot imply that Scripture should be the sole rule of faith.  If the Holy Spirit had intended that meaning, He could have inspired Paul to use a Greek adjective that does mean “sufficient”, such as arkeo, as is used in 2 Cor 12:9, for example.  In fact, in every place that ophelimos is used – such as in relation to good deeds in Titus 3:8 – it means good & profitable, but certainly not sufficient[3].  It is clear that there is absolutely no basis to argue sola scriptura from this passage.

 

That is on the face of it.  Looking deeper, it is apparent there are further problems with the way Protestants prefer to interpret these verses.

 

In AD 66-67, when Paul was writing to his fellow bishop Timothy[4], no New Testament Scripture existed.  (Gospels and some epistles had, of course, been written, but no decisions had been made by the Church regarding which were Scripture – inspired and inerrant – and which were not.)  So, it is certain that Paul was referring solely to the Old Testament Scriptures in his letter to Timothy, since that was all that was extant at the time of the writing.  Now, it is certainly reasonable to assert that the passage has a deeper meaning and does in fact refer to all Scripture – to the New Testament canon that would eventually exist as well as the Old.  However, explicitly, this is not the case, and in any event, again, the passage tells us that all Scripture is profitable.

 

[Verse 15 speaks of Timothy knowing the Scriptures from his infancy, further supporting the notion that is it the Old Testament being discussed here.]

 

Next, we have the topic of the inspiration of Scripture: Paul tells us that Scripture is, indeed, “God-breathed” (theopneustos).  Protestants sometimes assert from this that anything that is not Scripture is not divinely inspired: that is a blatant reading into the text, for it says nothing of the sort. 

 

“Thoroughly equipped” - aritos – can also be translated as “perfect”, but verse simply doesn’t say it is Scripture alone that makes man perfect – this is yet another case of reading in to the text.  James 1:4 tells us that it is patience that can make one “perfect” – would anyone dare profess sola patience?

 

To add to the list of issues ruling out the defining Protestant interpretation of this passage, pasa graphe, translated usually in English as “all Scripture”, actually means “every Scripture”.  This can be easily verified by anyone fluent in Greek.  And that means that the passage says literally that “every Scripture” is profitable – and if we are to take the defining Protestant interpretation, “every Scripture” – that is, any particular Scripture verse – is all that is necessary for the faith!  Obviously that is preposterous but such a conclusion is necessary if we read “profitable” as “sufficient”.

 

One of the death-blows to sola scriptura that comes from Scripture itself is that it is made clear that the oral Word of God – that is, the Sacred Tradition of the Apostles – is equally valid and authoritative.

 

In fact, Paul makes an appeal to oral Tradition immediately prior to this passage, in verse 14:

 

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,

 

Paul is telling Timothy to believe what he learned from Paul and the other Apostles.  Orally?  Scripture makes it clear that that was in fact the normative means of transmitting the truths of the faith.  In this very same letter, we have: What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim 1:13); 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. (1 Tim 2:2).

 

This will be continued in the next section.  For now, let me remark again that the common Protestant exegetical habit of “proof-texting” amounts to a “reading in the small” that leads to errors.  Scripture must be read & interpreted on the whole – and, even more importantly, no individual is qualified to authoritatively interpret Scripture, because no individual anywhere is guaranteed to be free from error in doing so: only the Church to which Christ entrusted His protection enjoys that protection.

 

The Bible Teaches That Oral Tradition Is As Valid As Scripture

 

We must first define what we mean by “Tradition”, since, of course, most Protestants misunderstand it.  Are we speaking of traditions of men?  No, not at all – we are speaking of the Word of God transmitted orally, as entrusted by Christ to the Apostles.  This is some of what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say:

 

75 "Christ the Lord, in whom the entire Revelation of the most high God is summed up, commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel, which had been promised beforehand by the prophets, and which he fulfilled in his own person and promulgated with his own lips. In preaching the Gospel, they were to communicate the gifts of God to all men. This Gospel was to be the source of all saving truth and moral discipline."

 

76 In keeping with the Lord's command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways:

 

- orally "by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received - whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit";

 

- in writing "by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing".

 

77 "In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority." Indeed, "the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time."

 

78 This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, "the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.  The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer."

 

So, we see that what Catholics mean by “Tradition” (with a capital “T”) is the Word of God itself, transmitted orally.  The man who protests that all of the Word of God was, in fact, written down as Scripture needs to study Scripture, for it doesn’t say that at all.  To begin:

 

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. (1 Thess 2:15)

 

(Of course “traditions” here is sometimes translated as “teachings”: it is the same thing.)

 

The Bible has just commanded us to obey the teachings of the Apostles transmitted by mouth.  But where is one to get these teachings?  They are part of the Deposit of Faith that the Holy Spirit entrusted to His Church – the specific, visible, hierarchal Church that Christ founded[5].  This Church’s hierarchy has the authority of the Apostles because the Apostles ordained them.  We will not demonstrate this here & now; this is provided only to answer the natural question as to where the oral Tradition resides.

 

Christ commands us "Observe all that I commanded you." (Matt 28:20), yet John tells us “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:15).  What evidence could the sola-scripturist bring forth to proof that all that Christ commands us was written down, when the Bible tells us that Christ did many things not written down and the Bible tells us to obey teachings that were not written? 

 

In fact, the number of passages in Scripture demonstrating the validity of the oral Word of God as authoritative and inerrant are so numerous that to cover them all would be far beyond the scope of this work.  See, for example, http://scripturecatholic.com/oral_tradition.html for a very thorough enumeration.

 

Christ wrote nothing Himself.  He commanded that nothing be written, Himself.  Rather, he sent out his Apostles with the charge to preach the Gospel – though none had yet been written down. 

 

The first gospel was not written until approximately seven years after the Ascension.  The epistles were written throughout the mid-latter first century and the last book of the accepted New Testament canon (Revelations) written near the close of the century.  However, there was at this time not anything close to a commonly accepted (must less infallibly defined) canon, but, rather, individual churches and regions had collections of books they considered inspired.  So, for decades, Christians were saving their souls and dying for their faith without a common set of written Scriptures – and they were doing these things for centuries before “The Bible” as we know it existed.  The doctrine of sola scriptura would have struck the Christians of the first few centuries as preposterous almost beyond comprehension.

 

But there is more to it than that - in fact, it can scarcely be overstated how out of touch the modern Christian (unfortunately, I must say especially the modern non-Catholic) is with the early Church – and not just the ‘early’ Church, but the Church before the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century.  For, before that time, personal ownership of a Bible was something reserved for not one in a thousand.

 

I understand that Protestants are often greatly uncomfortable with the notion of extra-Biblical, oral revelation through no fault of their own, for a few reasons.  I will try to address briefly some of the “natural” objections.

 

Tradition can never contradict Sacred Scripture – if so, we would have truth contradict truth.  Not only is valid Tradition always consonant with Scripture, in fact every doctrine that has its basis primarily in Tradition has at least some kernel in Scripture.  (To take but one example, we will look at the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary – a dogma that Protestants generally are quite convinced was “invented” by the Church.  In fact, this dogma is revealed in Luke 1:28 when the angel calls Mary “full of grace” (kecharitomene) as her very title.  In fact kecharitomene, a Greek perfect passive participle, means that Mary had already been completely and perfectly endowed with grace[6] - “full of grace”.  That Mary was, in fact, conceived without original sin follows directly from this.  And, after all, why would the Creator of the Universe choose to be born of a sinner when He need not?)

 

Some Protestants allege that (if Tradition exists) it gives no information not also in Scripture.  This is, again, a blatant special pleading.  Scripture not only gives no reason to assume such a thing, it makes it clear this is not the case.  In fact, even a cursory reading of the epistles makes it clear that they were written primarily to correct and enlighten on specific points rather than to teach the faith from A to Z.  This is so abundantly clear that it should not really require the presentation of evidence, but we will make a brief examination.

 

In Romans 15:15, Paul tells the Romans, “I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again…”.  Paul wrote only a single letter to the Romans, so the previous teaching he is referring to was obviously oral[7].

 

We can make the same observation regarding Galations 5:21: and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.  This is Paul’s only letter to the Galatians, so he is referring to the teaching he gave them while in their presence.

 

These things make apparent what has been called the "occassional nature of Scripture" - Scripture was clearly not written to be a comprehensive "manual of the faith", on its own, yet that is, of course, exactly how Protestantism has always treated it.

 

[This doesn’t mean at all that the epistles don’t contain great monuments of critical theology.  Some certainly do. Paul’s extensive, magnificent treatment of the Eucharist in Hebrews[8] is one of my many favorites.]

 

The fact is that all non-Catholics rely on extra-biblical authority of some type, be it valid Apostolic Tradition or something else, very frequently without being aware of it.  For example, all mainline Protestant denominations as well as “Bible Christians” and the like accept the doctrine of the Holy Trinity – yet the word “trinity” does not appear in Scripture even a single time.  The teaching is there implicitly, of course, but that is not even to keep Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and plenty of others from denying it. 

 

In fact, the Catholic Church defined these dogmas at the first council of Constantinople (360) and Ephesus (431).  The specific nature of Christ and the relationship between His divine and humane natures and the nuances of the triune nature of God are complex questions that had caused divisions among Christians.  But when these matters were settled by the Church – the only authority able to settle them[9] - they were closed.

 

Anyone who won’t accept that – or any of the other infallible decisions of Catholic general councils – must immediately ask themselves why they accept the particular conciliar decisions that defined the canon of Scripture they accept. The New Testament canon that Catholics and Protestants accept was first defined by the Council of Rome in 382, ratified again at the Councils of Hippo and Carthage in 393 and 397.  Before that time, there was no agreement on the canon, with many inspired books rejected in certain locales and certain non-inspired books treated as Scripture as well.

 

The issue of the definition of the canon – how one knows he has all of Scripture and nothing but inspired Scripture – is indeed what logically invalidates sola scriptura.  We will cover that subject in depth in a bit.

 

As a parting thought, I will again remind the reader that since the Protestant system – by definition, really, and certainly quite intentionally – has separated itself from the keeper of Apostolic Tradition, the Protestant essentially has no choice (without severe corruption of his position, anyway) but to reject the oral Word of God.

 

The Bible Teaches That Church Authority Is Valid

 

It does more than that, actually: it tells us that it is the Church that is the very “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15).

 

Now, really, nothing could be clearer; there could not be stronger language used to establish the authority of the Church.  “Pillar and foundation” (or “support” or “buttress” or “ground”) – the inspired Apostle declares that it is the Church where the buck stops.  Not Scripture – not the book that the Church produced – but the Church itself. 

 

This would be the Church that Jesus Christ founded, for he did indeed found a specific, visible, hierarchal Church, “on” Peter, as He Himself said:

 

And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.  (Mt 16:18-20)

 

Of course, the plain meaning of this passage and others that speak of the founding of the Church is denied by Protestants; obviously, it can be no other way.  However, the text means what it says, and all objections are contrived and easily refuted[10].

 

This essay isn’t devoted to the topic of Church authority, so its treatment here will be specific and truncated[11].  But, let’s look at a few more verses:

 

"He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me." (Mt 10:40)  

 

"He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me." (Lk 10:16)

 

In both cases here, Christ is talking to his Apostles, the first bishops (episkopos: “elders” or “overseers”) – they represent Christ.

 

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. (Mt 18:17)

 

Tell it to the “church”?  But which one?  We have the presumption that the Church is both visible and easily identifiable.  And, indeed, the Church was One, outside of scattered heretical bodies outside of Apostolic communion that did arise fairly quickly in the history of Christianity, until the Great Schism in 1054 resulted in the imperfect communion of the Eastern churches with the See of Peter.  That was nothing, however, compared to the utter Revolution now known as the “Reformation”.

 

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Mt 18:18)

 

Christ is again speaking to His Apostles, now extending the great authority He granted to Peter to all of them (but only Peter has the Keys). 

 

Of course, separated communities (non-Catholic churches) never make claims to any real authority over the Christian, much less infallibility.  (Each domination generally claims it is right about all of the issues with which it degrees with others, but do realize they have no rational claim whatsoever to be truly free from error.) 

 

Indeed, again, these verses presuppose a Church that is visible, apostolic, and one: not the whimsical “invisible church” of the usurpers and not any of the absolute myriad of Protestant denominations and individual churches that disagree with each other on virtually every conceivable theological and moral issue.

 

Private Interpretation of Scripture 

Do note that the Church’s Magisterium (that is, its teaching authority) is by no means a source of divine Revelation, but only the Keeper and Interpreter of It.[12] 

 

No such interpreter is necessary, says the Protestant, but this position does not hold up well to scrutiny.[13]

 

The Old Testament Jews had the “Seat of Moses” – the authority structure of the Old Covenant that sat with the Pharisees.  Christ told the Jews not to imitate the Pharisees of His day, for they were hypocrites, but the more important part of the passage is glossed-over by non-Catholics: He also told them to obey them, because they did indeed occupy this Seat – they possessed the authority that God had delegated to Moses (Mt 23:2).

 

[The fact that this quite critical Seat of Moses is not discussed anywhere in the Old Testament is itself solid proof that the faithful Old Covenant Jews did not practice anything close to sola scriptura.  Further, in Moses’ time the Law was read only every seven years (Deut 31:10-12).  Does this mean the people were bereft of God’s Word in those long dry spells?  No, because they had God’s official teachers among them, speaking His Word.]

 

In Acts chapter 8, we read of the Ethiopian eunuch reading Scripture:

 

…and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”  Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.  “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:28-31)

 

The man already worshipped the true God (he was headed to Jerusalem to worship) and read Scripture, yet admitted he could not understand it – or at least could not understand all of it – without some aide.  How does the modern Protestant claim it is plausible for him to do so?

 

Christ used Scriptures to confound His enemies, yet they used them also, against Him: they interpreted badly.  The lesson is that Scripture demands a authoritative Source for interpretation.

 

2 Peter 3:16 is often quoted as a rebuttal to private interpretation of Scripture.  Looking at the verse in context is even more revealing:

 

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.  And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.  You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:14-18)

 

Peter contrasts the teaching of Paul, a valid, ordained bishop of the Church, with that of the “ignorant and unstable” that twist Scriptures that are “hard to understand” to their own “destruction”.

 

The entire Protestant system of private interpretation is really destroyed in a verse here, as it is predicated upon the basis that Scripture is not “hard to understand” – any of it.  (Of course, one can attempt to wiggle out of the plain meaning of the text here, as many will – that’s the chief benefit of private interpretation: one essentially gets to claim Scripture says whatever one wishes it to.)

 

One will not find anywhere in the Bible, Old Testament or New, people not just reading Scripture on their own (which is, of course, good and edifying) but demanding their own private interpretations be taken as authoritative and flouting the authority God established.  (The Old Testament Rebellion of Korah comes to mind.)

 

The Protestant position, when backed into a corner, comes down to (sometimes literally), “It doesn’t matter if I’m wrong as long as I have the faith!”  Such sentiment makes it clear why Protestantism so quickly descended into the anarchy that it is today and always will be, so far from the “One” Christ prayed His followers would be.

 

The ultimate defense of the Protestant of his mechanism of private interpretation of Scripture, as pioneered by Calvin, is “I have the Spirit”: I have the Holy Spirit and thus I know I am right, and if you do not agree, you obviously do not.  The elephant in the room here is that those claiming to be guided by the Spirit only disagree with each other, vehemently, sometimes nearly down to the man.  Thus did we see the virtual immediate, serious fragmentation of Protestantism into the camps of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox and more, followed by a process of new church-creation that has at times smacked of a Petri dish in full swing.  That ubiquitous figure of “30,000 denominations” tends to make Protestant apologists angry, but the figure comes from a Protestant source.

 

It is sadly ironic that this figure will be “disputed” by protesting that it is only accurate if “minor” doctrinal disagreements are counted.  Well, yes, they count.  The notion that there is some undefined set of “core beliefs” that Protestants must agree on, with other doctrines being optional, is quite obviously wholly un-Scriptural.  And thus its acceptance also undermines sola-scriptura.  Rather, Christ demanded that His followers be “one”, the New Testament demonstrates clearly a single hierarchy of authority starting with the Apostles, and they told believers that anyone, even an angel, who preaches a “gospel other than the one we preached to you” shall be cursed. 

 

Protestant protestations that the Catholic Church has “changed its doctrine” and “invented new doctrines” are simply pure ignorance.  Knowledge of the early Church, the first three centuries, demonstrates with overwhelming evidence that these supposed new doctrines existed since the time of the Apostles[14].  They were formalized or clarified at later times, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, or disagreements about them were settled definitively.  (Disagreement is acceptable regarding matters not yet defined by the Church[15], but the major areas were all settled relatively soon in Christian history – those crucial councils of the 4th and 5th centuries.)

 

Protestants will also sometimes argue that the fact that individual Catholics reject certain Church teachings or that even theologians disagree is evidence that the Catholic Church is not “one” either.  These are rather silly objections.  It should be apparent that, since human beings do possess free will, we will have disobedient Catholics, and even dissident theologians.

 

The pertinent point, the crux of the matter, is that in the Catholic system there is a standard of truth, a God-given source of authority, and a guarantee of freedom from error (the charism of infallibility that the Church exercises when defining dogma[16]).  The Protestant will, of course, assert that the Church is none of these things, but he cannot explain away either the logical necessity for such a source of authority nor the enormous amount of evidence that it does indeed exist.

 

A person can, indeed, insist that he knows he has the correct interpretation of Scripture because the Holy Spirit tells him so, and that those who don’t agree – even other non-Catholics, say on such questions as infant baptism, the nature of grace and salvation, the nature of the Eucharist, a myriad of moral issues, etc., etc. – do not.  But rational thinking suggests this is merely a cop-out, an emotional defense that is not falsifiable, and it is a fact that on each particular disagreement some hold the true belief and others the false, even if they both claim vociferously to “have the Spirit”.

 

God knows the heart.  He knows who is keenly seeking truth with the passion that is required of us and who is not, and by such will eternal reward and eternal punishment be dealt.

 

To conclude this section on private interpretation, it is necessary to offer brief commentary on what the originator of the doctrine, Martin Luther, saw as necessary to further his new theology: change Scripture.  That is what he did.  Most fairly educated Christians are aware that he at least stands accused of adding the word “alone” after faith in Romans 3:28.  The short story is that this is quite accurate: no one had previously included the word “alone” in the translation of this passage.  Although it had sometimes appeared in commentary on it, absolutely anyone should know that effectively inserting commentary into Scripture is changing Scripture.  Of course, he has defenders[17] who, sadly, do battle with him without even realizing how outlandish (and diabolical) is the action they’re approving, or how stunningly foolish it is to place such faith in a single man (much less one as unholy[18] as Martin Luther).

 

On the need for authority for common people, Fr. Brian Harrison has commented[19] on the seeming need for the Protestant to be deeply studied to have any hope of navigating the treacherous waters of disunity: “But was it really credible (I began to ask myself) that God, if He were to reveal the truth about these disputed questions at all, would make this truth so inaccessible that only a small scholarly elite had even the faintest chance of reaching it? Wasn't that a kind of gnosticism? Where did it leave the non-scholarly bulk of the human race? It didn't seem to make sense. If, as they say, war is too important to be left to the generals, then revealed truth seemed too important to be left to the Biblical scholars.”

 

Sola-scriptura Is Illogical

 

This is a serious charge, for if it is true, no other evidence is necessary to disprove the doctrine.

 

(Unfortunately, it is a fact that in much of Protestantism there is little appreciation for rationality.  This started at the beginning: Luther called reason “the devil’s whore’ and held irrational and preposterous beliefs about God (such as that He could exist and not exist at the same time).  But God is perfectly rational, and He gave human beings a rational mind, which He wishes us to use.  Despite the effects of the Fall, and that of concupiscence, we do still have the use of reason, and to deny that fundamental truth is such a grievous error that for me words fail. I like this quote concerning the mystical relationship between faith & reason from St. Augustine (a man who, before his conversion, misunderstood and rejected the existence of the former): "I believe, in order to understand; I understand, the better to believe.")

 

Catholic apologist Karl Keating has done an excellent job expressing the structure of Catholic authority, which is spiral in nature[20].  Here it is, paraphrased:

 

1) We start by approaching the New Testament with no assumptions, like any other text - not as inspired or infallible. 

We note that we have far more copies of the documents - over 5,000 - than any other work of antiquity, and with only very minor textual variations.  So, we know we have accurate copies.  The earliest copies date only several hundred years after the originals (compare our oldest copies of Plato's works at 1,300 years after him for contrast). 

The New Testament details the death & resurrection of Christ, as well as multiple miracles.  Over 500 people witnessed the risen Christ simultaneously, it claims, and most of these people were still alive when Paul wrote of this event to the Corinthians.  (If this had not occurred Paul could not have gotten away with claiming so many living people as witnesses - he would have been rejected as a charlatan.)

We note many other claims of rather amazing happenings such as Paul's conversion.  Paul was known to be a violent persecutor of Christians yet was converted.  Extra-biblical sources attest to this. 

The death & (at least claimed) resurrection of Christ are corroborated by hundreds of Christian writers from the first two centuries AD as well as dozens of non-Christians such as the well-known Josephus.  We thus have perhaps the best-documented event in the history of the world.

We can now conclude it is certain that Christ lived and turn to arguments that his resurrection did not actually occur.  Do they pass logical muster?  No.  All but one of the apostles was murdered - in most cases tortured to death - rather than deny their Master.  How could such a thing occur?  For what motive?  Before their deaths they lived as servants, not kings (like modern cult masters).  So, they were not schemers - but could all of them have suffered the same delusion, to the death?  That is also patently absurd.  Unless they actually witnessed the risen Christ beyond all doubt their behavior would be completely inexplicable.  Inexplicable behavior by one person occurs all the time, but we do not see 11 men who we know to be completely rational suffer from an identical delusion.  So, the rational conclusion is that the Resurrection did occur.  (On the other hand, it is irrational to simply deny the possibility of miracles out of hand.  Such a view is not “scientific”, since miracles are outside the domain of science, by definition.)

2) The Scriptures declare that Christ founded an infallible Church.

 

3) This Church says that Scripture (the canon it defined, that is) is inerrant.

 

Of course, countless atheists and others will reject this spiral logic chain for various reasons, but no one can deny that it is a self-consistent logical structure.

 

In contrast, the Protestant system of sola sciptura can be very easily demonstrated to be logically false, because in order for it to be true it must rely on an assertion not found in Scripture.

 

1. Sola Scriptura says everything we need to know that is necessary for our salvation comes from Scripture.

 

2. Thereore, knowing what claimed Scriptures are actually inspired and what are not is necessary for our salvation.

 

3. Knowing what Scriptures are inspired and what Scriptures are not inspired cannot be known from the Bible.  An Authority outside the Bible is necessary there, and that authority – the Church – did decide this question.

 

4. Therefore, Sola Scriptura cannot be true.

 

It is absolutely as simple as that!

 

The most common objection here is probably the assertion that it is "obvious" which writings are true Scriptures, or that this can be deduced by inspection, or some various of this.  But this falls apart very quickly, as has been noted.  Quoting from another paper[21] of mine:

 

“As late as the early 200s, more than a century and a half past the Resurrection, after many thousands of Christians had given their lives in martyrdom, much of the canon was essentially settled (meaning it was considered Scripture by every major church) but there was still serious disagreement on a number of books: James, Jude, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, and Revelation at the least.  And, of course, there were at least a dozen books that did not make the canon considered Scripture in certain areas: 1 Clement (the fourth Pope’s letter to the Corinthians, ~95 AD), the Didache, the Gospels of the Hebrews, Egyptians, Mattathias, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Preaching of Peter, the Revelation of Peter, the Protoevangelium of James, Acts of James, Acts of Paul, and the Shepherd of Hermas.  For instance, the canon used by the Church in Egypt (as given by Clement of Alexandria) included all of these in addition to the four canonical Gospels and most other books of the New Testament.  [None of these books contain material judged heretical, but neither were any of them ultimately ruled to be divinely inspired.]

 

Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, in a letter written in 367 provided the books of the New Testament canon eventually ratified by future ecumenical councils; Athanasius was not speaking authoritatively, but may have been the first to so enumerate these books.  They were subsequently listed by the Council of Rome, in 382, which was ratified by Pope Damascus I (although there is some dispute in this), and were repeated at the local councils of Hippo and Carthage in the last decade of the fourth century.  Finally, more than a thousand years later, at the Council of Trent, a full ecumenical council with Papal ratification, the canon was solemnly defined.”

 

Rational people must agree that the canon is simply not self-attesting.

 

Mark Shea’s work By What Authority? (An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition)[22] offers insight into the thought processes and methods of a sincere, searching Protestant attempting to prove to himself that the canon of Scripture is indeed self-attesting.  He describes in great detail the months of research, discovery, anguish, and finally joy he went through in trying to answer the question of how one can be certain that the canon is correct.  He describes the various hypotheses he explores, most of them given to him by his evangelical associates:

 

The inner witness of the Holy Spirit tells the Christian which books are inspired and which were not

 

Shea has trouble with this for a couple reasons.  First, there are some Christians he can think of offhand that respect a different canon than he but that he is pretty sure "have the Holy Spirit" too: he names Mother Teresa, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, and G.K. Chesterton (I guess Shea wasn't one of those evangelicals that doesn't even consider Catholics to be Christians).  He isn't able to readily accept the idea that these people are wrong and he's right just because it's an easy, comfortable assertion to make.

 

Then he talks about Martin Luther.  Luther, and the other Reformers removed the "deuterocanonical" books from their canon.  That is common knowledge; although one of the common anti-Catholic myths is that the Catholic Church added these books, even though they were part of the Christian canon from the very moment it was defined in the 4th century, and even though Christ Himself used (and referenced in the Gospels!) the Septuagint Old Testament which includes them.

 

This disturbed Shea, but what disturbed him more was Luther's de-facto rejection of books in the New Testament that had always been part of the canon, such as James.  About that book Luther had this to say: "James wanted to guard against those who relied on faith without works, but was unequal to the task. He tried to accomplish by harping on the law what the apostles accomplished by stimulating people to love.  Therefore, I will not have him in my Bible to be numbered among the true chief books."  And so he relegated this and other books to an appendix in the back of his Bible. (Imagine the frightful, blasphemous arrogance this took from the father of Protestantism.  Yet, this is actually merely private interpretation of Scripture taken to the next (not logically-inconsistent) level - private interpretation of the canon.)

 

Shea read a great many of the books that were rejected and notes that even to someone like him who knows the Holy Spirit there is no mark of certainty as to what is inspired and what is not.  He comments that the referenced letter of Clement and the Didache are completely orthodox and have more doctrinal content than, say, Numbers or Philemon.

 

Quotation = Canonicity

 

Some of his friends and colleagues told Shea that the books that Christ and the apostles quote from comprise the canon.  To start with, even if this were true it only works for the Old Testament – how deeply are these people thinking?

 

But Shea discovered that many OT books are never quoted in the New Testament.  Worse, there are a number of cases of NT authors quoting from non-canonical OT books: Jude quotes from The Assumption of Moses and Enoch, for example.  There are many more examples given.

 

"Congruence" with other books determines canonicity

 

This is also false; several examples are cited.  Shea talks about Ecclesiastes- "totally ignored by the rest of Scripture and its nihilistic vision of life conflicts mightily with Christian hope".  According to this book, "The dead know nothing, they have no further reward!” (Of course, the point of the book is to show what life might be like without God.  Shea's point in citing it is just to refute the argument that all inspired books are "congruent".  Also, it is never quoted in the NT.)  Shea concludes, again, that by no means, despite knowing the Holy Spirit, is he able as an individual to decide with certainty that this book belongs in the canon (whilst the Didache, for example, does not).

 

The myth of "ignored" deuterocanonical books

 

Protestants are led to believe that the deuterocanonical books were ignored by the New Testament authors but Shea discovers that that is quite false.  Wisdom 2:12-20 is obviously heavily influenced Mt 27:41-43.  Several other examples from Wisdom and Sirach are given.  Hebrews 11:35 alludes to 2 Maccabees 7, the only place people "tortured and refused to be released" were mentioned in the OT.  And - John 10:22-36 has Christ celebrating Hanukkah, a feast that is established in Maccabees.  Furthermore, He uses an analogy drawn from Maccabees to describe Himself, noting that the Father "set Him apart" just as Judas Maccabees "set apart" the Temple. 

 

Conclusion

We see that the doctrine of sola scriptura is illogical, un-Biblical, and ahistorical.  Christians living & dying for the Gospel in the hundreds of years before there was any collection of New Testament Scriptures at all, much less a defined canon, would be utterly mystified by such a doctrine.  For them, the Church was indeed the pillar & ground of the truth, from which they received Christ as the Word and in Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the form of the Holy Eucharist.


[1] “"We are obliged to yield many things to the Papists--that with them is the Word of God, which we received from them; otherwise we should have known nothing at all about it." – Martin Luther, Commentary on John

[2] http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/ophelimos.html

 

[3] See John Salza’s extensive treatment of this passage in The Biblical Basis for Tradition, pp 188-196.

[4] 1 Timothy 4:14 speaks of Timothy’s ordination.

 

[5] http://www.catholicthinker.net/th-source-of-catholic-authorit/

 

[6] http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/a116.htm

 

[7] In fact, St. Paul taught the Romans extensively with St. Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, as attested to by more than three hundreds references from the early Church Fathers.

 

[8] http://www.catholicthinker.net/the-eucharist/

 

[9] http://www.catholicthinker.net/th-source-of-catholic-authorit/

 

[10] http://www.catholicthinker.net/peter-the-papacy/

 

[11] See this list of verses attesting to the existence and authority of the visible, hierarchal Church: http://scripturecatholic.com/the_church.html

 

[12] Another of the massive Protestant misunderstandings of Catholicism is that the Church simply “invents” new doctrines.  This is thought due to a lack of understanding of Scripture and ignorance of Tradition.  All Catholic doctrine and dogma is present in the Deposit of Faith given to the Apostles, but its formalization – deeper understanding and explanation – may come later.  Just as with those beliefs that Protestants take for granted but were not defined until the fourth or fifth centuries, such as the nature of God and the Biblical canon.

 

[13] Not to mention that almost all Protestants – those with any sense whatsoever anyway – do rely on others for Scriptural interpretation.  They don’t speak Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic and they realize they do not know enough about the times & cultures in question to understand every nuance of Scripture.  So, it turns out, everyone has a Church and a Pope of some sort – be it Rome, his pastor, or himself.

 

[14] See http://www.catholicthinker.net/the-eucharist/ and http://www.catholicthinker.net/peter-the-papacy/ for some examples, and here http://www.amazon.com/Faith-Early-Fathers-Three-Volume-Set/dp/0814610250/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1365027749&sr=8-2&keywords=faith+of+the+early+fathers for much of what the Church Fathers believed and taught.

 

[15] St. Augustine said it well: “Rome has spoken; the case is closed.”

 

[16] http://www.catholicthinker.net/infallibility/

 

[17] http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2006/02/luther-added-word-alone-to-romans-328.html

 

[18] http://www.catholicapologetics.info/apologetics/protestantism/matluther.htm#_ftn3

  

[19] http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/FR90302.HTM

 

[20] See http://www.amazon.com/Catholicism-Fundamentalism-Attack-Romanism-Christians/dp/0898701775/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1365030109&sr=8-1&keywords=karl+keating

 

[21] http://www.catholicthinker.net/infallibility/

 

[22] http://www.amazon.com/What-Authority-Evangelical-Discovers-Tradition/dp/0879738510/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1301759281&sr=8-1