As a protestant/evangelical, I held tightly to the ‘Reformation’ slogan of ‘Sola Scriptura.’ I believed that Scripture alone was the final authority on all matters of Christian doctrine, which meant in practical terms that anything that is not clearly stated within scripture cannot be relied on as a true Christian doctrine. The problem, however, as Catholics eventually showed me, is that From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, Scripture never claims that everything Jesus and the apostles taught regarding faith, morals, and worship (‘the deposit of faith’) is explained clearly (explicitly) within the Bible. Nor does the Bible claim that the Bible is the sole final authority regarding Christian doctrine apart from the traditions and interpretations of the Church (which is the ‘pillar and ground of truth’ in 1 Tim. 3:15). Instead, the Bible places authority within Apostolic Tradition –which is both written (Scripture) and oral– that is passed on and taught by those who have been ordained (the Church Magisterium) through the ‘laying on of hands’ in an ongoing chain of ‘Apostolic Succession.’ Since the Bible has no list of books to be included in the Bible, Tradition and the Magisterium were the authority in determining what books rightfully belonged in the Bible in the first place. It is interesting to note that though our Lord could write (John 8:6), He chose not to write any Scripture, but committed His teaching entirely to the mediation of the Church.
The Catholic Church continues to rely on Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium, understanding that all three are inseparably bound by the working of the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of ‘Scripture Alone’ continues to refute itself and cause ceaseless divisions and confusion.
I find it worthwhile to add that as a Catholic, I now hear at least twice as much Scripture read aloud on any given Sunday (not to mention daily mass). The official prayers of the Church found within the mass and the Divine Office (‘Liturgy of the Hours’) are also saturated with Scripture. By refusing to assign the Scriptures a role which they themselves deny, the Church doesn’t ‘downplay’ their role, but extols it all the more:
From Vatican II decree Dei Verbum (the Word of God)
“21. The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s body. She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with sacred tradition, as the supreme rule of faith, since, as inspired by God and committed once and for all to writing, they impart the word of God Himself without change, and make the voice of the Holy Spirit resound in the words of the prophets and Apostles. Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture. For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. Consequently these words are perfectly applicable to Sacred Scripture: “For the word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12) and “it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32; see 1 Thess. 2:13).
Do The Scriptures Teach Sola Scriptura?
…God’s people have always had teachers with legitimate authority to interpret Scripture, which is not a matter of private interpretation and can sometimes be hard to understand and ‘twisted’ to create heresies:
- Matthew 23:3: “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.
- 2 Peter 1:20-21: “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
- 2 Peter 3:15-16: “…So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.”
…We know from scripture that preaching in person was the preferred mode of declaring the Word of God (even by St. Paul, who was the most prolific New Testament author):
- 2 John 1:12: “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink, but I hope to come to see you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”
- 3 John 1:13-14: “I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face.”
- 1 Timothy 3:14-15: “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”
- 1 Thes. 3:9-10: “For what thanksgiving can we render to God for you, for all the joy which we feel for your sake before our God, praying earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith”
…Many directives on faith, morals and worship were passed on orally:
- 2 Thessalonians 2:15: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”
- 1 Corinthians 11:1-2: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:6: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.”
- Philipians 4:9: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.”
- 1 Thessalonians 2:13: “And we also thank God constantly for this, that 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, which is at work in you believers.”
- 2 Timothy 2:2: “and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
…Even the authors of the New Testament believed in religious stories, miracles, and prophecies that were never explained in the Bible, but were instead part of oral tradition:
- In Matt. 23:2–3, Jesus commands his followers to do what the scribes and pharisees tell them because they “sit on Moses’ seat.” This phrase or concept is not mentioned in Scripture, but is present in the Mishnah, which is considered the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism.
- In Matt. 2:23, we read of Jesus that it was “spoken by the prophets” that “He shall be called a Nazarene,” yet these words are not written anywhere in the Old Testament. This prophecy of God was passed down orally rather than through Scripture.
- In 1 Cor.10:4, St. Paul refers to a rock that followed the Jews through the Sinai wilderness. Rabbinic tradition testifies to this miracle, but Scripture says nothing about it. The story was later recorded in the Talmud.
- James 4:5 says, “Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us?'” This phrase is not found anywhere in the scriptures and is rather as part of extra-Biblical written tradition.
- Hebrews 11:37 draws from extra-Biblical oral tradition in mentioning martyrs that had been “sawn in two,” a story not found in the inspired scriptures.
- In 2 Tim. 3:8, St. Paul makes a brief example out of how “Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses,” yet these men and their story are not explained elsewhere in the Bible. It was a matter of tradition.
- In Jude 9, Jude makes passing mention of a dispute between the Archangel Michael and the devil over the body of Moses to prove a point about passing”reviling judgment.” This story is not explained or even mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. According to Origen (c. 185–254), this story was recorded in a book called “the Assumption of Moses.”
…Refutations of some common ‘proof-texts’ for ‘Scripture Alone’:
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, or correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Catholics recognize that all scripture is ‘profitable,’ but ‘profitable’ does not mean ‘self-sufficient’ or ‘all-encompassing.’ Some will argue that this passage implies ‘Scripture Alone’ because it says, ‘that the man of God may be complete…,’ However, James 1:4 says, “let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Are we then to assume that ‘steadfastness alone’ is all we need? Ephesians 4:11-13 says: “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.” Are we then to assume that teachers (apostles, prophets preachers, etc..) alone are all we need to grow into ‘the stature of the fullness of Christ?’ …If 2 Timothy 3:16 really proved anything regarding ‘Sola Scriptura’, it would prove entirely too much, since in the previous verse we see that St. Paul is referring to the scriptures that Timothy has known since his childhood. During Timothy’s childhood, very little if any of the New Testament would have been written. Would anyone dare to argue that the Scriptures that were in existence during Timothy’s childhood are the only authoritative rule of Christian doctrine apart from the Church?
- John 20:31-32: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”
This passage simply states the evangelist’s intentions in writing this Gospel and assures that this Gospel, like all scripture, is beneficial in leading towards eternal life. No claim is made that the contents of this gospel are the sole authoritative ‘rule of faith’ for a Christian.
- Acts 17:10-11: “The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroe’a; and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessaloni’ca, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
These Jews are indeed commended for searching the scriptures to ensure that the preached word that they had received was consistent with the Old Testament prophecies. We do well in following their example, but this passage does not limit us in any way to believing that all Christian truth is clearly explained in the scriptures alone.
- 1 Cor. 4:5-7: “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God. I have applied all this to myself and Apol’los for your benefit, brethren, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?”
The meaning of the phrase “beyond what is written” is obscure in this passage. Is Paul referring to the Old Testament, an earlier Epistle, or some other writing? We do not know. The focus of the passage, however, is clear. St. Paul is making a point about judgment and pride, not about believing only what is clearly explained in the scriptures.
- Revelation 22:18-19: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
As is clearly stated, the context of this passage is ‘this book’ (Revelation), This passage could not possibly be used to prove anything other than ‘The Book of Revelation Alone,’ which would be ridiculous.