Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sola Scriptura

 The most damaging criticism of sola scriptura is the reality that the Bible doesn’t teach it.  This leads to an absurdity.  Those who believe in sola scriptura claim that everything that is essential for a Christian to know is clearly taught in the Bible.  However, the Bible does not teach that everything that is essential for a Christian to know is clearly taught in the Bible.

The passage that is most often cited as a proof text by those who support sola scriptura is 2 Tim 3:15-17.  Let’s examine that passage beginning with its immediate context.  Paul is clearly instructing Timothy and the church in Ephesus to be a faithful witness during difficult times.  There is no indication anywhere in this Epistle that he is contrasting Sacred Scripture with other sources of revelation, or even discussing the subject.

In addition, the “Scriptures” with which Timothy has been acquainted “from childhood” (verse 15) refers to the Old Testament.  Are we to believe that St. Paul is teaching that the Old Testament constitutes the only source needed to know what Jesus taught?

Secondly, Paul has many important things to say about the scriptures.  They “are able to instruct you for salvation in Christ Jesus” (v.15).  However, he doesn’t claim that only the scriptures can instruct one for salvation in Christ Jesus.  All scripture is inspired by God” (v.16), but Paul does not claim that only scriptures are inspired by God.  Paul also affirms that scripture is “useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (v.17), but he never asserts that only scripture is so useful.

Thirdly, This passage doesn’t teach formal sufficiency, which excludes a binding, authoritative role for Tradition and Church. Protestants extrapolate onto the text what isn’t there. If we look at the overall context of this passage, in 2 Timothy alone, Paul makes reference to oral Tradition three times (1:13-14, 2:2, and 3:14). And to use an analogy, let’s examine a very similar passage:

Ephesians 4:11-15 (RSV) - And His gifts were that some should be Apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are able to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.

If 2 Timothy 3:16-17 proves the sole sufficiency of Scripture, then by analogy, Ephesians 4:11-15 would likewise prove the sufficiency of prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth for the attainment of Christian perfection. In Ephesians 4:11-15 the Christian believer is equipped, built up, brought into unity and mature manhood, knowledge of Jesus, the fullness of Christ, and even preserved from doctrinal confusion by means of the teaching function of the Church. This is a far stronger statement of the perfecting of the saints than 2 Timothy 3:16-17, yet it doesn’t even mention Scripture!!

So if all Tradition and Church elements are excluded in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, then, by analogy, Scripture itself would logically have to be excluded in Ephesians 4:11-15! It is far more reasonable to recognize that the absence of one or more elements in one passage does not mean they are nonexistent. Hence, the Church, Tradition, and Scripture together are equally necessary and important for teaching. And of course this is the Catholic view.

As you can see, advocates of the Protestant principle of Sola Scriptura (the “Bible only” theory) have a problem on their hands here.

If the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is true then we must be able to prove all doctrines from Scripture alone. If that is true, then we must be able to prove Sola Scriptura from Scripture alone. If we cannot do that then Sola Scriptura turns out to be self-refuting, an idea that cuts its own basis out from under itself, like the proposition “No generalizations are true.”



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