Reading Church History as a Protestant: The Epistemology of Sola Scriptura

Van Gogh, Still Life with Bible (c.1885)

Still Life with Bible (c.1885), by Vincent van Gogh (WikiArt.org).

Protestants argue that Scripture itself is sufficient to support the doctrine of sola scripturabut a more important question to ask is if one, not having held such a doctrine before, could come to a doctrine of sola scriptura by Scripture alone.

The “Great Apostasy” thesis presumes, first of all, that “true” Christianity originated as something other than Catholic Christianity, but that Roman authorities designed to introduce “pagan” elements into the faith. (Or, in a more moderate form of the claim, gullible and lukewarm Christians — apparently, early Christians were less committed to the truth and orthodoxy of their faith, as well as less intelligent, than modern Protestants? — passively allowed pagan accretions to gradually creep into their doctrine.) Some of the usual suspects for these allegedly “pagan” doctrines include the “worship” of images and statues (“idolatry”); the “worship” of the Virgin Mary and the saints; the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (often less correctly attacked as “transubstantiation”); the understanding of the Lord’s Supper as the sacrifice of the Mass; the subjection of correct adherence to Scripture alone to “traditions of men”; and the injection of “works’ righteousness” into the true faith in justification by faith alone. In short, the presumption is that “true” Christianity was essentially Protestant, and that any other doctrine particular to the Catholic Church must have been a “pagan” corruption. But is this thesis itself sound?

I argue that this whole “Great Apostasy” claim proceeds from Protestant assumptions about Scripture, doctrine, and the Church — namely, that the Early Church held to the same understanding of sola scriptura (“Scripture alone” as a rule of faith) that later Protestants formulated; that early Christians would have interpreted the Bible in exactly the same way as later Protestants (i.e. that the Protestant interpretation is the correct one); that “true” Christians would have rejected any doctrine not defined explicitly in Scripture, according to that interpretation; and that therefore a Church that believed anything different must, by definition, be “apostate.” It proceeds from a very specific conception of “the Church” and Christian practice, defined by Protestant practice, such that, if the Church does not resemble that conception, then it must have fallen away from the truth. To accept that the Catholic Church is “apostate,” one must first accept these Protestant assumptions. The result is that this “Great Apostasy” thesis rests on circular logic: The Church was “apostate” if it did not resemble a Protestant one; in order for the Church to be “true,” it must be Protestant.

Where does sola scriptura come from? A begged question

Calvin with books

Is there any way to verify the initial assumptions of this begged question? Can we know whether the Early Church was Protestant in belief and practice? Yes, we can, by turning to the very earliest written documents of the Church outside the New Testament, composed within years or decades of the writing of the New Testament itself, if not within that very time period — though many proponents of the “Great Apostasy” would extend their assumptions to say that, if these documents do not verify their Protestant assumptions, then the Church must have apostatized even before then — before the canon of the New Testament was even closed. This stretches the credibility of our belief in a Lord who proclaimed that His Church would stand against the powers of death and that His Holy Spirit would guide His followers into all truth.

But to put a boot into this circular reasoning, I hope, let me ask: How did we, as Christians, come to our understandings of the Protestant church? Where do our understandings of these Protestant assumptions — sola scriptura and all the rest — come from? The Protestant Reformers dictated these doctrines, and professed that they were held by the earliest, “true” Christians — but how did they know they were held by early Christians, if not even the earliest extrascriptural texts can verify this claim? How did they know what they claimed to know, if no one knew it before? It is a basic epistemological as well as an historical question: since this knowledge could not have come from nowhere.

Protestants claim, of course, that their understanding of these doctrines came from reading Scripture alone — but if Scripture had been being read laboriously by exegetes and theologians for 1,500 years, and none prior to them had come to such an understanding — could they truly have come to this understanding by Scripture alone? Is this doctrine of sola scriptura so plainly written on the face of Scripture that all prior exegetes must have willfully ignored it? This is in fact what a claim of “perspicuity” entails. Or, if this understanding depends on a new interpretation, where did this new interpretation come from? If it came from any source outside Scripture alone — even, as Protestants might argue, from a special revelation of the Holy Spirit — then it contradicts the very notion of sola scriptura as Protestants defined it: stating that all doctrine is perspicuously written in Scripture, or else implied by it by necessary consequence.

Perspicuously taught?

Scripture illuminated

Scripture was illuminated a long time before Protestants came along.

If the doctrine of sola scriptura does not itself rest on circular reasoning, then it must be plainly stated or necessarily implied by Scripture. And what is it that, according to the definitions of Protestants themselves, Scripture alone must plainly, or by necessary consequence, teach? Turning to one of the most widely acknowledged statements of Protestant belief, the Westminster Confession of Faith, we find that the authority of Scripture is thus understood:

  1. All things necessary for man’s salvation, faith, and life are either expressly stated in Scripture, or implied by necessary consequence. (WCF I.6)
  2. No doctrine may be added to this at any time, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or “traditions of men.” (WCF I.6)
  3. Scripture is to be the final appeal of the Church in all controversies of religion. (WCF I.8,10)

There is more, but that’s enough for starters. It is these points in particular that give rise to Protestant prejudice against the Catholic tradition, and support conclusions about the “apostasy” of the Church. How is it that Protestants draw these tenets from Scripture? Where is this perspicuously written?

Even when so confronted, there are only a few verses of Scripture that Protestant exegetes are able to produce in support of sola scriptura. But what do these verses actually, perspicuously dictate?

“Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6)

Paul writes, in his first epistle to the Corinthian Church:

I have applied all this to myself and Apollos 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. (1 Corinthians 4:6)

Ripped from its context, this verse appears to be sure support for the argument that the Church is not to go beyond what is written — that is, surely, Scripture — in anything she does. As a corollary, it is assumed, the Church should remain within the parameters of the doctrine taught in Scripture.

But even a closer examination of this single verse calls into question this interpretation. Why is it that Paul’s recipients should not go beyond what it is written? Is it to preserve the Church in doctrinal purity, to exclude error or accretion of unscriptural tradition, to maintain orthodoxy — as the Protestant understanding of sola scriptura would lead us to believe? No, it is that [ἵνα (hina), in order that, marking a purpose clause] none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. What, then, is Paul talking about? What is written that he is referring to? Apparently whatever is written is meant to address this matter of prideful self-aggrandizement. Has Paul previously referred to such a passage?

Sure enough, he has, earlier in the same letter — making his references explicit by similarly noting what is written:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.” (1 Corinthians 1:18–19)

He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30–31)

For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” So let no one boast of men. (1 Corinthians 3:19–21)

These references to what is written plainly refer to prideful boasting — being “puffed up.” This is the specific context of Scripture beyond which Paul admonishes his readers not to go beyond — to learn from his humility, clearly the context of 1 Corinthians 4 and surrounding chapters. This single phrase, not to go beyond what is written, separated from this context, cannot be taken as any sort of far-reaching doctrinal dictate or prohibition. This verse fails to offer the support for sola scriptura — let alone the plain, perspicuous pronouncement — that Protestants seek from it.

The matter of the Bereans (Acts 17:10–12): “Examining the Scriptures to see if these things were so”

Luke writes, in the Acts of the Apostles:

The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroea; and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. (Acts 17:10–12)

Paul to the Bereans

The Bereans are so often held up as the picture of sola scriptura in practice, praiseworthy in their commitment to Scripture. And it is certain that they were faithful to God’s Word. But is this really the same thing as what Protestants practice? What Scriptures did the Bereans examine, and what is it that they sought in them? The word they received was the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of his coming, Death, and Resurrection. The Scriptures they read were the only ones available to them, the Old Testament (most likely in the Greek Septuagint), since the New Testament had not yet been written. And in the Old Testament, they verified the fulfillment of prophecy that Jesus brought, the thrust of the gospel that Paul and Silas taught, which is what would have been convincing to faithful Jews. So it demands the question: Does the practice of the Bereans resemble the Protestant practice of sola scriptura? Does this Scripture passage offer the perspicuous support that doctrine demands?

It is plain that it does not. Does it demonstrate that “all things necessary for man’s salvation, faith, and life are plainly stated or necessarily implied by Scripture”? No, it does not: While the Bereans were able to verify Christ’s fulfillment of prophecy by Scripture, they could not have come to knowledge of Him without the preaching and illumination of Paul. Does it demonstrate that “no doctrine can be added to Scripture”? No, it does not: The message of Jesus taught by Paul, His life and mission and way of salvation, were all “new doctrine” not plainly stated or even necessarily implied by the Scripture of the Old Testament; and if the Bereans had held to a Protestant understanding of Scripture, not accepting any doctrine that went beyond it, they would have rejected Paul and the gospel of Christ. Does this passage demonstrate that Scripture must be the final appeal of the Church in matters of controversy? No, it does not address this at all. Plainly, then, this passage does not offer the support for sola scriptura that is necessary for Protestants. It does not teach this doctrine perspicuously, nor could it have led anyone to hold it who did not hold it before.

Parting Exhortations (2 Timothy 3:14–17): “Equipped for every good work”

Among Paul’s final words to Timothy were this exhortation:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14–17)

Paul ordaining Timothy

Paul ordaining Timothy bishop of Ephesus.

This is by far the Scripture most commonly cited by Protestants in support of sola scriptura. I have written at greater length about it before. Supposedly, according to the argument I often hear, this offers proof that Scripture alone is profitable for these good purposes, that Scripture alone can instruct us for salvation, that Scripture alone can complete a man to be equipped for every good work; and that, therefore, if Scripture does not equip us for it, it is not a good work. This, presumably, is meant to exclude any doctrinal element not plainly found in Scripture — since, the man of God, already “complete,” has no need of anything else.

But that reading fits neither this Scripture passage nor its context. Paul, again, is not advising the Church in doctrinal matters; he is exhorting Timothy to persevere in good works. In this, does he mean to limit the good works to which Timothy is called, or forbid him from any practice or activity? No, clearly not: he is extolling the inspiration of Scripture, all its merits and applications, and all the good works for which it can equip the believer. There is nothing prohibitory about Paul’s statement here. Does he mean to be exclusive, as if to say that Scripture alone is profitable for good works, or Scripture alone can instruct one for salvation? There is nothing about his words that imply this.

Even taken at its most literalistic, this passage does not offer the perspicuous support for sola scriptura that the doctrine demands. Does it clearly teach that Scripture teaches all things necessary for salvation and life? No, it merely shows that Scripture is instructive (it can make one wise) for salvation. Does it teach that no doctrine may be added to the plain teachings of Scripture, or that no doctrine outside such plain teachings may be believed? No, it does not speak to anything outside Scripture at all. Nor is Scripture as a means for resolving doctrinal controversy (let alone the sole means) included among Scripture’s worthy applications. This passage, like the other passages, fails to teach plainly or necessarily the doctrines and claims that Protestants make about scriptural authority.

True Scriptural Authority

The Council of Trent

The Magisterium of Church, assembled at the Council of Trent.

To many Protestants, a notion of church authority rooted in sola scriptura appears to be common sense. Scripture is Holy Writ, the very written Word of God — why wouldn’t it be the Church’s ultimate authority? The suggestion of any qualification to this authority appears to be abject heresy, the placing of human authority above that of Scripture. But in fact, the Catholic view presents completely the opposite.

It is the Protestant view, paradoxically, that ultimately compromises the authority of Scripture, by subjecting it to private human interpretation. For Scripture is effectively of no authority at all to the person whose private interpretation disagrees with the one being asserted; that is, any given interpretation of Scripture is only as authoritative as the person giving it, or as the hearer himself accepts it to be. Where is the absolute, infallible authority of Scripture in this? The Westminster Confession declares that Scripture is to be the final authority of the authoritative Church; but who interprets Scripture if not the Church? Protestants themselves deny the possibility of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, being an infallible interpreter of Scripture; therefore, any interpretation given by the Church is by definition fallible and questionable. Any Christian who disagrees, who has his own divergent, private opinion, is free to dismiss whatever authority the Church claims to have, citing, ironically, the divine and infallible authority of Scripture: when in truth he appeals to nothing more than his own private opinion.

The traditional, Catholic view — the view held in all the ages of the Church up until the schism of the Reformation — is not the opposite of this; it is not a subjection of the authority of Scripture at all, but rather its affirmation. In order for His Word to continue with an authoritative voice, He appointed His Apostles to teach in His name (Luke 10:16), and this teaching mission continued to the bishops and presbyters they appointed (1 Timothy 3:2, 4:13, 5:17, 2 Timothy 2:2, Titus 2:1, etc.). Not just anyone had the authority to teach and interpret Scripture, but only those duly called by God and ordained by the Church (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11, 1 Timothy 3). And He gave the Church the Holy Spirit, that He might guide her into all truth (John 16:13). For the Catholic Church too, Sacred Scripture is the highest authority, together with Sacred Tradition — the ultimate recourse in matters of doctrine and faith — but as the chaos of Protestant division demonstrates, Scripture cannot speak for itself. It is only through the authoritative voice of the Church’s whole magisterium, in accord with Scripture itself, that the Word of God can authoritatively speak.

Sola scriptura is self-refuting

Martyrdom of Ignatius

The Martyrdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch

Sola scriptura is ultimately self-refuting. The doctrine of sola scriptura demands that Scripture teach all doctrine plainly and perspicuously, or else by necessary consequence — and it does not teach itself. No reader of Scripture could have arrived at the specific requirements and conclusions of sola scriptura as defined without presuming them to begin with: the doctrine rests on circular reasoning. Moreover, to even be able to define “Scripture” — to possess a canon of inspired, authoritative, scriptural books to which to appeal — one cannot stand from Scripture alone, but must refer to the traditional agreement and resolution of Christians in the Church. And thus, to begin one’s reasoning about the Church and Christian history from a position of sola scriptura from the outset is an unjustified and prejudicial assumption. To hold the Early Church, or the Church in any age, to a Protestant, sola scriptura standard, is to place limitations upon Christians that they neither observed nor understood themselves.

The proof of this is in the history of the Church itself: Early Christians, generations upon generations of whom paid for their faith in their own blood, were certainly no less committed to the truth and purity and orthodoxy of Christian doctrine than modern Protestants; in fact, it was precisely for the cause of orthodoxy that many of them suffered persecution and even death (see especially the matter of the Arian heresy). These Christians — who held no less to a closed deposit of faith in the revelation of Scripture and Tradition than Protestants — did not accept, at any point, new and novel doctrines never before taught, let alone the corruption of their faith by visibly pagan and syncretistic doctrines injected from pagan or secular society. And yet these same Christians did not feel themselves bound by a rigid restriction to Scripture alone — which was certainly never taught by Jesus, the Apostles, or their disciples — but accepted Scripture for what it is: the divine, infallible Word of God; the continuing voice of their Lord to His Church, to teach, correct, exhort, encourage, and guide — not to shackle or condemn the rest of the Sacred Tradition of the Apostles, but to affirm it, support it, and verify it. They did not close their minds or their hearts to the development of Christian doctrine, to the flowering of the seeds planted by their Lord and His Apostles, as the Church grew in understanding and pondered upon the truth having once been revealed.

22 thoughts on “Reading Church History as a Protestant: The Epistemology of Sola Scriptura

  1. It belongs to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same; which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in His Word.

    All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both.

    – Westminster Confession of Faith, Chap. 31, section 3-4.

    I know many Christians have wrong ideas about sola scriptura. They try reading the Bible while rejecting Church history. If you read Calvin’s institutes next to Scripture he quotes Augustine more then anybody else.

    • So this statement from the Westminster Confession only affirms in more words what I stated above: Even the most authoritative statements of the authoritative Church from Scripture are fallible and questionable. How, again, is Scripture authoritative and infallible? If Scripture is “perspicuous,” self-revealing and self-authenticating, then why cannot even the most authoritative, divinely ordained and constituted organ of the Church, the council, speak with certainty regarding Scripture? All is submitted, ultimately, to whether or not one considers the council’s dictates “consonant to the Word of God,” by one’s own private interpretation. Is this really how God gives His authoritative Word to the Church? After seven such ecumenical councils and 800 years, the Church of God remained more or less “in one mind and judgment” — and yet even in the lifetimes of the Reformers, under the model above, Protestant churches splintered into dozens of disparate sects, today lacking any meaningful unity or agreement at all, to the tune of over 40,000 distinct denominations. Is this really the model of authority and Church government our Lord and His Apostles ordained?

      The ability to quote Augustine does not give one immunity from being wrong. Even Augustine was fallible and human. And you have not answered my larger question: What is “sola scriptura” founded upon? Where did the Protestant understanding of it come from? And is this consistent in any way with the history of the Church?

  2. The message of Jesus taught by Paul, His life and mission and way of salvation, were all “new doctrine” not plainly stated or even necessarily implied by the Scripture of the Old Testament. I disagree. The types of the O.T. reveal the sacrifice of Christ that Paul simply expounded upon. Abraham and Isaac are clear types of Christ.

    • Thanks for the comments! Yes, certainly the Old Testament is full of types of Christ, on almost every page. As St. Augustine said, the New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New. But it is hidden in the Old Testament — not “revealed” at all. It was not sufficient for the salvation of anyone. As Paul said, how will anyone believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without someone preaching (Romans 10:14)? Again, if the Berean Jews had held a Protestant understanding of sola scriptura, expecting all doctrine to be plainly stated in Scripture, they would have rejected Paul and Christ. His peace be with you!

      • Yes salvation was a mystery hidden in God until Christ was revealed, and the veil taken away. (Eph 3:9, 1 Cor 2:7, 3:14) Yet this does not in any way diminish the authority of Scripture. Sola scriptura is what I would call a self evident fact.

        While yes there are differences of interpretation of various portions of Scripture (probably even within the Catholic Church), we still must adhere to what is plainly stated in Scripture. If we allow any teaching of man or institution to hold equality to Scripture then we set a precedent for Scripture to be diminished and man to be exalted. Thanks for the reply.

        • But that’s precisely my point. It’s not a self-evident fact. It was not a self-evident fact to anyone in the first 1,500 years of Christianity. Protestants cannot suddenly appeal to a doctrine as a “self-evident fact” without, as I said, explaining from what it is self-evident (what is it that evidences it?) and why it was never self-evident to anyone before.

          “Sola scriptura” is not synonymous with “the authority of Scripture.” The Catholic Church likewise affirms the authority of Scripture. The doctrine of “sola scriptura” entails specific requirements and restrictions, as I detailed above: namely that Scripture can be the sole, authoritative source of doctrine for the Church. This was not an understanding that anyone prior to the Reformers held. And suddenly, it was “self-evident,” but only to a select few? If all doctrine is perspicuously stated in Scripture, where is this doctrine perspicuously stated in Scripture? Why could no one see it before, and why can I still not see it?

  3. Traditions of man are fine providing they do not contradict what is clearly stated in Scripture. During Jesus earthly ministry he was constantly confronting the oral traditions of the rabbis that had superseded the authority of Scripture. Mark 7:13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

    While the Protestant church has its’ share of traditions that have interfered with the teachings of Scripture, the Catholic church imagines that its’ traditions are equal with the authority of Scripture and this is the real problem.

    Because the Catholic church proclaims that it is God ordained church on earth it vainly imagines that it is infallible. Yet throughout history it has ordained numerous practices that have absolutely no agreement with Scripture. Sorry but I choose the plain teachings of Scripture over any contradicting tradition.

    • Thanks, but I don’t see how this comment addresses my post at all. How is sola scriptura a “plain teaching” of Scripture?

      To address whether Catholic teachings “contradict” Scripture is an entirely different discussion, and not the point of this post. But they don’t. And no, the Catholic Church does not suppose herself to be “infallible.” She is indefectible, meaning that the gates of hades will never prevail against her, as Our Lord Himself said. What is infallible are the teachings of God’s duly ordained teachers, the bishops, when they agree together in council.

      • My point is that the traditions of the Catholic church are held in equal authority to Scripture by the church itself, which is exactly what Jesus was refuting with the religious leaders while on earth. The various sects of His time believed that their teachings were of equal authority with Scripture, which is what the Catholic Church also seems to believe. I disagree with this.

        As you well know Protestants do not recognize the institution of the Catholic Church as God’s ordained church on earth. I think this is at the root of the disagreement. Therefore anything we see as ordained by the church as contradicting Scripture we must reject.

        During the first century the Apostles and their disciples were the ones who determined the doctrine of the body of Christ. (Although they even had their share of those who brought in destructive teachings).

        Once the Papacy came into power the Roman Catholic Church was the only institutional church. Yet we know that eventually this became corrupted and departed from Scripture.

        Since the Reformation there has been no one organization or institution that can claim itself to be the final authority regarding the final authority as God’s institution on earth.

        • But that is simply not true. I think you are misunderstanding the Catholic view toward Scripture and Tradition, as well as the ecclesiology of the Catholic Church.

          The “traditions” of the Catholic Church are not held in equal authority with Scripture. Period. They’re not. I so often hear Protestants assert that, and it is patently untrue. The implication seems to be that “anything that is passed down by the Catholic Church” can subvert the authority of Scripture, even if it contradicts it, simply because it’s been passed down. But, no. Sacred Tradition — the whole body of words and teachings that proceeded from the mouth of Jesus (and thus is literally the Word of God) and was passed down by His Apostles — is something entirely different from “traditions.” Sacred Tradition includes Sacred Scripture (also the Word of God) and does not contradict it. I could spend a lot of words on this distintion (I already have), but again, that is not the point of this post.

          This post is also not about the Catholic Church as an institution or what insitutions Protestant churches recognize. This series is about how Protestants read Church history, and specifically how they view the Early Church. And if they affirm the authority and teachings of Scripture as they say they do, they should accept that Jesus instituted one Church, spiritually His own Body. And Scripture itself teaches that He sent out His Apostles to carry forth His Word with His own authority; and that they ordained and appointed teachers and presbyters and bishops to follow in their footsteps. This does not contradict Scripture, but is the literal teaching of Scripture.

          And regarding ecclesiology: No, it is simply untrue that upon the institution of the papacy (which, in the office of Peter, existed from the very beginning), “the Roman Catholic Church was the only institutional church.” Not even today is this true! From the very beginning, and continuing to today, every bishop has authority in and over his own church. The bishop of Rome, as the successor of Peter and the first and foremost of all bishops, exercises a role of pastoral leadership. The Church did not suddenly become singular and monolithic, a single, tyrannical institution, in X century under Pope Y (if so, when and under whom?). This is Protestant mythology, and the very point of my series. What is more: if “we know” that “this” (the singular and monolithic “Roman Catholic Church”?) “became corrupted and departed from Scripture” — how do “we” know this? Does this “apostasy” (for in fact, that is what you are asserting) not presume sola scriptura and a Protestant understanding of the Church from the beginning? And is that not circular reasoning?

  4. If the Catholic Church does not esteem its’ traditions as equal with the Scripture then why is tradition held in such a prominent place in the church. Every Catholic service of any sort that I have ever attended is loaded with tradition and very light on Scripture. It’s usually very difficult to find the clear teachings of Scripture because it is so encumbered by tradition, (but this is another topic).

    I simply disagree with the Catholic assertion that Peter was the first Pope. He had no more authority than any of the other apostles. He was one of the inner three of Peter, James and John but was not superior in authority to any of these.

    If the Catholic Church as an institution was not corrupted then what was the reason for the reformation in the first place?

    As I understand sola scriptura we look to Scripture as the final authority of God, so I am a bit confused as to what the difference between this and Scriptural authority are?

    While yeas there are governing bodies of local churches, and overseers that are given authority, these institutions must never be given equal status with Scripture.

    I mean that sola scriptura is self evident in that Jesus taught from the Hebrew scriptures, as did the apostles. Jesus Himself is the living word of God, or God’s word in manifestation. Therefore while we may be struggling with semantics to me it seems self evident that Scripture alone is the final word. I don’t see how you suppose that this is circular reasoning. Thanks for your response.

    • If the Catholic Church does not esteem its’ traditions as equal with the Scripture then why is tradition held in such a prominent place in the church.

      So, holding tradition in high esteem is the same thing as placing it equal with Scripture? How does that follow?

      Every Catholic service of any sort that I have ever attended is loaded with tradition and very light on Scripture.

      That’s funny. Every Mass I’ve ever been to prominently features at least two or three (and as many as ten) substantial Scripture readings, and the bulk of the liturgy comes directly from the text of Scripture itself. What do you see that is “loaded with tradition [but] light on Scripture”?

      I simply disagree with the Catholic assertion that Peter was the first Pope.

      That is not the subject of this post. (But it is the subject of this post.)

      If the Catholic Church as an institution was not corrupted then what was the reason for the reformation in the first place?

      That’s precisely the question I am encouraging my readers to ask. :) Again, how do “we” know that the Catholic Church was corrupt? Presuming that it must have been, or there wouldn’t have been a Reformation, is a fine example of begging the question: presuming that the Catholic Church was corrupt simply because you presume the Protestants were correct.

      As I understand sola scriptura we look to Scripture as the final authority of God, so I am a bit confused as to what the difference between this and Scriptural authority are?

      As I said before, “sola scriptura” entails a series of definite doctrinal positions, beyond the fact that Scripture is authoritative. These positions include, and I quote again:

      1. All things necessary for man’s salvation, faith, and life are either expressly stated in Scripture, or implied by necessary consequence.
      2. No doctrine may be added to this at any time, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or “traditions of men.”
      3. Scripture is to be the final appeal of the Church in all controversies of religion.

      This is what Protestants define as “sola scriptura.” This is not what anyone prior to the Reformation understood regarding the authority of Scripture. Per the teaching of the doctrine itself, this doctrine must be taught plainly in Scripture (and you yourself continue to appeal to “the plain teaching of Scripture”). Where is this taught plainly in Scripture?

      I mean that sola scriptura is self evident in that Jesus taught from the Hebrew scriptures, as did the apostles. Jesus Himself is the living word of God, or God’s word in manifestation.

      This demonstrates that Scripture is the authoritative, infallible Word of God — which the Catholic Church holds and has always held. This does not demonstrate the specific, Protestant doctrinal positions above. Those are not “self-evident.”

      While yes there are governing bodies of local churches, and overseers that are given authority, these institutions must never be given equal status with Scripture.

      Who interprets Scripture authoritatively? How can Scripture be authoritative if no one has the authority to teach it?

  5. So, holding tradition in high esteem is the same thing as placing it equal with Scripture? How does that follow?

    The Catholic Church goes far beyond just holding tradition in esteem.
    If the Catholic Church as an institution was not corrupted then what was the reason for the reformation in the first place?

    That’s precisely the question I am encouraging my readers to ask. :) Again, how do “we” know that the Catholic Church was corrupt? Presuming that it must have been, or there wouldn’t have been a Reformation, is a fine example of begging the question: presuming that the Catholic Church was corrupt simply because you presume the Protestants were correct.

    So you are asserting that the countless sordid abuses of power, the execution of numerous men and women of God as heretics. The sale of indulgences etc. is not ample evidence of the corruption of the Catholic Church prior to the Reformation?

    As I said before, “sola scriptura” entails a series of definite doctrinal positions, beyond the fact that Scripture is authoritative. These positions include, and I quote again:
    1. All things necessary for man’s salvation, faith, and life are either expressly stated in Scripture, or implied by necessary consequence.
    Romans 10:9-10, John 1 for starters. Where else would one find what is necessary for man’s salvation other than Scripture?
    2. No doctrine may be added to this at any time, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or “traditions of men.”
    To me this is semantics. I don’t see any difference with this and Scriptural authority. So if we do not adhere to a closed Scripture then where do we draw the line concerning so-called new revelation?
    3. Scripture is to be the final appeal of the Church in all controversies of religion.
    Here again I see this as the same as Scriptural authority. Where do you think the apostles received their understanding if not from the Hebrew Scriptures as revealed by the Holy Spirit?

    This is what Protestants define as “sola scriptura.” This is not what anyone prior to the Reformation understood regarding the authority of Scripture. Per the teaching of the doctrine itself, this doctrine must be taught plainly in Scripture (and you yourself continue to appeal to “the plain teaching of Scripture”). Where is this taught plainly in Scripture?

    One of the reasons for the Reformation in the first place was due to the fact that the Catholic Church had departed from the authority of Scripture. As a natural result of the Reformation it would only stand to reason that Protestants would come to solidify ‘sola scriptura.’ I don’t really see a contradiction in the definition of ‘sola scriptura’ and the teaching of Scripture. However I do see numerous contradictions in various Catholic practices and the teachings of Scripture. I realize that we are not in agreement about this and that is fine.
    Thanks for the engaging conversation.

    • The Catholic Church goes far beyond just holding tradition in esteem.

      You said yourself, “If the Catholic Church does not esteem its traditions as equal with the Scripture then why is tradition held in such a prominent place in the church” — as if holding tradition in any esteem at all is somehow tantamount to placing it equal to Scripture — which is simply untrue. If the Catholic Church “goes far beyond” what is the proper place of tradition, or in any way “holds tradition equal to Scripture,” you need more than your bald assertion to charge that it does. In what ways do you think this is true?

      So you are asserting that the countless sordid abuses of power, the execution of numerous men and women of God as heretics. The sale of indulgences etc. is not ample evidence of the corruption of the Catholic Church prior to the Reformation?

      These “sordid” abuses have been greatly exaggerated in Protestant propaganda and mythology, and there is little historical evidence to support that any such abuses were systemic. Were there practices that needed to be reformed? Yes, and these were known and being addressed long before Luther came along and long after he was gone. Were there corrupt and immoral people in the Church? Of course — there always have been and always will be, since we, even as Christians, are sinful and imperfect. Does that mean that the Catholic Church itself was completely, essentially, irredeemably “corrupt,” such that the only way to “reform” her was to break communion with her and start over? That is what the Protestant Reformers argued — but it’s a pretty tall claim to support, that again, one can’t assume is true just because they argued it.

      Romans 10:9-10, John 1 for starters.

      I can’t tell that either of those passages have anything to do with Scripture. This is certainly not a “plain statement” of this doctrine.

      Where else would one find what is necessary for man’s salvation other than Scripture?

      Again — you are begging the question. Jesus, Paul, the rest of the Apostles, and the first several generations of Christians brought men to salvation through oral preaching and teaching, before the New Testament was even written and canonized. They certainly didn’t expect to find “all things necessary for salvation” in Scripture.

      To me this is semantics. I don’t see any difference with this and Scriptural authority. So if we do not adhere to a closed Scripture then where do we draw the line concerning so-called new revelation?

      The difference is the presumption that “all things necessary” for salvation, faith, and life are plainly stated in Scripture — which you’ve already taken for granted without warrant. By that presumption, nothing else is needed: but there is nothing in Scripture that teaches this. Scripture teaches, in fact, that not everything taught by Jesus or the Apostles was written down in Scripture (e.g. John 21:25, 1 Thessalonians 2:15) — so why would you presume that these teachings were “not needed”? No one is proposing accepting “new revelation”: the Catholic Church holds to a closed deposit of faith just as firmly as Protestants. But that deposit of faith has never been restricted by what is written plainly in Scripture.

      Where do you think the apostles received their understanding if not from the Hebrew Scriptures as revealed by the Holy Spirit?

      Ummm… possibly by receiving firsthand the revelation of God in the Person of Jesus? From sitting at His feet and hearing His teachings? Do you really think Jesus simply handed the Apostles the Hebrew Bible and said, “Okay, that’s it, guys; it’s all in the book”? No, of course not. Jesus Himself was the definitive revelation of God, a new and complete revelation that went beyond anything ever before seen or revealed. He fulfilled and completed the Old Testament. If all that was necessary for salvation was already in the Hebrew Scriptures, why did He bother coming at all?

      One of the reasons for the Reformation in the first place was due to the fact that the Catholic Church had departed from the authority of Scripture.

      Again, you are presuming a Protestant understanding of “the authority of Scripture” (“sola scriptura”) from the start — with no viable foundation in Scripture or anything else. Because the Catholic Church does not hold to that Protestant understanding, she must have “departed” from it. But there is no evidence that any Christian prior to the Reformation ever held to such an understanding of “the authority of Scripture” at all. And if that understanding is not “written plainly” in Scripture — as Protestants themselves maintain that it must be — then where did this understanding come from? It was certainly, demonstrably, not held by the earliest Christians. The Church cannot “depart” from something she never held to begin with.

      As a natural result of the Reformation it would only stand to reason that Protestants would come to solidify “sola scriptura.”

      Solidify… from what?

      I don’t really see a contradiction in the definition of ‘sola scriptura’ and the teaching of Scripture.

      That’s not the question. It’s not enough that the teaching of Scripture doesn’t contradict sola scriptura: but per the doctrine of sola scriptura itself, it must be positively, plainly, perspicuously taught by Scripture.

      However I do see numerous contradictions in various Catholic practices and the teachings of Scripture.

      If you are presuming a sola scriptura position — then something can’t very well contradict something that isn’t even in Scripture.

  6. The Catholic Church goes far beyond just holding tradition in esteem.

    You said yourself, “If the Catholic Church does not esteem its traditions as equal with the Scripture then why is tradition held in such a prominent place in the church” — as if holding tradition in any esteem at all is somehow tantamount to placing it equal to Scripture — which is simply untrue. If the Catholic Church “goes far beyond” what is the proper place of tradition, or in any way “holds tradition equal to Scripture,” you need more than your bald assertion to charge that it does. In what ways do you think this is true?

    Interesting article: “It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls” (Catechism of The Catholic Church, No. 95). http://www.catholic.org/news/hf/faith/story.php?id=40822

    The Catholic Church continues to assert that it is God’s original and only real legitimate church on earth. While there are many Catholics who are godly followers of Christ, (including yourself), I do not agree with this assertion. I believe it to be a gross distortion of history, as well as the teachings of Scripture itself.

    So you are asserting that the countless sordid abuses of power, the execution of numerous men and women of God as heretics. The sale of indulgences etc. is not ample evidence of the corruption of the Catholic Church prior to the Reformation?
    These “sordid” abuses have been greatly exaggerated in Protestant propaganda and mythology, and there is little historical evidence to support that any such abuses were systemic. Were there practices that needed to be reformed? Yes, and these were known and being addressed long before Luther came along and long after he was gone. Were there corrupt and immoral people in the Church? Of course — there always have been and always will be, since we, even as Christians, are sinful and imperfect. Does that mean that the Catholic Church itself was completely, essentially, irredeemably “corrupt,” such that the only way to “reform” her was to break communion with her and start over? That is what the Protestant Reformers argued — but it’s a pretty tall claim to support, that again, one can’t assume is true just because they argued it.

    I disagree. Luther never wanted to break away from the Catholic Church, but obviously had no choice since the church tried to kill him as a heretic.

    Romans 10:9-10, John 1 for starters.

    I can’t tell that either of those passages have anything to do with Scripture. This is certainly not a “plain statement” of this doctrine.

    These are Scripture, and I am not sure that they could be any plainer concerning salvation. Romans 10:9-10 clearly state that we are saved as a profession of faith in the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives. John 1 clearly states that if we believe on Christ we will become sons of God.

    Where else would one find what is necessary for man’s salvation other than Scripture?
    Again — you are begging the question. Jesus, Paul, the rest of the Apostles, and the first several generations of Christians brought men to salvation through oral preaching and teaching, before the New Testament was even written and canonized. They certainly didn’t expect to find “all things necessary for salvation” in Scripture.

    They preached from the Hebrew Scriptures.

    To me this is semantics. I don’t see any difference with this and Scriptural authority. So if we do not adhere to a closed Scripture then where do we draw the line concerning so-called new revelation?

    But that deposit of faith has never been restricted by what is written plainly in Scripture.

    Then exactly what is it held to?

    Where do you think the apostles received their understanding if not from the Hebrew Scriptures as revealed by the Holy Spirit?

    Ummm… possibly by receiving firsthand the revelation of God in the Person of Jesus? From sitting at His feet and hearing His teachings? Do you really think Jesus simply handed the Apostles the Hebrew Bible and said, “Okay, that’s it, guys; it’s all in the book”? No, of course not. Jesus Himself was the definitive revelation of God, a new and complete revelation that went beyond anything ever before seen or revealed. He fulfilled and completed the Old Testament. If all that was necessary for salvation was already in the Hebrew Scriptures, why did He bother coming at all?
    Jesus was the key of what was already there in Scripture. He simply brought further revelation and opened their eyes to what was there. This was all a mystery until Christ opened their understanding.

    One of the reasons for the Reformation in the first place was due to the fact that the Catholic Church had departed from the authority of Scripture.

    Again, you are presuming a Protestant understanding of “the authority of Scripture” (“sola scriptura”) from the start — with no viable foundation in Scripture or anything else. Because the Catholic Church does not hold to that Protestant understanding, she must have “departed” from it. But there is no evidence that any Christian prior to the Reformation ever held to such an understanding of “the authority of Scripture” at all. And if that understanding is not “written plainly” in Scripture — as Protestants themselves maintain that it must be — then where did this understanding come from? It was certainly, demonstrably, not held by the earliest Christians. The Church cannot “depart” from something she never held to begin with.

    I think Psalm 1, & 119, along with Joshua 1:8 are pretty sufficient to say that the Hebrews regarded Scripture as the final authority.

    As a natural result of the Reformation it would only stand to reason that Protestants would come to solidify “sola scriptura.”

    Solidify… from what? From the distortions of the Catholic Church that had become an obstacle to the salvation of man.

    I don’t really see a contradiction in the definition of ‘sola scriptura’ and the teaching of Scripture.

    • Interesting article…

      Yes, that’s an interesting article. But how does that demonstrate that the Catholic Church’s view towards tradition “goes far beyond” what is proper?

      The Catholic Church continues to assert that it is God’s original and only real legitimate church on earth. … I believe it to be a gross distortion of history, as well as the teachings of Scripture itself.

      Yes, I realize you disagree with that. But that isn’t relevant to this post. This post is about sola scriptura, specifically how it can be demonstrated from Scripture, or otherwise where this doctrine comes from. Can you not give me that?

      I disagree. Luther never wanted to break away from the Catholic Church, but obviously had no choice since the church tried to kill him as a heretic.

      You disagree… with what? You believe that the Catholic Church was wholly, completely “corrupt”? What Luther “wanted” is again irrelevant: what he did is break away from the Catholic Church and found a new one (and no, the Catholic Church didn’t “try to kill him”). The whole justification for the Reformers doing this was that, they argued, the Catholic Church was entirely corrupt and therefore not the true Church of God. Is this really what you believe?

      These are Scripture, and I am not sure that they could be any plainer concerning salvation.

      But that isn’t what I’m asking you to show. I’m asking you to show me in Scripture where it specifically teaches that “all things necessary for salvation and life are found plainly in Scripture” and “no doctrine not found in Scripture can be accepted by the Church.” This doesn’t show that. Where does it show that? Per those very assertions — that “no doctrine not found in Scripture can be accepted by the Church” — we ought not to accept “sola scriptura” as a tenet unless it can be shown to be taught in Scripture.

      They preached from the Hebrew Scriptures.

      Do you seriously think they preached from the Hebrew Scriptures alone? That they did not preach the new gospel (“good news”) of Jesus Christ, which was not found in the Hebrew Scriptures? In Acts 2, the first recorded sermon of the Church — is this preaching restricted to the Hebrew Scriptures?

      Then exactly what is it held to?

      To Scripture and the authoritative, oral teachings of Jesus and the Apostles.

      Jesus was the key of what was already there in Scripture. He simply brought further revelation and opened their eyes to what was there. This was all a mystery until Christ opened their understanding.

      So Jesus didn’t bring any new revelation? He “simply” opened their eyes to what was already there? Why not just send the Holy Spirit to open their eyes, if they already had the full message? Why did Jesus spend three years with the Apostles revealing the Father, if everything they needed to know was already there? If everything they needed to know was already there, then why do we even need a New Testament?

      I think Psalm 1, & 119, along with Joshua 1:8 are pretty sufficient to say that the Hebrews regarded Scripture as the final authority.

      Yes? The Catholic Church also regards Scripture as the final authority. I am not asking you to show me that anyone regarded Scripture as authoritative — because we do that, too. What I am asking you to show is a demonstration in Scripture of the specific doctrinal positions that distinguish Protestants from every other body who preceded — from the Hebrews and from the Catholic Church. “Sola scriptura” is not something the Hebrews ever held — a mere glance at the mountains of rabbinical and Talmudic literature which Jews hold as authoritative plainly contradicts such a notion — or that any Christian, following in that Jewish heritage, ever held prior to the Reformation.

      From the distortions of the Catholic Church that had become an obstacle to the salvation of man.

      You keep saying that — but that isn’t what I’m asking at all, and it isn’t relevant to this discussion. Where in Scripture is “sola scriptura” plainly taught?

  7. But that isn’t what I’m asking you to show. I’m asking you to show me in Scripture where it specifically teaches that “all things necessary for salvation and life are found plainly in Scripture” and “no doctrine not found in Scripture can be accepted by the Church.” This doesn’t show that. Where does it show that? Per those very assertions — that “no doctrine not found in Scripture can be accepted by the Church” — we ought not to accept “sola scriptura” as a tenet unless it can be shown to be taught in Scripture.

    1. 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for 2training in righteousness;
    Why didn’t he say that tradition was also given for this purpose? Because tradition is not as legitimate as Scripture.

    2. You will notice that when Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, that when He responded to the devil’s temptations He did so with “It is written.” He did not refer to tradition but Scripture as His bottom line. Why? Because tradition is not on par with the authority of Scripture.

    3. Matthew 21:42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
    Jesus refers to Scripture as His basis for who He is, not the traditions of the Jews.

    4. John 2:22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
    The foundation for belief in the Messiah is and always has been Scripture, not man’s tradition.

    5. 1 Corinthians 3:3-4 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
    Paul appeals to Scripture as his basis for what he preached, not tradition. Contrary to popular opinion Paul did not preach some sort of new mystic revelation that departed from what was already embedded in the Hebrew Scriptures.
    I believe that it was Augustine who said, “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.”

    6. 1 Peter 1:10-12 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
    This very clearly reveals that the prophets understood that the Messiah would come as a sacrificial offering for our sins, just as the Hebrew Scriptures revealed. They searched the Scriptures to determine when this would take place. Tradition never revealed any of this because it has not been given by divine revelation, because only the word of God is God breathed.

    7. 1 Peter 2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

    8. 2 Peter 1:20-21 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
    Scripture was God breathed, while nothing in Scripture ever refers to tradition as being God breathed.

    2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
    Paul clearly states that all Scripture is God breathed. He never implies that Jewish or church tradition is God breathed. I think these Scriptures give more than enough evidence that not only was salvation understood by the Old Testament prophets, Scripture apart from tradition has always stood as the fundamental source of that knowledge.

    9. Mark 7:9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!
    Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of His day because they were actually esteeming their traditions as equal with Scripture, or even superior to it. Yet this has never been endorsed by Scripture.

    10. Galatians 2:14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs (traditions)?

    Even Peter was rebuked by the apostle Paul because he was attempting to force the Gentile believers to comply with Jewish tradition. Paul rebuked Peter because Peter was tradition to equal status with God’s word.

    11. Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

    You continue to claim that the Catholic Church does not hold tradition as equal with tradition, but I just don’t see that at all. If this were not the case then you should have absolutely no problem with the Protestant claim of ‘sola scriptura.’
    Many of the teachings of the Catholic Church have taken people captive through human traditions that have absolutely no Scriptural foundation. The Catholic Church believe itself to be the true church, and as such it imagines that if it says that its’ tradition is endorsed by God that it is so. Yet isn’t this circular reasoning?

    Here are just a few for starters:
    Calling the Pope ‘Holy Father’ A direct contradiction of Scripture. Matthew 22:9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.

    Veneration of Mary to nearly equal status with Christ. Nowhere suggested in the New Testament.

    Appealing to Mary as an intercessor between God and man, along with prayer to the saints, contrary to Scripture.

    1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,

    1 John 2:1-2 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

    Penance: Paying of penance for one’s sin. Nowhere clearly stated in Scripture.
    1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

    • All of your scriptural reasoning here seems directed at rejecting some supposedly Catholic thesis about “traditions” — but this isn’t what I asked for. I’ve said before, and I affirm, that nobody in the Catholic Church holds “traditions” to be on par with Scripture. Full stop. So where in Scripture does it show that Scripture alone (not “not tradition”) is to be the source of all doctrine? That nothing outside Scripture can be believed by the Church or taken with any authority? Because you haven’t shown that. You are arguing against your idea of “tradition,” but you are operating from a basic misunderstanding of what the “Sacred Tradition” the Church has always held actually is.

      Tradition never revealed any of this because it has not been given by divine revelation, because only the word of God is God breathed.

      And your misunderstanding is particularly evident here: What the Catholic Church holds as “Sacred Tradition” is the very words that Jesus said, what literally is given by divine revelation and is breathed by God (since Jesus is God). This has nothing to do with “traditions” — and Jesus, in the flesh, is the living Word of God, and the revelation of all this.

      You continue to claim that the Catholic Church does not hold tradition as equal with [Scripture], but I just don’t see that at all. If this were not the case then you should have absolutely no problem with the Protestant claim of ‘sola scriptura.’

      So — we should be content to ignore and discard the words and teachings of our Lord and His Apostles simply because they don’t fit some late and artificial restriction? The Protestant claim of “sola scriptura” is not merely the claim that Scripture is the highest authority: it is the claim that nothing else but Scripture can be authoritative (hence the words “Scripture alone”). This is not something that anyone in the Church ever held prior to the Protestant Reformation.

      A brief and basic illustration of what Sacred Tradition actually is and why “sola scriptura” is unacceptable: I would argue quite firmly that Scripture is plenty explicit when it comes to the sacramentality of Baptism and the Eucharist: that Baptism actually, efficaciously washes away our sins and gives us a spiritual rebirth in Christ, and that in the Eucharist, the bread and wine really, truly become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. Many Protestants, however, argue that this is not clear or is ambiguous. But the proof of Sacred Tradition: We know what the truth taught by Jesus and the Apostles is, not only because we can see it in Scripture, but because the belief of the Early Church, from the very beginning and in all places, is certain, unanimous, and unambiguous.

      And why wouldn’t it be? The earliest Christians did not simply receive a book of Scriptures and create a Church: they received a Church, established by Jesus and the Apostles; and they received the teachings of the Apostles, first orally, and then, not only did they receive Scripture, but they received from the very authors of Scripture themselves instruction in how to interpret and understand it. The earliest Christians did not work from “Scripture alone,” but first from the firsthand teachings of the Apostles, and then, as they received it, from the New Testament.

      You continue to insist that the Old Testament contains all the revelation that was necessary for salvation: but how did anyone know how to interpret the Old Testament, how to understand and explore those truths, without the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles? Did the next generation of Christians discard those teachings — that instruction in how to read and interpret and understand the Old Testament, in typology and revelation and truth, simply because it wasn’t all written in Scripture? This is Sacred Tradition: the whole body of revelation given by Christ and the Apostles. “Sola scriptura” would have us discard everything that Christians received and held and taught from their Master simply because it wasn’t all written down.

      Many of the teachings of the Catholic Church have taken people captive through human traditions that have absolutely no Scriptural foundation.

      It is only by Protestant assumptions and interpretations that such “traditions” “have no scriptural foundation.”

      The Catholic Church believes itself to be the true church, and as such it imagines that if it says that its’ tradition is endorsed by God that it is so. Yet isn’t this circular reasoning?

      No, this isn’t actually what the Church “imagines.” Again: “Sacred Tradition” has absolutely nothing to do with the “traditions” of the Church. Sacred Tradition is “endorsed by God” because God actually spoke it, as surely as He spoke Scripture.

      Calling the Pope ‘Holy Father’

      This is a common anti-Catholic cudgel. But this stems from a late, nineteenth-century interpretation that no one, not even Protestants, ever held before then. Jesus, in this passage, is clearly speaking hyperbolically to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in taking to themselves empty titles. If you choose to take his words literally in supposing this is a flat prohibition on referring to any “man on earth” our father — then why is it not condemned to call our own biological fathers by that title? Why is it not condemned to call other men “teacher”? I’ve written on this before: “Call no man your father?”

      Veneration of Mary to nearly equal status with Christ.

      The Catholic Church does not venerate Mary “to nearly equal status with Christ.” Mary is a human being and a sister Christian. Jesus Christ is God Incarnate. The two are not even comparable.

      Appealing to Mary as an intercessor between God and man, along with prayer to the saints…

      The Catholic Church does not hold that Mary or any of the saints is an “intercessor between God and man” or an “advocate” in any way comparable to the intercession of Christ to the Father. They are intercessors in exactly the same way that we can be intercessors for each other, in intercessory prayer, praying one for another before God.

      Paying of penance for one’s sin.

      Penance is not “paying for one’s sins.” If we confess our sins, indeed he is faithful and just to forgive us then and there. Forgiveness for our every sin is already bought and paid for by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

      Penance is a remedy for sin. Penance is not even mentioned until after we are forgiven; and we are forgiven, penance or no penance. But in sin, we’ve fallen and bruised ourselves. In repentance there is healing, and repentance is more than simply saying “I’m sorry.” Penance is an outlet for expressing our contrition and repentance, for the good of our own souls. A prime scriptural example: In 1 Samuel 12:13, the Lord has already taken away David’s sin — but he then proceeds to cry and fast and put on ashes and sackcloth and express his contrition to the Lord (e.g. Psalm 51) — even though he knew he was already forgiven, and even though he already knew the consequences of his sin. Was David “paying” for his sin? Was he any more or any less forgiven because of his penance? No and no. But as a repentant sinner, he could not but express his heartfelt contrition.

  8. All of your scriptural reasoning here seems directed at rejecting some supposedly Catholic thesis about “traditions” — but this isn’t what I asked for. I’ve said before, and I affirm, that nobody in the Catholic Church holds “traditions” to be on par with Scripture. Full stop. So where in Scripture does it show that Scripture alone (not “not tradition”) is to be the source of all doctrine? That nothing outside Scripture can be believed by the Church or taken with any authority? Because you haven’t shown that. You are arguing against your idea of “tradition,” but you are operating from a basic misunderstanding of what the “Sacred Tradition” the Church has always held actually is.

    I believe that the Scriptures that I put forth give more than ample evidence for ‘sola scriptura.’ They demonstrate clearly that we are to base our doctrines upon the foundation of Scripture. Just because the Scripture does not say in definite terms “only use Scripture for forming your beliefs,” does not negate this reality in light of the greater body of evidence.

    The Scripture does not say in definitive terms that there is a trinity either does it? Yet we conclude from the evidence of compiled Scripture that God is indeed three in one.
    Tradition never revealed any of this because it has not been given by divine revelation, because only the word of God is God breathed.

    And your misunderstanding is particularly evident here: What the Catholic Church holds as “Sacred Tradition” is the very words that Jesus said, what literally is given by divine revelation and is breathed by God (since Jesus is God). This has nothing to do with “traditions” — and Jesus, in the flesh, is the living Word of God, and the revelation of all this.

    You continue to claim that the Catholic Church does not hold tradition as equal with [Scripture], but I just don’t see that at all. If this were not the case then you should have absolutely no problem with the Protestant claim of ‘sola scriptura.’
    So — we should be content to ignore and discard the words and teachings of our Lord and His Apostles simply because they don’t fit some late and artificial restriction? The

    Protestant claim of “sola scriptura” is not merely the claim that Scripture is the highest authority: it is the claim that nothing else but Scripture can be authoritative (hence the words “Scripture alone”). This is not something that anyone in the Church ever held prior to the Protestant Reformation.

    So where did Jesus teach that we should call the Pope ‘the Holy Father, ‘or pray to Mary, or other saints? Where did Jesus teach that we are to observe the use of relics in worship?

    A brief and basic illustration of what Sacred Tradition actually is and why “sola scriptura” is unacceptable: I would argue quite firmly that Scripture is plenty explicit when it comes to the sacramentality of Baptism and the Eucharist: that Baptism actually, efficaciously washes away our sins and gives us a spiritual rebirth in Christ, and that in the Eucharist, the bread and wine really, truly become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. Many Protestants, however, argue that this is not clear or is ambiguous. But the proof of Sacred Tradition: We know what the truth taught by Jesus and the Apostles is, not only because we can see it in Scripture, but because the belief of the Early Church, from the very beginning and in all places, is certain, unanimous, and unambiguous.

    And why wouldn’t it be? The earliest Christians did not simply receive a book of Scriptures and create a Church: they received a Church, established by Jesus and the Apostles; and they received the teachings of the Apostles, first orally, and then, not only did they receive Scripture, but they received from the very authors of Scripture themselves instruction in how to interpret and understand it. The earliest Christians did not work from “Scripture alone,” but first from the firsthand teachings of the Apostles, and then, as they received it, from the New Testament.

    We are going around in circles here. I have already made this point. The apostles did not teach anything that was not fully in harmony with the teachings of the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus brought clarification about the Torah and other Scriptures. He did not institute a group of oral traditions that had never before been proclaimed.

    You continue to insist that the Old Testament contains all the revelation that was necessary for salvation: but how did anyone know how to interpret the Old Testament, how to understand and explore those truths, without the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles? Did the next generation of Christians discard those teachings — that instruction in how to read and interpret and understand the Old Testament, in typology and revelation and truth, simply because it wasn’t all written in Scripture? This is Sacred Tradition: the whole body of revelation given by Christ and the Apostles. “Sola scriptura” would have us discard everything that Christians received and held and taught from their Master simply because it wasn’t all written down.

    No because Jesus and the apostles were simply expounding upon the teachings of the Old Testament. This is why the constantly referred to the authority of Scripture.
    Many of the teachings of the Catholic Church have taken people captive through human traditions that have absolutely no Scriptural foundation.

    It is only by Protestant assumptions and interpretations that such “traditions” “have no scriptural foundation.”

    The Catholic Church believes itself to be the true church, and as such it imagines that if it says that its’ tradition is endorsed by God that it is so. Yet isn’t this circular reasoning?

    No, this isn’t actually what the Church “imagines.” Again: “Sacred Tradition” has absolutely nothing to do with the “traditions” of the Church. Sacred Tradition is “endorsed by God” because God actually spoke it, as surely as He spoke Scripture.
    Calling the Pope ‘Holy Father’

    This is a common anti-Catholic cudgel. But this stems from a late, nineteenth-century interpretation that no one, not even Protestants, ever held before then. Jesus, in this passage, is clearly speaking hyperbolically to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in taking to themselves empty titles. If you choose to take his words literally in supposing this is a flat prohibition on referring to any “man on earth” our father — then why is it not condemned to call our own biological fathers by that title? Why is it not condemned to call other men “teacher”? I’ve written on this before: “Call no man your father?”
    So the title of ‘Holy Father’ is not identical to this practice?
    Veneration of Mary to nearly equal status with Christ.

    The Catholic Church does not venerate Mary “to nearly equal status with Christ.” Mary is a human being and a sister Christian. Jesus Christ is God Incarnate. The two are not even comparable.

    I disagree. Hail Mary, Mary, hear our prayers isn’t exonerating her?
    Appealing to Mary as an intercessor between God and man, along with prayer to the saints…

    The Catholic Church does not hold that Mary or any of the saints is an “intercessor between God and man” or an “advocate” in any way comparable to the intercession of Christ to the Father. They are intercessors in exactly the same way that we can be intercessors for each other, in intercessory prayer, praying one for another before God.
    I think you are grasping at straws here. If this were not the case then why do many Catholics have statues of Mary in their front yards? Why is Mary so often the central focus of many Catholic prayers and practices?
    Paying of penance for one’s sin.

    Penance is not “paying for one’s sins.” If we confess our sins, indeed he is faithful and just to forgive us then and there. Forgiveness for our every sin is already bought and paid for by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

    Penance is a remedy for sin. Penance is not even mentioned until after we are forgiven; and we are forgiven, penance or no penance. But in sin, we’ve fallen and bruised ourselves. In repentance there is healing, and repentance is more than simply saying “I’m sorry.” Penance is an outlet for expressing our contrition and repentance, for the good of our own souls. A prime scriptural example: In 1 Samuel 12:13, the Lord has already taken away David’s sin — but he then proceeds to cry and fast and put on ashes and sackcloth and express his contrition to the Lord (e.g. Psalm 51) — even though he knew he was already forgiven, and even though he already knew the consequences of his sin. Was David “paying” for his sin? Was he any more or any less forgiven because of his penance? No and no. But as a repentant sinner, he could not but express his heartfelt contrition.

    I respect your passion for what you believe, and realize that you are a true man of God who genuinely loves the Lord, but I can also see that we simply disagree on these points. I will let you have the last word on this debate.

    Thank you for your time and willingness to engage in a respectful dialogue. God bless you and keep you my brother.

    • I believe that the Scriptures that I put forth give more than ample evidence for ‘sola scriptura.’ They demonstrate clearly that we are to base our doctrines upon the foundation of Scripture. Just because the Scripture does not say in definite terms “only use Scripture for forming your beliefs,” does not negate this reality in light of the greater body of evidence.

      All of these Scriptures declare that Scripture is the authoritative Word of God. They say nothing at all about limiting one’s authority to “Scripture alone” or even imply at any point that we should only use Scripture for anything. It is the limitation that is at issue: Protestants wish to limit authority to what is written down in the Old and New Testaments — thereby (conveniently) shutting out doctrines and practices they don’t like, that are not plainly demonstrated in Scripture (according to their judgment and interpretations).

      The Scripture does not say in definitive terms that there is a trinity either does it? Yet we conclude from the evidence of compiled Scripture that God is indeed three in one.

      We conclude the Trinity from definite, logical statements in Scripture: that the Father and the Son are one, both God, yet separate, and the Holy Spirit is joined with them. This is deductive logic. “Sola scriptura” is based on inductive logic, and weak logic at that: it demands that we make assumptions that are neither implied nor suggested by Scripture. If Scripture does imply that nothing outside Scripture can be accepted as authoritative, where is this evidence? The “evidence” you have provided is designed to reject a negative and not to indicate a positive — as is usually the case with most anti-Catholic arguments. Why is Protestantism true? Because Catholicism is wrong. But Protestantism cannot exist solely as a rejection of Catholicism. Does it have no reason for being in itself?

      So where did Jesus teach that we should call the Pope ‘the Holy Father, ‘or pray to Mary, or other saints? Where did Jesus teach that we are to observe the use of relics in worship?

      You are still begging the question: It is only by your Protestant assumptions that you presume that we are not to do anything that was not explicitly taught (or, as you actually believe, that isn’t expliclty taught in Scripture). But where is this taught? Where did Jesus teach that we were not to call our priests “father” or seek the intercession of our brothers and sisters in the Lord or honor them by keeping the things they leave behind? Did Jesus renounce the Jews for holding traditions, or for holding traditions contrary to the Word of God?

      We are going around in circles here. I have already made this point.

      Yes, we are — and I already rejected it.

      The apostles did not teach anything that was not fully in harmony with the teachings of the Old Testament Scriptures.

      Being “in harmony” with the Scriptures is not the question. Catholic teachings are “in harmony” with the Scriptures, but Protestants object because those teachings are not stated explicitly in Scripture. You are, once again, begging the question: You have determined to reject any doctrine not found explicitly in Scripture; therefore you presume, without warrant, that Jesus and the Apostles did not teach anything not found explicitly in Scripture. If they did teach anything not found explicitly in Scripture, then you wouldn’t know about it, because you’ve already concluded that they didn’t and closed the book.

      Could everything the Apostles taught be found explicitly in the Old Testament? Suppose we look at a few key Christian doctrines. What about justification by grace through faith — the idea that by the grace of God, through faith in Christ, not works, we are justified? Is that found in the Old Testament? No, it’s not — because the Old Covenant was a covenant of works, not faith. What about the Trinity? Is that found in the Old Testament? Hints and types of it, yes — but nothing that would plainly reveal that truth; and so Jews do not believe in the Trinity. What about the necessity of baptism? — Was that taught in the Old Testament? No, not at all, but Jesus and the Apostles both plainly taught it (Mark 16:16, John 3:5, Acts 2:38, etc.). The revelation of Jesus and the Apostles was a new revelation: one hidden in the Old Testament, but not unveiled until the definitive revelation of Christ. This teaching alone — how to unveil the Old Testament — was a new revelation.

      Jesus brought clarification about the Torah and other Scriptures. He did not institute a group of oral traditions that had never before been proclaimed.

      I don’t understand why you are so obsessed with “traditions.” I am not talking about “traditions.” But Jesus was Himself the definitive revelation of God. He revealed to His people the face and the heart of God, His mercy and love and forgiveness. These are not things that were fully revealed in the Old Testament. We would not understand these things if not for Jesus’s definitive revelation, his saving life and death and resurrection. It is easy to look back to the Old Testament, after the fact, and say, “Oh, well, it’s all there. We already knew all that; Jesus just pointed it out.” But the truth is that we didn’t know all that. The Jews still do not understand all that. The truth of Christ is not plainly taught or revealed in the Old Testament. And his act of revelation was itself a new revelation. He spoke many words not found in the Old Testament — and these words — the Word of God — did not fall on deaf ears.

      So the title of ‘Holy Father’ is not identical to this practice?

      “Holy Father” is not an official title of the pope; it is not what he calls himself. It is an honorific the Catholic faithful acclaim to him. So no, this is not an empty title that one takes to himself.

      I disagree. Hail Mary, Mary, hear our prayers isn’t exonerating her?

      I think you mean something different than “exonerate”? But no, asking Mary (or anyone else) to pray for us is not tantamount to placing them on the same level as God. Would it be if I asked you to pray for me?

      I think you are grasping at straws here. If this were not the case then why do many Catholics have statues of Mary in their front yards? Why is Mary so often the central focus of many Catholic prayers and practices?

      No, I’m just stating the facts. Yes, people have statues and images of Mary. Don’t you have pictures of your mother? And yes, she’s a very beloved lady — and she loves us, too.

      Thank you for your time and willingness to engage in a respectful dialogue. God bless you and keep you my brother.

      Thanks. I’ve enjoyed it, too. And I hope, if nothing else, I’ve managed to clear some fog regarding what Catholics actually believe. God bless you, brother, and His peace be with you.

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