Because the following arguments put forward by “KO” tread familiar Catholic canned responses to Sola Scriptura, I am going to respond to them publicly for our mutual edification.
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
The scriptures do not say that they themselves are infallible or sufficient either. I cannot find sola scriptura or justification by faith alone or any other Protestant heretical doctrine in the Bible. They are just traditions.
Yes, the good-old fashioned “Protestant myths not found in the Bible” counter argument. Is it true?
Do the Scriptures say they are without error? In a sense, yes.
The Scriptures say of themselves that they come right from God’s mouth (2 Tim 3:16) and God is not a man that He lies, or changes His mind (Num 23:19). So, unless God can utter lies, we have to concede the Scripture is infallible based upon what it says about itself.
Being that Catholics obviously believe the Scriptures are infallible, what KO probably meant to say is that no where does it say the Scripture alone is infallible. This is why he asks where in the Bible does it says that the Bible is “sufficient.” After all, if the Bible never claims it is sufficient, then that at least leaves a door open for there being another authority which coupled with the Scripture is sufficient for faith, morals, and practice.
However, KO is wrong in even this. The Scriptures says of themselves in 2 Tim that they “are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). So, if KO says the Scriptures are insufficient to give us knowledge capable of saving souls, then he would be speaking against the clear words of the Scripture.
Further,2 Tim says a little later that the Scriptures are “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). If the Scriptures equip the man of God for every good work, then that means there is nothing they do not equip men for. If someone in Greek was trying to convey the concept of sufficiency, 2 Tim 3:15-17 seems to get the job done.
Concerning justification by faith alone, that’s an easy one. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). Being that the Scripture says faith saves and excludes all other things pretty much settles the matter. Not surprising, the term “faith alone” though not in the Scripture (other than in James 2:24, speaking about a different matter) was found in the writings of Origen, Ambrosiaster, and Chrysostom just to name a few.
Catholic claim that James 2:24 “proves” that we are not saved by faith alone, but we need works. For what it is worth, the historical interpretations of James 2:24 for the first 1,000 years of the Church did not put forth such an idea. Interpreters from the 1st to 10th centuries sound like Protestant apologists reconciling James words so that they are consistent with the doctrine of faith alone so clearly elucidated in Paul’s writings.
Looking at one and the same sacrifice, James praised the magnificence of Abraham’s work, while Paul praised the constancy of his faith. But in reality the two men are saying exactly the same thing, because they both knew that Abraham was perfect in his faith as well as in his works, and each one merely emphasized that aspect of the incident which his own audience was most in need of hearing…Abraham had such a vibrant faith in God that he was ready to do whatever God wanted him to. This is why his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness, and it was in order that we might know the full meaning of this that God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son. It was by his perfect accomplishment of God’s command that the faith which he had in his heart was shown to be perfect…The person who in faith honors the God and ruler of all has righteousness as his reward.
Clement of Rome wrote, “Abraham, who was called the friend of God, proved himself faithful by becoming obedient to the words of God” (1 Clem 10).
On the one hand, the blessed James says that Abraham was justified by works when he bound Isaac his son on the altar, but on the other hand Paul says that he was justified by faith, which appears to be contradictory. However, this is to be understood as meaning that Abraham believed before he had Isaac and that Isaac was given to him as a reward for his faith. Likewise, when he bound Isaac to the altar, he did not merely do the work which was required of him, but he did it with the faith that in Isaac his seed would be as numberless as the stars of heaven, believing that God could raise him from the dead…Abraham was justified not by works but by faith. For although he had done many good things, he was not called a friend of God until he believed, and every one of his deeds was perfected by faith…The person who in faith honors the God and ruler of all has righteousness as his reward.
Bishop Oecumenius wrote:
Abraham is the image of someone who is justified by faith alone, since what he believed was credited to him as righteousness. But he is also approved because of his works, since he offered up his son Isaac on the altar. Of course he did not do this work by itself; in doing it, he remained firmly anchored in his faith, believing that through Isaac his seed would be multiplied until is was as numerous as the stars (Commentary on James quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scripture, New Testament XI, p. 33).
So, now that we see KO is wrong on all counts so far, let us move onto a response to a comment I made. I said, “To not do as they [the Apostles] asked, or to do differently as they asked, is to disobey essentially their last Apostolic commands [to use the Scriptures to counter false doctrines].”
Why didn’t those apostles leave us with a list of the books that we were supposed to read? It’s so ridiculously embarrassing to say, “Go read the Holy Books”, and saying also that those books are not easy to interpret, and then, according to your interpretation, it amounts to “Go read the Holy Books which we won’t tell you which books are and we won’t tell you how to interpret, either, and we won’t leave anyone in our place to tell anything about that, either.”
One possible answer, because I do not pretend to know, is that God never left us a list of books. Maybe that’s the way He likes doing things. Before the coming of Christ, where was the infallible list of Scriptures? It does not exist.
So, what exactly does KO’s contention prove? I presume he is saying the Scriptures are useless without an infallible Canon that says exactly which books are in and which ones are out. But then, this would mean that until the Council of Carthage, no one knew how to be faithful Israelites or Christians. This of course, is much more “ridiculously embarrassing” from an intellectual standpoint than the historical position which always was that we have an infallible Scriptures with a fallible Canon.
I cited 2 Peter 1:12-2:1 as evidence that Peter wanted us to go to the Scriptures to settle doctrinal disputes, because that’s what it is all about. His response was:
2 Peter 1:12-2:1 Is talking about the confirmation of the Old Testament prophecies, and there you find that “no prophecy is of personal interpretation”.
The quip about “no prophecy is of personal interpretation” is a dig at Protestants who do not have an infallible Pope to tell them infallibly what the Scriptures mean. This I find a strange dig being that one of the apologetic escape hatches that Catholics use when their detractors dig up quotations from Popes that disagree with each other is that Popes sometimes offer their “private interpretations.”
Without getting lost in the weeds on that issue, let’s talk about 2 Peter 1:12-2:1. Certainly, KO is correct about verses 12 to 21. However, he makes the rookie mistake of not continuing to read, as the original Scriptures do not have chapter and verse divisions.
Peter writes, “I will always be ready to remind you of these things…And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind” (2 Peter 1:12, 15). “These things” were the Old Testament prophecies that were “made sure” to him by a direct revelation of the Father during the transfiguration.
But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. But [Greek says “there were moreover also”] false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves (2 Peter 1:20-21, 2:1).
So, Peter reminds his readers, just as false prophets arose in times of old (as one can see in the Scriptures that he asks everyone to read after his departure), false teachers will rise from among Christendom. They will introduce destructive heresies, denying the Master that the prophetic word, which the Father made more sure, told us about.
Catholics sometimes get so hung up about verse 20, that they do not even grasp what the entirety of Peter’s point even is. The ones teaching false doctrines reject the Scriptures which attest to the Savior, the Scriptures which Peter commends his readers to turn to in his absence.
KO continues that, “Almost the same goes for 2 Tm,” as in, 2 Tim is only about Old Testament prophecy or something like that. I am not really sure what KO is saying, to be honest.
However, I do know that right after Paul says the Scripture is sufficient and God-breathed he tells Timothy, “I solemnly charge you…preach the word” (2 Tim 4:1-2). What word? The words of the Scripture of course. That’s literally the next sentence after 1 Tim 3:17. Why preach the word? “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Tim 4:3).
So, unlike KO’s solution to preventing heresy (go to the Pope and his “unprivate” interpretations!) Paul would have us go to the Scriptures. Clearly, Paul had a different view of ultimate authority than KO did, but obviously KO thinks the Scriptures are full of all sort of holes so Paul apparently left out the really important part in his last words to Timothy.
KO, wary of the implications of Sola Scriptura, wrote: “If that [Sola Scriptura] is so, the lone man in the woods can interpret as he sees fit.”
Not exactly. The lone man in the woods is not the authority. The Scripture is. Further, the Scripture teaches us to worship with other believers and be under instruction. So, to say anyone can discover their own personal truths as the logical outcome of Sola Scriptura is pure hypocrisy, because the Scripture actually mitigates against this.
I wrote that, “The sacred writings… are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” KO responded. “Oh, yes ‘you know those from whom you learned it’, so, learning from *people*…” Yet, KO glossed over the fact those people were Timothy’s mother and grandmother who likely taught him the Scriptures before Paul ever came along preaching the Gospel in his city. So, this actually mitigates against KO’s viewpoint.
Lastly, in KO’s quest to cut off his nose to spite his face, he ends his response hoping to make the Scriptures look like chopped liver:
If it were sufficient for faith, Arians and their ilk would be much welcome. If it were sufficient for morals, you wouldn’t find nudist or abortionist or gay churches galore. If it were sufficient for “true doctrine”, you wouldn’t find false doctrines being defended “based on the Bible”. I can defend Arianism from the Bible, so? If it were sufficient for practice, I could stop going to church and just make myself an altar at home, or just use the table, read some passages and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The New Testament is anything but a ritual manual. And last but not least, the Bible doesn’t say it is sufficient. And that is sufficient reason for me to believe only in what the Bible says, and I believe (ops, I know) that the Bible doesn’t say it is sufficient, unless someone show me otherwise.
My response is that Arianism cannot be defended from the Bible. Further, Christians do not need a ritual manual because we are not pagans–rituals and incantations do not make us right with God.
In the words of Athanasius, the great defender of orthodoxy against the Arian heretics that controlled almost all the Bishoprics of the Roman world in his time (including Rome):
Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faiths sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrines so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture (De Synodis, 6).
The idea that the Scripture is insufficient and that having a view like Athanasius’ will inevitably lead us to Arian heresy is ahistorical. Athanasius inveighed against Arianism from the Scriptures, extolling their authority and sufficiency. Sadly, the largest church in the world today, and its apologists, do not do the same.