Tuesday, April 22, 2008

St. Paul Teaches Sola Scriptura? Nope.

The verses most commonly advanced in support of the doctrine of sola Scriptura—that the Bible alone should be our standard for matters of Christian faith and practice—are 2 Tim 3:16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” There are many reasons why these verses manifestly do not support such a sweeping claim.

We see immediately that for St. Paul to say that Scripture is “profitable” for correction, teaching, etc. falls far short of saying that is the sole source of these things. And for him to say that Scripture renders a man “adequate” is not to say that it is the sole source of God’s revelation. Some English translations render this word, which the NASB translates “adequate” (artios in Greek), as “perfect.” So some non-Catholic apologists argue that if the Scriptures can render a man perfect, he obviously doesn’t need the Church, Tradition, or anything else. But, besides being an overtranslation of the Greek word artios,[1] this line of reasoning is not applied consistently to Scripture by these same individuals. For example, St. Paul says in Eph 4:11-15:

"And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ." [my emphasis]

There is no mention at all of Scripture and yet notice St. Paul’s language: “all attain to the unity of the faith,” “to a mature man,” “to the fulness of Christ,” “we are to grow up in all aspects.” Yet no non-Catholic apologist has ever argued that apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers are sufficient and that therefore Scripture is not necessary.[2] Similarly, St. James says to, “let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing,” (James 1:4) and yet no proponent of sola Scriptura will argue that endurance or perseverance is all that is necessary for the Christian life and that therefore we don’t need the Bible. Clearly 2 Tim 3:16‑17 is being made to bear a burden that St. Paul never intended for it, if it is pressed to “prove” sola Scriptura.

Finally, while 2 Tim 3:16-17 teaches that the Scriptures will equip a man for “every good work,” this is a far cry from saying that the Scriptures contain all revealed truth from God and are the sole authority for faith. The Golden Rule—“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”—could be said to “equip a man for every good work,” since Jesus says that “this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12). But no one would argue from this that we can dispense with the rest of the Bible.

2 Tim 3:16-17 are by far the strongest verses advanced in support of sola Scriptura. But this passage simply does not teach what proponents of this doctrine wish to make it teach. The fact is that Scripture nowhere claims what the Protestant “reformers” claimed for it, namely that it is our sole authority in matters of faith and morals. The doctrine of sola Scriptura itself is an unbiblical tradition of men.


[1] None of the standard Greek-English lexicons list “perfect” as a possible translation of artios.

[2] These categories of people represent the leadership of the Church both past and present. If one used the same logic as employed by proponents of sola Scriptura we could use these verses to argue for sola Ecclesia, the Church alone as our authoritative guide. But Catholic theology does not pit the Bible against the Church, nor the Church against the Bible. Both have a crucial place in God’s economy of salvation.

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