The Bible: Is it Always “Clear” and “Self-Interpreting”?

The Bible: Is it Always “Clear” and “Self-Interpreting”? September 27, 2015

. . . Protestants say it is, and that there is no necessity for an infallible Church or Tradition, yet they don’t and can’t agree on a million things . . . 


[public domain / Pixabay]

[from a February 2014 Facebook post; I wrote this on the website of my friend Jerome Smith: with whom I have been arguing about sola Scriptura. It’s one of my standard arguments against both sectarianism and sola Scriptura, that I developed in my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism in 1996]

* * * * *

I have always found the Bible to be clear and essentially “self-interpreting” whenever I studied it. But in fact, people do not agree on what its clear teachings are.

This is self-evident in the massive internal contradictions of Protestantism. You guys claim that the Bible is self-interpreting enough to arrive at truths, yet you can’t agree as to what they are.

Thus, Protestants split into five camps on a question as basic as baptism:

1) Infant regenerative (e.g., Lutherans, Anglicans).

2) Infant non-regenerative (e.g., Presbyterians).

3) Adult regenerative (e.g., Church of Christ; Disciples of Christ).

4) Adult non-regenerative (e.g., Baptists, Assemblies of God).

5) Not necessary at all (e.g., Quakers, Salvation Army).

[Note: The Salvation Army allows its members to be baptized or partake of communion elsewhere if they so choose, but it does not itself baptize or offer communion, and regards both as unnecessary and non-essential to Christianity]

So which is the true view? Which is clearly taught in Scripture, through cross-referencing?

I say #1 is the answer, and that it is clearly taught in Scripture (as I have shown, myself, many times); but I have church teaching and early Church teaching (tradition) to solidly back me up.

You choose another (I believe your position is #2 or else #4), and claim it is clearly taught in the Bible, but since you don’t have an authoritative Church or Tradition to back you up, the next Protestant contradicts you, and appeals to the Bible as well; so it is a vicious circle and can’t be resolved. If you opt for #2, men as great as Luther and Wesley and C. S. Lewis disagree with you. If you choose #4, both Luther and Calvin are against you, and in fact, both advocated death on grounds of sedition, for those holding such a position.

And so on and on it goes in Protestantism: always arguing and never arriving at the truth in so many areas. This reminds one of what the Apostle Paul warned about:

2 Timothy 3:6-7 (RSV) For among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, [7] who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

If Protestants can’t figure out and agree on what is true on a host of issues such as baptism, how is the system a whit better than these “weak women” Paul describes, or those he describes elsewhere as “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles” (Eph 4:14)?

* * *

Protestants instinctively know there is no answer to my query above, and so the only recourse is to silly “your dad’s uglier than mine” arguments that are thrown at the Catholic Church.

I assume we can all agree that there is one truth about baptism that remains to be found. We have different methods to get at it. Ours is self-consistent; the Protestant method is not, and leads to contradictory positions where all but one are necessarily wrong, according to logic.

There is no good Protestant answer to this argument, folks. I’ve never seen it in my 25 years as a Catholic, and I don’t think I ever will. One must at some point appeal to Church and Tradition on this, just as is the case with the canon of Scripture and many other issues.

This argument can be repeated with about 20 other doctrines. A Protestant can possibly forsake perspicuity and self-interpretation, but I would argue that sola Scriptura virtually requires them without an authoritative Church or tradition, because there are no other options that make sense.

Either the individual can figure out stuff from the Bible or he has to fall back on historical tradition or institutional Church authority. Protestants deny that Church authority is infallible, so that creates their problem. There are scores of competing, contradictory denominational traditions: most of which are wrong on any given disputed issue; and we know where falsehood comes from: who is the father of that.

Once in a while I give Protestants a real hard time: play a little hardball. Sorry guys. I love ya!

Moreover, baptism has a lot to do with salvation itself (as the Bible presents it), since it’s tied to regeneration (but even that is denied by a good chunk of Protestants).

Now Lutherans, for example, agree with Catholics on this issue of baptism, and they appeal to the Church fathers as we do (and as Luther did). And that is why it is the true position, because Bible, Church, and traditional teachings line up (which is exactly my point: how truth can be determined self-consistently).

But without that, issues can’t be resolved within Protestantism, and to me, that is a major problem. 

Browse Our Archives