Answer to Sola Scriptura “Prooftexts” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 & Romans 16:15-16

Answer to Sola Scriptura “Prooftexts” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 & Romans 16:15-16 January 13, 2016

vs. Reformed Pastor David T. King


Pastor King’s words from his book will be in blue.
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My normative policy of time-management or stewardship of my time under God, and maintenance of sanity for nearly five years now is to refuse to waste time debating theology with the small fringe group of anti-Catholic Protestants (i.e., those who deny that Catholicism as a system of theology and spirituality is Christian, and who claim that in order to be a good Christian, one must reject quite a few tenets of Catholicism). I do, however, make exceptions on rare occasions.

I have continued to interact with historic Protestant anti-Catholic works, and I did, e.g., in the case of William Whitaker, a prominent 16th century advocate of sola Scriptura (an entire book). I also have lots of material (including two books) concerning major Protestant figures Luther, Calvin, Chemnitz, Zwingli, Bullinger, and others.

The self-published, three-volume set (one / two / three) on sola Scriptura by David T. King and William Webster (2001) is clearly relevant in relationship to my current book, 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura. Volume One (A Biblical Defense of the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura) is virtually a polar opposite of my title. I say the Bible opposes the notion; he maintains that it supports it. That makes for some good debate (and as anyone who knows me is aware, I immensely enjoy debate). It’s stimulating and fun, and educational, all at the same time.

I had originally intended to do a multi-part rebuttal, as I did with Whitaker, but I have discovered that King scarcely makes any arguments from the Bible, for the purpose of establishing sola Scriptura proper; thus this will be my sole reply. I will have to seek out another work that actually tries to prove the doctrine from Scripture. That is what interests me: not more circular logic and man-made traditions spewed endlessly.

Pastor David T. King is a Presbyterian, and graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. He is pastor of  Christ Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Elkton, Maryland, and was formerly affiliated with PCA.

Unfortunately, most of the books that deal with this topic in the greatest depth (e.g., others by Keith A. MathisonBishop “Dr.” (???) James R. White, and R. C. Sproul), come from anti-Catholics. Be that as it may, we can handily refute these arguments from a Catholic and thoroughly biblical perspective.

Now onto King’s few biblical arguments in favor of sola Scriptura:

If unwritten tradition was . . . intended to function perpetually as an authoritative norm alongside Scripture, why did Paul fail to mention such a concept when speaking of ‘the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began?’ (p. 44) [see Rom 16:25-26]

He doesn’t have to, anymore than he can write the following extended treatment of many important aspects of the Christian life without ever mentioning Scripture:

Ephesians 4:11-16 (RSV) And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, [12] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, [13] until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; [14] so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. [15] Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, [16] from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.

I stated along these lines in my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (2003):

The “exclusivist” or “dichotomous” form of reasoning employed by Protestant apologists here is fundamentally flawed. . . . Note that in Ephesians 4:11-15 the Christian believer is “equipped,” “built up,” brought into “unity and mature manhood,” “knowledge of Jesus,” “the fulness of Christ,” and even preserved from doctrinal confusion by means of the teaching function of the Church. This is a far stronger statement of the “perfecting” of the saints than 2 Timothy 3:16-17, yet it doesn’t even mention Scripture.

Therefore, the Protestant interpretation of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 proves too much, since if all nonscriptural elements are excluded in 2 Timothy, then, by analogy, Scripture would logically have to be excluded in Ephesians. It is far more reasonable to synthesize the two passages in an inclusive, complementary fashion, by recognizing that the mere absence of one or more elements in one passage does not mean that they are nonexistent. Thus, the Church and Scripture are both equally necessary and important for teaching. This is precisely the Catholic view. Neither passage is intended in an exclusive sense. (pp. 15-16)

We can play this word game with Pastor King further, if he insists (since he wants to make an issue of it). It so happens that I did an exhaustive study of St. Paul’s word usage in his epistles, comparing his mentions of Scripture with those pertaining to Church authority and tradition. The results were quite fascinating, and devastating to any notion that Paul subscribed to sola Scriptura, or had Scripture always in the forefront of his mind at all times, over against apostolic tradition and the authority of the Church. Here are just a very few highlights from the lengthy article:

The words “Scripture” or “Scriptures” appear 51 times in the New Testament. Yet in eight of his thirteen epistles (2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Titus, Philemon) St. Paul (it may be surprising to learn) never uses either of these words. He uses it only 14 times altogether: in Romans (6), 1 Corinthians (2), Galatians (3), 1 Timothy (2), and 2 Timothy (1).

Likewise, “word of God” appears 43 times in the New Testament, and many of these (as in Old Testament prophetic utterances) are intended in the sense of “oral proclamation” rather than “Scripture” (especially apart from the Gospels). St. Paul uses the phrase only ten times, in nine different epistles. And it is by no means certain that any individual instance refers without question specifically to Holy Scripture, rather than to oral proclamation of apostolic tradition. I suspect that it is much more likely the latter sense in most or all cases. . . .

If we survey “Body (of Christ)” in Paul we find 19 appearances . . . And . . . “Church” / ekklesia (in more than merely a local sense of congregation or building) in his epistles (20 total times) . . .

Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Titus, and Philemon neither mention “Scripture” nor cite the OT, and Philippians doesn’t mention the word and makes just one OT citation. . . . even in Romans, Church /tradition notions appear eight times, which is more than “Scripture” / OT citations appear in nine epistles, and tied with 2 Corinthians.

We can argue in this fashion if someone wants to, but I can assure readers that it will not go well for the sola Scriptura position. It’s not how it is “supposed” to be according to that man-made tradition.

Moreover, why would he omit extrabiblical tradition as a norm when addressing Timothy on the sufficiency of Scripture in his second epistle? (p. 44) [see 2 Tim 3:16-17]

The answer is that he didn’t omit it in the overal (even immediate) context. He referred to authoritative tradition in the immediately preceding context, in 2 Timothy 3:10, 14:

Now you have observed my teaching . . . [14] But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it

Of course, the person Timothy learned it from was Paul himself: passing down oral tradition, as seen in the previous two chapters also:

2 Timothy 1:13-14 Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; [14] guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

2 Timothy 2:2 and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Paul also casually refers to the extrabiblical tradition Jannes and Jambres in 3:8. He casually assumes that such oral (or at least non-biblical) traditions possess authority. Thus, there is no particular need to mention tradition again in 3:16-17. He already had done so, at least five times, in a short letter. King’s demand is unreasonable and irrational: not everything has to be discussed at all times. But the data is completely consistent with a Catholic Scripture + Tradition + Church “three-legged stool” model of authority. All King and other sola Scriptura defenders can fall back on is the notion (never biblically established) that the tradition shall cease as soon as Scripture is complete. Thus King states:

. . . Protestant Evangelicals do affirm the binding authority of apostolic tradition as delivered by the apostles. What they preached and taught in the first century Church was authoritatively binding on the consciences of all Christians. However, we reject Roman Catholic claims that extrabiblical, apostolic traditions have been preserved orally apart from the Scriptures. (pp. 55-56)

Non-Protestants assume (without proof) that what the apostles taught orally differed substantively from that which was later inscripturated. (p. 59)

. . . Protestants have always accepted apostolic teaching that was oral in nature and which preceded its inscripturation. But apostolic revelation which God desired to preserve has been inscripturated in its entirety. (p. 71)

Did you notice the curious absence of any scriptural verification for such a notion? Yes, so did I . . . Just a minor quibble . . .

King notes on pp. 82-83 that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reveals Scripture to be “profitable” in the areas of:

1. ‘For doctrine’
2. ‘For reproof’
3. ‘For correction’
4. ‘For instruction in righteousness’

Quite true; we agree. But, none of these things are exclusive to Scripture (including several instances in both letters to Timothy):

Romans 16:17 . . . the doctrine which you have been taught . . . [no mention of Scripture; it likely refers either to Paul, or Paul and other local teachers]

1 Timothy 1:3-4 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, [4] nor to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations rather than the divine training that is in faith; [Timothy passes on and authoritatively enforces Paul’s “doctrine” and “divine training” (i.e., tradition); Scriptural reference is absent]

1 Timothy 4:6 If you put these instructions before the brethren, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the good doctrine which you have followed. [“word of God”: not necessarily Scripture, is mentioned in the preceding verse, yet the “doctrine” or tradition here seems to refer to a general body of teaching received: not only from Scripture]

Titus 1:7, 9 For a bishop, as God’s steward, . . . [9] he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it. [bishops; magisterial authority of the Church, which is alongside Scripture]

Titus 2:1, 7-8, 10 But as for you, teach what befits sound doctrine. . . . [7] Show yourself in all respects a model of good deeds, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, [8] and sound speech that cannot be censured, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us. . . . [10] nor to pilfer, but to show entire and true fidelity, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. [Titus as teacher; no mention of Scripture here or anywhere in the letter]

2 John 1:9-10 Any one who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God; he who abides in the doctrine has both the Father and the Son. [10] If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting; [a generally received (by Christians) “doctrine”; cf. “the truth” (1:1-2, 4); “commandment[s]” (1:5-6) ]

Proverbs 1:23 Give heed to my reproof; behold, I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you. [King Solomon]

Proverbs 9:8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. [anyone]

Proverbs 24:25 but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will be upon them. [anyone]

Proverbs 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. [parents]

1 Timothy 5:20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. [Timothy]

2 Timothy 4:2 preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. [Timothy]

Titus 1:13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, [Titus]

Titus 2:15 Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you. [Titus]

2 Peter 2:16 but [Balaam] was rebuked for his own transgression; a dumb ass spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. [a donkey]

2 Timothy 2:24-25 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, [25] correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, [“the Lord’s servant”]
Instruction in Righteousness
Proverbs 1:1-3 The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: [2] That men may know wisdom and instruction, understand words of insight, [3] receive instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity;


John 16:8-10 And when he comes, he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: [9] concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; [10] concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; [the Holy Spirit]

Hebrews 12:9-11 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? [10] For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. [God and earthly fathers]

Even if Scripture were the only source of all these things, it’s still a far cry from that to assert that it is the only infallible authority today. None of this proves that at all, even granting King’s false premise. But as we have seen, his premise is untrue in the first place. Remember, this text is almost universally considered the very best prooftext for sola Scriptura. But King can’t even remotely prove or even support the notion from it. It’s downright embarrassing to observe. And this is always the case, as I’ve observed in over 21 years of active Catholic apologetics. It’s always special pleading from the get-go.

Ever see that soup commercial where they say, “it’s in there!”? Well, in this case, sola Scriptura ain’t in this verse or any other that can be brought to bear. It’s completely absent from Scripture, which has, however, many counter-indications and refutations of it.

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As for the clause, “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:17), this is not exclusive to Scripture, either:

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. [God; no mention of the Bible necessarily being the means of this]

2 Timothy 2:21 If any one purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work. [self-discipline]

King offers up a clever, but nevertheless rather tame and fallacious rationale to explain away these parallels:

. . . with respect to each occurrence of ‘every good work’ in the Pastoral Epistles (or elsewhere in Scripture for that matter), it needs to be noted that these passages are all Scripture, and as such form and norm moral behavior . . . we find Scripture fulfilling the very purpose for which it was given as described in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, namely, informing and norming for us ‘instruction for righteousness . . . for every good work.’ The question is not whether these disciplines are necessary, but what is the source of revelation which reveals them as necessary? (pp. 85-86)

This is true insofar as Scripture is sufficient to teach these things (which no one denies); however, it misses the present point altogether, and in a rather striking fashion. The argument at the moment is not about whether we can accept and abide by anything that Scripture teaches us, but rather, whether it exclusively does so, and whether it points to other sources outside of itself that do some things that it itself does (including sacred tradition and the Church). We have seen in the outlining of the four elements above that there are many other sources of that which is described as attributes of Scripture in 2 Timothy 3.

Whether Scripture is the source that informs us of this is irrelevant to the discussion about sola Scriptura; the relevant thing is that there are indeed other sources. Holy Scripture, as inspired, can be trusted absolutely in terms of confirming that this is the case, but it is not absolutely necessary even in that respect.

The Bible was clearly not necessary for men to be able to do “every good work”; that is, to achieve goodness; to be good men, or righteous, to obtain grace and exercise true faith, or to be saved in the end, since we know from the Bible itself that some men were good, after the fall (by God’s grace, as always) before there ever was a thing as the Bible at all (i.e., before Moses). Moreover, this could be discerned before there was a Bible; the knowledge didn’t have to be confirmed by Scripture (seen especially in Hebrews 11:4 below):

Genesis 5:24 Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.  (cf. 5:21)

Genesis 6:8-9 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. [9] These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God.

Genesis 7:1 Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.

Genesis 15:6 And he [Abraham] believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 18:19 . . .  I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.

Job 1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil.(cf. 1:8)

Hebrews 11:1-4 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. [2] For by it the men of old received divine approval. [3] By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear. [4] By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he received approval as righteousGod bearing witness by accepting his gifts; he died, but through his faith he is still speaking.

Hebrews 11:5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was attested as having pleased God.

Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, took heed and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith.

Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go. [cf.  Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Rahab in subsequent verses of this chapter]

None of this righteousness came about due to a “norm” of Scripture. It was within these people as a result of God’s grace and revelation of Himself to them. This was before the Bible was known, but the same also remains true today in cases of cultures that are ignorant of the Bible or true Christian teaching:

Romans 2:5-16 But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. [6] For he will render to every man according to his works: [7] to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; [8] but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. [9] There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, [10] but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. [11] For God shows no partiality. [12] All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. [13] For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. [14] When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. [15] They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them [16] on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

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