Former Catholic priest Fr. Richard Bennett is a prominent anti-Catholic apologist, and editor (with Martin Buckingham) of Far from Rome, Near to God: The Testimonies of 50 Converted Catholic Priests (Lafayette, Indiana: Associated Publishers & Authors, Inc., 1994). Fr. Bennett’s paper, which will be refuted below, is entitled “It is Written: Sola Scriptura,” and is available online.
Fr. Richard Bennett’s words will be in blue. The sub-titles are his, from the original paper (the Roman numerals have been added, for reference purposes). They will be colored brown.
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I. SCRIPTURE ALONE IS INSPIRED AND INHERENTLY AUTHORITATIVE
The Biblical message breathed out by God is revelation in written form. (2 Timothy 3:15-16). The Biblical claim is that what God has inspired was His written word (2 Peter 1:20-21). When the Lord Jesus Christ said, “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), He was speaking of God’s written word. The events, actions, commandments, and truths from God are given to us in propositional, i.e. logical, written sentences.
Catholics do not disagree with this, as we, too, accept the inspiration and infallible authority of Scripture. We simply don’t pit it against Church and Tradition, which Holy Scripture considers as possessing authority also.
God’s declaration in Scripture is that it and it alone, is this final authority in all matters of faith and morals. Thus there is only one written source from God, and there is only one basis of truth for the Lord’s people in the Church.
This is a clever mixture of truth and falsehood. Nowhere does scripture proclaim that “it alone, is this final authority in all matters of faith and morals,” if by that, Bennett means (as I am assuming) the formal system and rule of faith of sola Scriptura. I submit that this would explain why no Scripture is offered here to illustrate this supposed biblical claim. If he offers such alleged “proof” below, it will be shown to be altogether insufficient to establish this claim of Bennett’s, and of Protestants generally-speaking. We agree that there is one written and inspired, “God-breathed” revelation. As for “one basis of truth” (as opposed to “one truth”) this truth is not limited to the Bible, but also includes prophetic and apostolic proclamation and oral tradition, as well as teaching not included in the Bible itself, as seen in the following biblical passages (RSV):
Mark 4:33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them . . .
In other words, by implication, many parables are not recorded in Scripture.
Mark 6:34 . . . he began to teach them many things.
None of these “many things” are recorded here.
John 16:12 I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
Perhaps these many things were spoken during His post-Resurrection appearances alluded to in Acts 1:2-3 (see far below). Very few of these teachings are recorded, and those which are contain only minimal detail.
John 20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.
John 21:25 But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
II. THE TRUTH AND THE SCRIPTURE
The Lord Jesus Christ, in His great high priestly prayer, declared clearly the truth of God’s Word. He said, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” This was consistent with the declarations right through the Old Testament in which the Holy Spirit continually proclaims that the revelation from God is truth, as for example Psalm 119:142, “thy law is truth.” The Lord Himself therefore identified truth with the written Word. There is no source other than to Scripture alone to which such a statement applies. That source alone, the Holy Scripture, is the believer’s standard of truth.
This is lousy logic. To say that something is true does not mean that it (even if inspired) is the sole source of truth. The Psalmist could also have cried, “2 + 2 = 4 is truth,” or, “That David, the one who killed Goliath, was King of Israel is truth.” To establish this grandiose claim, the Bible would have to state something like, “only the written word contained in the Bible is true, and nothing else is true or authoritative.” No such passage can be found, and much can be found which would contradict this bogus claim, based on an illogical application of a few Scripture passages. So, Bennett unwittingly commits this fallacy (very common in Protestant circles) and then follows up with a second: the notion that only the written word is authoritative, or a “standard of truth.” Scripture certainly is a “standard of truth” (we agree fully), even the preeminent one, but not in a sense that rules out the Church and Tradition.
Furthermore, “Word” in Holy Scripture quite often refers to a proclaimed, oral word of prophets or apostles, not only to the written word later compiled as the Bible. Prophets spoke the word of God, whether or not their utterances were later recorded as written Scripture (undoubtedly much of their preaching was not recorded for posterity, just as in the case of, for example, John the Baptist). This is utterly obvious, and can be profusely documented. So for example, we read in Jeremiah 25:1-9 (NIV):
1 The word came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. 2 So Jeremiah the prophet said to all the people of Judah and to all those living in Jerusalem: 3 For twenty-three years-from the thirteenth year of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah until this very day-the word of the LORD has come to me and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened. 4 And though the LORD has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, you have not listened or paid any attention. 5 They said, “Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices, and you can stay in the land the LORD gave to you and your fathers for ever and ever. 6 Do not follow other gods to serve and worship them; do not provoke me to anger with what your hands have made. Then I will not harm you.”
7 “But you did not listen to me,” declares the LORD , “and you have provoked me with what your hands have made, and you have brought harm to yourselves.” 8 Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, 9 I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD , “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy  them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin.
Note how the Lord equates His words with those of Jeremiah. Jeremiah, as God’s prophet, spoke His words, when they “came to” him. This was the word of God or word of the Lord whether or not it was recorded in writing and whether or not it made it into later canonized Scripture. It had equal authority in writing or as proclamation-never-reduced-to-writing. This was also true of the Apostle Paul and other apostles, as will be shown below. When the phrases word of God or word of the Lord appear in Acts and the Epistles, they almost alway refer to oral preaching, not to Scripture. For example:
1 Thessalonians 2:13 . . . when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as what it really is, the word of God . . . (see also 2 Thessalonians 3:6 below)
Equally obviously, no one would be foolish enough to claim that every sermon and plea and prophetic warning of Jeremiah or any of the other prophets was recorded in writing and preserved in the Bible. In one long night alone, if Jeremiah had kept talking, that would add up to more words than we have in the entire book named for him. If this had been the “word of the Lord,” it would not have been recorded, just as, for example, Jesus’ words explaining the messianic prophecies concerning Himself, to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, were not recorded, but they were true, and inspired, since they came from Jesus Himself (see Luke 24:26-27). The hearers of both Jeremiah and Jesus were bound to obey their words. Thus, the words carried a binding authority before they were written down and regardless of whether they were ever later written down. This realization refutes Mr. Bennett’s words above.
In the New Testament, it is the written word of God and that alone to which the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles refer as the final authority. In the temptation, the Lord Jesus three times resisted Satan, saying, “It is written” as for example, in Matthew 4:4, “he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” In stating “It is written,” the Lord used the exact same phrase that is used in the Holy Bible forty six times. The persistence of the repeated phrase underlines its importance. The Lord’s total acceptance of the authority of the Old Testament is evident in His words found in Matthew 5:17-18,
Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfil. For verily, I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled.
Of course Jesus accepted the authority of the Old Testament. This is not in dispute. But what is most disputable is Mr. Bennett’s claim that “it is the written word of God and that alone to which the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles refer as the final authority.” This is simply untrue, and demonstrably so. The rhetoric may sound nice, but it must be backed up by fact, and not refuted by counter-factual evidence. I shall provide that counter-evidence by citing a passage from my second book, More Biblical Evidence for Catholicism: (pages 54-55; passages: RSV)
a) Matthew 2:23: the reference to “. . . He shall be called a Nazarene ” cannot be found in the Old Testament, yet it was passed down “by the prophets.” Thus, a prophecy, which is considered to be “God’s Word” was passed down orally, rather than through Scripture.
b) Matthew 23:2-3: Jesus teaches that the scribes and Pharisees have a legitimate, binding authority, based on Moses’ seat, which phrase (or idea) cannot be found anywhere in the Old Testament. It is found in the (originally oral) Mishna, where a sort of “teaching succession” from Moses on down is taught. Thus, “apostolic succession,” whereby the Catholic Church, in its priests and bishops and popes, claims to be merely the Custodian of an inherited apostolic Tradition, is also prefigured by Jewish oral tradition, as approved (at least partially) by Jesus Himself.
c) In 1 Corinthians 10:4, St. Paul refers to a rock which “followed” the Jews through the Sinai wilderness. The Old Testament says nothing about such miraculous movement, in the related passages about Moses striking the rock to produce water (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:2-13). Rabbinic tradition, however, does.
d) 1 Peter 3:19: St. Peter, in describing Christ’s journey to Sheol/Hades (“he went and preached to the spirits in prison . . . “, draws directly from the Jewish apocalyptic book 1 Enoch (12-16).
e) Jude 9: about a dispute between Michael the archangel and Satan over Moses’ body, cannot be paralleled in the Old Testament, and appears to be a recounting of an oral Jewish tradition.
f) Jude 14-15 directly quotes from 1 Enoch 1:9, even saying that Enoch prophesied.
g) 2 Timothy 3:8: Jannes and Jambres cannot be found in the related Old Testament passage (Exodus 7:8 ff.).
h) James 5:17: the reference to a lack of rain for three years is likewise absent from the relevant Old Testament passage in 1 Kings 17.
Since Jesus and the Apostles acknowledge authoritative Jewish oral tradition (even in so doing raising some of it literally to the level of written Revelation), we are hardly at liberty to assert that it is altogether illegitimate. That being the case, the alleged analogy of the Old Testament to sola Scriptura is again found wanting and massively incoherent.
Jesus attacked corrupt traditions only, not tradition per se, and not all Oral Tradition. The simple fact that there exists such an entity as legitimate Oral Tradition, supports the Catholic “both/and” view by analogy, whereas in a strict sola Scriptura viewpoint, this would be inadmissible, it seems to me. It is obvious that there can be false oral traditions just as there are false written traditions which some heretics elevated to “Scripture” (e.g., the Gospel of Thomas).
This is precisely why we need the Church as Guardian and Custodian of all these traditions, and to determine (by the guidance of the Holy Spirit) which are Apostolic and which not, just as the Church placed its authoritative approval on the New Testament Canon. Holy Scripture is absolutely central and primary in the Catholic viewpoint, just as in Protestantism. No legitimate Oral Tradition can ever contradict Scripture, just as no true fact of science can ever contradict it.
III. OTHER SOURCES OF AUTHORITY CONDEMNED (??)
Furthermore, in refuting the errors of the Sadducees, the Scripture records the Lord saying, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). Christ Jesus continually castigated and rebuked the Pharisees because they made their tradition on a par with the Word of God. He condemned them because they were attempting to corrupt the very basis of truth by equating their traditions to the Word of God. So He declared to them in Mark 7:13 “[You are] making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such things do ye.” Since Scripture alone is inspired, it alone is the ultimate authority and it alone is the final judge of Tradition.
The Bible does not teach that all “tradition” is bad or evil or merely the “traditions of men.” Rather, it teaches that there are indeed such bad and untrue traditions (see, e.g., Matt 15:2-6, Mk 7:8-13, Col 2:8), but that there are also true, apostolic traditions which are positively endorsed. These apostolic traditions are – far from being contrary to Scripture – in total harmony with the Bible. Catholics believe that the true traditions must always be consistent with Scripture. In that sense, Scripture is its “final Judge,” but not in the sense that Scripture somehow rules out or makes impossible all Tradition and Church authority. It does not at all. In fact, it asserts those things. Here are instances where the Bible espouses true tradition (RSV):
Luke 1:1-2 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses . . .
1 Corinthians 11:2 I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.
2 Thessalonians 2:15 . . . stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth, or by letter.
2 Thessalonians 3:6 . . . keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
The Apostle Paul explicitly grants oral proclamation or teaching the same authority as written:
2 Timothy 1:13-14 Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me . . . guard the truth which 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.
1 Corinthians 11:2 . . . maintain the traditions . . . . even as I have delivered them to you.
2 Thessalonians 2:15 . . . hold to the traditions . . . . taught . . . by word of mouth or by letter.
2 Thessalonians 3:6 . . . the tradition that you received from us.
1 Corinthians 15:1 . . . the gospel, which you received . . .
Galatians 1:9 . . . the gospel . . . which you received.
1 Thessalonians 2:9 . . . we preached to you the gospel of God.
Acts 8:14 . . . Samaria had received the word of God . . .
1 Thessalonians 2:13 . . . you received the word of God, which you heard from us, . . .
2 Peter 2:21 . . . the holy commandment delivered to them.
Jude 3 . . . the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. [cf. Acts 2:42]
In St. Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians alone we see that three of the above terms are used interchangeably. Clearly then, tradition is not a dirty word in the Bible, particularly for St. Paul. If, on the other hand, one wants to maintain that it is, then gospel and word of God are also bad words! Thus, the commonly-asserted dichotomy between the gospel and tradition, or between the Bible and tradition is unbiblical itself and must be discarded by the truly biblically-minded person as (quite ironically) a corrupt tradition of men.
The Word of the Lord says as a commandment in Proverbs 30:5,6 “Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” God commands that we are not to add to His Word: this command shows emphatically that it is God’s Word alone that is pure and uncontaminated.
All this is saying is that one must not contradict or corrupt God’s word, which (as shown) can be both oral and written. Of course, the inspired revelation is pure and uncontaminated, but this doesn’t logically (or biblically) rule out other sources of truth; otherwise Jesus and the apostles would not have cited other sources in order to back up various claims (as also demonstrated above, from Scripture).
Aligned with Proverbs, the Lord’s strong, clear declaration in Isaiah 8:20 is: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” The truth is this: since God’s written word alone is inspired, it – and it alone – is the sole rule of faith. It cannot be otherwise.
It certainly can be “otherwise” since it is in fact, according to the Bible itself (thus showing sola Scriptura to be a self-defeating concept, since it cannot even be established from Scripture Alone – the very concept under consideration). This thinking is shot-through with internal contradiction. One falsehood is accepted, and then the system is built upon it, by adding other falsehoods. But a structure with a weak foundation cannot stand.
Mr. Bennett keeps appealing to the Old Testament to “prove” his nonexistent case, as if (his hidden, unspoken assumption) the Jews of that period accepted sola Scriptura as he does. But they did not. And this fact is clearly attested by reputable Protestant scholarly sources, such as The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (edited by Allen C. Myers, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1987 – from Bijbelse Encyclopedie, ed. W. H. Gispen, Kampen, Netherlands, 1975 -, 1014-1015). In its article on “Tradition,” we read:
Because oral communication was more significant in biblical than in modern societies, oral tradition in the form of standardized forms of stories, sayings, and the like was part of the process toward the composition of every type of biblical literature . . .
While the Sadducees viewed the written text of the Torah as alone authoritative, the Pharisees cultivated an elaborate interpretive tradition . . . The resultant “tradition of the elders” (or “oral Torah”) was considered equal in authority to the written text elaborated by it. It represented simply the unfolding of what was implied in the written commandments, and was said to have been received by Moses from God on Mt. Sinai along with the written commandments and passed down orally from that time . . .
Jesus did not totally reject the oral tradition. He affirmed the traditional rules on the tithing of herbs (“these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others”; Matt. 23:23), though he insisted on the relative triviality of the practice. His own interpretation of the Torah in the Sermon on the Mount employs the scribal principle of “building a fence about the Torah” . . .
Appeals to authoritative Church tradition are found already in the earliest New Testament writings, the letters of Paul . . . 2 Thess. 3:6 . . . 1 Cor. 11:23-26 . . . 15:3-7 . . . 11:2; Phil. 4:9; 2 Thess. 2:15; cf. Rom. 6:17; Gal. 1:9) . . .
. . . the New Testament writings were first valued not as inspired Scripture but as deposits of apostolic tradition in fixed written form, to be interpreted authoritatively by the bishops and according to the rule of faith . . .
Catholic theologians have regarded Scripture and tradition as a single authority (they “flow from the same divine wellspring”), noting with some historical justification that Scripture is itself a part and product of apostolic tradition.
In Scripture, moreover, besides the teaching about authoritative apostolic tradition, the Church also had a binding authority. This is seen in the passages about “binding and loosing,” a rabbinic term:
Matthew 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Matthew 18:18 . . . Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
John 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
The same Protestant source above, in its article on “binding and loosing” (p. 158), explains the meaning of these terms:
In rabbinic usage the terms mean “to forbid” and “to permit” with reference to interpretation of the law, and secondarily, “to condemn” or “place under the ban” and “to acquit.” Thus, Peter is given the authority to determine the rules for doctrine and life . . . and to demand obedience from the Church, reflecting the authority of the royal chamberlain or vizier in the Old Testament (cf. Isa. 22:22 . . . ).
We see the binding authority of the Church in Paul’s statement: “. . . the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Paul himself binds and looses in the following two passages:
1 Corinthians 5:3-5 . . . I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (see 5:1-2)
2 Corinthians 2:6-8, 10-11 For such a one this punishment by the majority is enough; so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him . . . Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive . . . in the presence of Christ, to keep Satan from gaining the advantage over us; for we are not ignorant of his designs.
Paul binds in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 and looses in 2 Corinthians 2:6-7,10, acting as a type of papal figure in 2 Corinthians 2:10, much like St. Peter among the Apostles. He forgives, and bids the Corinthian elders to forgive also, even though the offense was not committed against them personally. Clearly, both parties are acting as God’s representatives in the matter of the forgiveness of sins and the remission of sin’s temporal penalties.
We find ecclesiastical authority in Matthew 18:17, where “the church” is to settle issues of conflict between believers. Above all, we see Church authority in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:6-30), where we see Peter and James speaking with authority. This Council makes an authoritative pronouncement (citing the Holy Spirit – 15:28) which was binding on all Christians:
. . . abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. (15:29)
In the next chapter, shortly thereafter we read that Paul, Timothy, and Silas were traveling around “through the cities.” Note how Scripture describes what they were proclaiming:
. . . they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.
This is Church authority, far more like Catholic ecclesiology than sola Scriptura Christianity, which cannot be found in the Bible itself, and is an arbitrary tradition of men. Even the apostle Paul was no lone ranger. He did what he was told to do by the Jerusalem Council. As I wrote in my treatise on the Church (where many additional biblical indications of Church authority can be found):
In his very conversion experience, Jesus informed Paul that he would be told what to do (Acts 9:6; cf. 9:17). He went to see St. Peter in Jerusalem for fifteen days in order to be confirmed in his calling (Galatians 1:18), and fourteen years later was commissioned by Peter, James, and John (Galatians 2:1-2,9). He was also sent out by the Church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-4), which was in contact with the Church at Jerusalem (Acts 11:19-27). Later on, Paul reported back to Antioch (Acts 14:26-28).
I would anticipate Mr. Bennett and other Protestants to object that Pharisaical tradition was cited, and that Jesus and the early Christians were totally opposed to this as hypocritical “traditions of men” – lock, stock, and barrel. But what must be understood was that the Pharisees were not entirely corrupt as a class. Jesus Himself followed the Pharisaical tradition, as argued by Asher Finkel in his book The Pharisees and the Teacher of Nazareth (Cologne: E.J. Brill, 1964). He adopted the Pharisaical stand on controversial issues (Matthew 5:18-19, Luke 16:17), accepted the oral tradition of the academies, observed the proper mealtime procedures (Mark 6:56, Matthew 14:36) and the Sabbath, and priestly regulations (Matthew 8:4, Mark 1:44, Luke 5:4). This author argues that Jesus’ condemnations were directed towards the Pharisees of the school of Shammai, whereas Jesus was closer to the school of Hillel. The Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem: 1971) backs up this contention, in its entry “Jesus” (v. 10, 10):
In general, Jesus’ polemical sayings against the Pharisees were far meeker than the Essene attacks and not sharper than similar utterances in the talmudic sources.
This source contends that Jesus’ beliefs and way of life were closer to the Pharisees than to the Essenes, though He was similar to them in many respects also (poverty, humility, purity of heart, simplicity, etc.). The Sadducees were the liberals of Jesus’ time, and they believed in sola Scriptura. But Jesus and the early Church did not follow their tradition; rather, they were much closer to the Pharisaical tradition, as I argued in More Biblical Evidence for Catholicism: (pages 59-60):
Many people do not realize that Christianity was derived in many ways from the Pharisaical tradition of Judaism. It was really the only viable option in the Judaism of that era. Since Jesus often excoriated the Pharisees for hypocrisy and excessive legalism, some assume that He was condemning the whole ball of wax. But this is throwing the baby out with the bath water. Likewise, the Apostle Paul, when referring to his Pharisaical background doesn’t condemn Pharisaism per se.
The Sadducees, on the other hand, were much more “heretical”. They rejected the future resurrection and the soul, the afterlife, rewards and retribution, demons and angels, and predestinarianism. Christian Pharisees are referred to in Acts 15:5 and Philippians 3:5, but never Christian Sadducees. The Sadducees’ following was found mainly in the upper classes, and was almost non-existent among the common people.
The Sadducees also rejected all ‘oral Torah,’ – the traditional interpretation of the written that was of central importance in rabbinic Judaism. So we can summarize as follows:
a) The Sadducees were obviously the elitist “liberals” and “heterodox” amongst the Jews of their time.
b) But the Sadducees were also the sola Scripturists of their time.
c) Christianity adopted wholesale the very “postbiblical” doctrines which the Sadducees rejected and which the Pharisees accepted: resurrection, belief in angels and spirits, the soul, the afterlife, eternal reward or damnation, and the belief in angels and demons.
d) But these doctrines were notable for their marked development after the biblical Old Testament Canon was complete, especially in Jewish apocalyptic literature, part of Jewish codified oral tradition.
e) We’ve seen how – if a choice is to be made – both Jesus and Paul were squarely in the “Pharisaical camp,” over against the Sadducees.
f) We also saw earlier how Jesus and the New Testament writers cite approvingly many tenets of Jewish oral (later talmudic and rabbinic) tradition, according to the Pharisaic outlook.
Ergo) The above facts constitute one more “nail in the coffin” of the theory that either the Old Testament Jews or the early Church were guided by the principle of sola Scriptura. The only party which believed thusly were the Sadducees, who were heterodox according to traditional Judaism, despised by the common people, and restricted to the privileged classes only.
The Pharisees (despite their corruptions and excesses) were the mainstream, and the early Church adopted their outlook with regard to eschatology, anthropology, and angelology, and the necessity and benefit of binding oral tradition and ongoing ecclesiastical authority for the purpose (especially) of interpreting Holy Scripture.
IV. THE EXPRESSION “SOLA SCRIPTURA”
From the time of the giving of the Decalogue on Mt. Sinai, when Holy God wrote with His finger on the tablets of stone (Exodus 31:18), until this present day, the written word of God has been extant in the world. The term “sola Scriptura” or “the Bible alone” as the measure of truth is short hand, as it were, for the emphatic and repeated statements of Scripture and of the commandment of God. The very phrase ” It is written” means exclusively transcribed, and not hearsay.
No one is denying that “written” means “written” (which would be silly), but “word of God” is not always the equivalent of “written” in Scripture, as shown, and not all oral Tradition can be conveniently (and quite unjustly and groundlessly) collapsed into the pejorative term, “hearsay.” Mr. Bennett has a problem with the Bible and Jesus Himself and the Apostle Paul (not just the Catholic Church), because all accepted the authority of Tradition and the Church alongside Scripture: they are all of a piece: one harmonious whole, or a “three-legged stool,” as Catholics like to describe them.
Mr. Bennett has yet to show that the Bible teaches Bible Alone as a formal principle or Rule of Faith.
It can’t be done, as I’ve observed in many dialogues on the subjects with several Protestants who have a measure of expertise on the subject. They make a valiant effort, and offer many alleged proof texts, but the reasoning is filled with erroneous assumptions and false, untrue conclusions flowing therefrom. I believe the inadequacies of this argument are being more than amply demonstrated presently.
The command to believe what is written means to believe only the pure word of God. It separates from all other sources the corpus what a man is to believe. What is at stake before the All Holy God is His incorruptible truth.
To believe what is written and inspired does not preclude also believing in authoritative pronouncements of apostles and of the Church which preserves (by the assistance of the Holy Spirit) the apostolic deposit passed on from the apostles (who in turn received it from our Lord Jesus).
In the very last commandment in the Bible God resolutely tells us not to add to nor take away from His Word.
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book: If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the Book of Life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19)
This refers only to the book of Revelation (as seen in the words “if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy” – not all Scripture is prophetic in nature). That’s all it is referring to. It does not in any way prohibit an authoritative extrascriptural or oral teaching.
His Word is absolutely sufficient in itself. (Psalm 119:160)
The text does not make this more grandiose claim, that Mr. Bennett tries to interpret in terms of the conception of sola Scriptura (“sufficient” – i.e., somehow ruling out other authorities, which doesn’t follow from being sufficient, anyway). The text simply says (RSV):
The sum of thy word is truth; and every one of thy righteous ordinances endures for ever.
Who would argue against this? But it is no proof whatsoever of the full-blown Protestant invention and previously-unknown novelty of sola Scriptura.
V. THE PRESCRIPT AND INTERPRETATION
The principle of “sola Scriptura” is consistent with the very way in which the word of truth that comes from God, is to be interpreted, as Psalm 36:9 explains, “For with thee is the fountain of life; in thy light we see light”. God’s truth is seen in the light of God’s truth. This is exactly the same as the Apostle Paul says, “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (I Corinthians 2:13). It is precisely in the light which God’s truth sheds, that His truth is seen. (Cp. John 3:18-21, II Corinthians 4:3-7.)
The Apostle Peter, under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, declares, “knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation. For prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Logically then, Peter makes it very clear that in order to maintain the purity of Holy God’s written word, the source of interpretation must be from the same pure source as the origin of the Scripture itself. Scripture can only be understood correctly in the light of Scripture, since it alone is uncorrupted. It is only with the Holy Spirit’s light that Scripture can be comprehended correctly. The Holy Spirit causes those who are the Lord’s to understand Scripture (John 14:16-17, 26). Since the Spirit does this by Scripture, obviously, it is in accord with the principle that Scripture itself is the infallible rule of interpretation of its own truth “it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth” (I John 5:6).
Catholics agree that comparing Scripture with Scripture is an excellent way to do exegesis and systematic theology. It doesn’t follow, however, that we are left with this method alone in seeking to understand Scripture. This isn’t necessary; it is not explicitly taught in Scripture (nor are other methods condemned), and there are many contra-indications, as I will demonstrate shortly. Furthermore, this belief in a clear or “perspicuous” Scripture (to the extent that an individual needs no necessary outside help) has not in fact, produced the marvelous unity and agreement on doctrine which was always the dream of the early Protestants, but which has never managed to become a concrete reality.
The Jerusalem Council authoritatively interpreted Scripture, and not by simply comparing Scripture with Scripture. “Binding and loosing” is also exercised by the apostles (and priests and bishops later on). Nor did the Old Testament Jews interpret in this way (Mr. Bennett has again given us Old Testament Scripture in supposed support of sola Scriptura – Psalm 36:9). From my second bookonce again (pp. 56-57):
The Jews did not have a “me, the Bible, and the Holy Ghost” mindset. Protestants have, of course, teachers, commentators, and interpreters of the Bible (and excellent ones at that – often surpassing Catholics in many respects). They are, however, strictly optional and non-binding when it comes down to the individual and his choice of what he chooses to believe. This is the Protestant notion of private judgment and the nearly-absolute primacy of individual conscience (Luther’s “plowboy”).
In Catholicism, on the other hand, there is a parameter where doctrinal speculation must end: the Magisterium, dogmas, papal and conciliar pronouncements, catechisms – in a word (well, two words): Catholic Tradition. Some things are considered to be settled issues. Others are still undergoing development.
All binding dogmas are believed to be derived from Jesus and the Apostles. Now, who did the Jews resemble more closely in this regard? Did they need authoritative interpretation of their Torah, and eventually, the Old Testament as a whole? The Old Testament itself has much to “tell” us (RSV):
a) Exodus 18:20: Moses was to teach the Jews the statutes and the decisions – not just read it to them. Since he was the Lawgiver and author of the Torah, it stands to reason that his interpretation and teaching would be of a highly authoritative nature.
b) Leviticus 10:11: Aaron, Moses’ brother, is also commanded by God to teach.
c) Deuteronomy 17:8-13: The Levitical priests had binding authority in legal matters (derived from the Torah itself). They interpreted the biblical injunctions (17:11). The penalty for disobedience was death (17:12), since the offender didn’t obey the priest who stands to minister there before the LORD your God. Cf. Deuteronomy 19:16-17, 2 Chronicles 19:8-10.
d) Deuteronomy 24:8: Levitical priests had the final say and authority (in this instance, in the case of leprosy). This was a matter of Jewish law.
e) Deuteronomy 33:10: Levite priests are to teach Israel the ordinances and law. (cf. 2 Chronicles 15:3, Malachi 2:6-8 – the latter calls them messenger of the LORD of hosts).
f) Ezra 7:6,10: Ezra, a priest and scribe, studied the Jewish law and taught it to Israel, and his authority was binding, under pain of imprisonment, banishment, loss of goods, and even death (7:25-26).
g) Nehemiah 8:1-8: Ezra reads the law of Moses to the people in Jerusalem (8:3). In 8:7 we find thirteen Levites who assisted Ezra, and who helped the people to understand the law. Much earlier, in King Jehoshaphat’s reign, we find Levites exercising the same function (2 Chronicles 17:8-9). There is no sola Scriptura, with its associated idea “perspicuity” (evident clearness in the main) here. In Nehemiah 8:8: . . . they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly [footnote, “or with interpretation”], and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
So the people did indeed understand the law (8:12), but not without much assistance – not merely upon hearing. Likewise, the Bible is not altogether clear in and of itself, but requires the aid of teachers who are more familiar with biblical styles and Hebrew idiom, background, context, exegesis and cross-reference, hermeneutical principles, original languages, etc.
h) I think all Christians agree that prophets, too, exercised a high degree of authority, so I need not establish that.
The Catholic Church continues to offer authoritative teaching and a way to decide doctrinal and ecclesiastical disputes, and believes that its popes and priests have the power to “bind and loose,” just as the New Testament describes. Protestantism has no such system.
The Old Testament and Jewish history attest to a fact which Catholics constantly assert, over against sola Scriptura and Protestantism: that Holy Scripture requires an authoritative interpreter, a Church, and a binding Tradition, as passed down from Jesus and the Apostles.
Those truly desiring to be true to Lord in this very matter of the standard of “sola Scriptura” must turn to the Lord to obey His command, “Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you” (Proverbs 1:23). If one is yearning of truth in this essential matter, in the attitude of Psalm 51:17 “with a broken and a contrite heart”, the Lord God will not despise, but reveal to him or her the basic foundation where the Lord Christ Jesus stood, as did the apostles. In the words of the Apostle John, “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24). The Apostle John wrote, as did Peter and Paul, in order that those who are saved should know that his testimony is true.
This is all well and good, and we believe it, but it doesn’t prove a single thing that Mr. Bennett is trying to prove, and doesn’t disprove in the least the host of counter-factual biblical evidences that I have brought to bear, or the different view of authority that flows logically from them. Protestant defenses of sola Scriptura are almost always of this simplistic, “take-it-for-granted” nature, They simply assume what they are trying to prove from the outset and struggle mightily to make Scripture itself fit into their preconceived notions. That’s what is called in logic, “circular argument” or “begging the question.” But it is a losing battle. What Protestant defenders of sola Scriptura think is so “obvious” and “clear” is not at all that, when objectively examined.
Protestants think sola Scriptura is “obvious” and “unquestionable” in the way that a fish in an aquarium (with – theoretically – no people ever to observe it) thinks it is “obvious” that the entire world consists of water and that all creatures live in it. John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote eloquently about this strong tendency:
That Scripture is the Rule of Faith is in fact an assumption so congenial to the state of mind and course of thought usual among Protestants, that it seems to them rather a truism than a truth. If they are in controversy with Catholics on any point of faith, they at once ask, Where do you find it in Scripture? and if Catholics reply, as they must do, that it is not necessarily in Scripture in order to be true, nothing can persuade them that such an answer is not an evasion, and a triumph to themselves. Yet it is by no means self-evident that all religious truth is to be found in a number of works, however sacred, which were written at different times, and did not always form one book; and in fact it is a doctrine very hard to prove . . . It [is] . . . an assumption so deeply sunk into the popular mind, that it is a work of great difficulty to obtain from its maintainers an acknowledgment that it is an assumption.
(An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1955; originally 1870, 296)
I am here to try to persuade Protestants that there is a respectable, plausible, cogent, coherent and consistent, biblical way of thinking which is contrary to sola Scriptura: that the latter “worldview” or schema of authority is not “all there is” or the only way to faithfully read and interpret Holy Scripture, and that Scripture itself teaches this, rather than sola Scriptura.
If sola Scriptura is all one knows or hears about, then of course one will come away with that viewpoint. “We are what we eat.” But if the biblical, patristic, and pre-16th century ways of viewing authority are presented, it can readily be seen that the case for them is far superior. I believe that is evident above. Mainly I have presented scripture and scholarly commentary on it and on the ancient Jews and the early Christians. The case presents itself and is very strong. It doesn’t depend on my own skills or cleverness.
VI. THE ADEQUACY OF SCRIPTURE
The total sufficiency of Scripture is declared by the Apostle Paul, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). For final truth and authority, all that we need is the Scripture.
But the passage doesn’t teach formal sufficiency, which excludes an authoritative role for Tradition and Church. Protestants merely extrapolate onto the text what simply isn’t there. Catholics accept the material sufficiency of Scripture. All true Christian doctrines can be found in Scripture, explicitly or implicitly, or clearly deduced from biblical evidences.
I proposed a contextual, analogical, and exegetical argument against this standard Protestant interpretation of 2 Timothy 3:16-17, in my first book (pp. 9-11):
In 2 Timothy alone (context), St. Paul makes reference to oral Tradition three times (1:13-14, 2:2, 3:14). In the latter instance, St. Paul says of the tradition, knowing from whom you learned it. The personal reference proves he is not talking about Scripture, but himself as the Tradition-bearer, so to speak . . . The “exclusivist” or “dichotomous” form of reasoning employed by Protestant apologists here is fundamentally flawed. For example, to reason by analogy, let’s examine a very similar passage, Ephesians 4:11-15:
Ephesians 4:11-15 And his gifts were that some should be apostle, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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; 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. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are able to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
If the Greek artios (RSV, complete / KJV, perfect) proves the sole sufficiency of Scripture in 2 Timothy, then teleios (RSV, mature manhood / KJV, perfect) in Ephesians would likewise prove the sufficiency of pastors, teachers and so forth for the attainment of Christian perfection. 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 non-scriptural 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.
VII. THE CLAIM THAT SOLA SCRIPTURA WAS NOT POSSIBLE
In an attempt to justify a tradition as an authority, an appeal is often made to the very last verse in John’s gospel where it is stated, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen”. (John 21:25) Of course there were many of the deeds and sayings of the Lord, which are not recorded in Scripture. Scripture is the authoritative record that Holy God has given His people. We do not have a single sentence that is authoritatively from the Lord, outside of what is in the written word. To appeal to a tradition for authority when Holy God did not give it is futile. The idea that somehow sayings and events from the Lord have been recorded in tradition is simply not true.
But we have seen above (in many instances) that the Bible itself teaches differently. So this is not true. The advocate of sola Scriptura needs to deal with all the counter-arguments that Catholics present. usually they do not, so their position attains a false facade of invulnerability.
Another desperate attempt to justify tradition, is the statement that the early church did not have the New Testament. The Apostle Peter speaks about the writings of the Apostle Paul when he states, “even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16). Peter also declares that he was writing so that the believers could remember what he said. So he wrote, “Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth” (2 Peter 1:12).
All this shows is that there was such a thing as a written revelation, which was supremely important in the Christian life. But Catholics wholeheartedly agree with that and it is not at issue. It’s irrelevant to the discussion of whether sola Scriptura is true and biblical. The Protestant needs to show that both an authoritative Church and Tradition (always in harmony with Scripture in the Catholic view) are excluded by the Bible. This cannot be done. It is impossible because the Bible doesn’t teach it. Sola Scriptura cannot be proven by simply citing all passages about a written scripture. To prove that a written Scripture exists and that it possesses inspiration and authority is not the same thing as proving that it is formally sufficient without Church or Tradition. This is such an obvious truth of logic and common sense that it is often overlooked.
From the earliest times a substantial part of the New Testament was available. Under the inspiration of the Lord, the Apostle Paul commands his letters to be read in other churches besides those to which they were sent. This clearly shows that the written word of God was being circulated even as the Apostles lived. The Lord’s command to believe what is written has always been something that the believers could obey and did obey.
But authoritative commands to believe (recorded in the Bible itself) were not confined to the written word. Paul gave oral tradition the same weight and authority, as shown above. Jesus accepted various oral traditions of the Jews.
In this matter we must have the humility commanded in the Scripture not to think above what is written. “that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another” (1 Corinthians 4:6).
I dealt with this supposed “proof text” also, in my first book (pp. 11-12):
The whole passage is an ethical exhortation to avoid pride, arrogance and favoritism, and as such, has nothing to do with the idea of the Bible and the written word as some sort of all-encompassing standard of authority over against the Church. St. Paul’s teaching elsewhere . . . precludes such an interpretation anyway. One of the foundational tenets of Protestant hermeneutics is to interpret less clear, obscure portions of Scripture by means of more clear, related passages. St. Paul is telling the Corinthians to observe the broad ethical precepts of the Old Testament (some translators render the above clause as keep within the rules), as indicated by his habitual phrase, it is written, which is always used to precede Old Testament citations throughout his letters. Assuming that he is referring to the Old Testament (the most straightforward interpretation), this would again prove too much, for he would not be including the entire New Testament, whose Canon was not even finally determined until 397 A.D.
To summarize, then, 1 Corinthians 4:6 (that is, one part of the verse) fails as a proof text for sola Scriptura for at least three reasons:
1) The context is clearly one of ethics. We cannot transgress (go beyond) the precepts of Scripture concerning relationships. This doesn’t forbid the discussion of ethics outside of Scripture (which itself cannot possibly treat every conceivable ethical dispute and dilemma);
2) The phrase does not even necessarily have to refer to Scripture, although this appears to be the majority opinion of scholars (with which I agree);
3) If what is written refers to Scripture, it certainly points to the Old Testament alone (obviously not the Protestant “rule of faith”). Thus, this verse proves too much and too little simultaneously.
VIII. THE REGULATION AND OUR LOVE OF GOD
The Lord brings the topic of truth to bear on our love for Him. This again underscores its importance. “Jesus answered and said to him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings; and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent Me” (John 14:23-24). And then again “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).
But this presupposes that Jesus was always talking about His words recorded in Scripture, rather than all of them, recorded or not. It thus begs the question once again (an extremely common and annoying occurrence in apologias for sola Scriptura). In Matthew 28:19-20, in the “Great Commission” passage, Jesus tells the disciples to evangelize and baptize, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (28:20). There is no reason (textually or contextually) to believe that He intended the “all” here to be confined to a written word.
The disciples who heard Jesus say this certainly would not have understood the injunction in that way, either, as there was no written Gospel during Jesus’ lifetime. The Gospels were written after He died. Evangelical Bible scholar Donald Guthrie, in his huge work, New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, revised one-volume edition, 1970), dates Matthew anywhere from 80-100 A.D. (p. 46), Mark from 60-70 (p. 74), Luke from 90-100 (p. 112), and John, between 90 and 110 (p. 283).
The hearers would have understood the Lord as telling them to pass on to others what they had learned from Him, orally. We have no record of Jesus Himself writing anything. So Mr. Bennett’s argument above is plain shortsighted, if not downright silly in its excessive simplicity. This point is verified in the following passage as well:
Acts 1:2-3 . . . the apostles . . . To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. (cf. Luke 24:15-16, 25-27)
The Lord himself looked to the authority of the Scriptures alone, as did His apostles after Him.
Neither did this, as shown.
They confirmed the very message of the Old Testament. “The law of the LORD is perfect” (Psalm 19:7). The believer is to be true to the way of the Lord, holding alone to what is written: “Thy Word is truth.”
This has already been dealt with. We see, then, that Mr. Bennett’s case is virtually non-existent or extremely weak at all fundamental points. It collapses under its own weight of internal contradiction and false premises. This is always the case where sola Scriptura is concerned. One must sympathize with the plight of sola scripturists, in a sense. It’s an uphill battle to argue for something which isn’t true in the first place. Even the most brilliant minds, skilled arguers, and eloquent rhetoricians will fail in that impossible task. And the reason why Catholics believe it is not true have been presented above, almost entirely from the Bible itself, which is where the “battle” for sola Scriptura must be fought and either won or lost.