Critique of “Denying Sola Scriptura”, by Dr. Gary DeMar

Critique of “Denying Sola Scriptura”, by Dr. Gary DeMar June 5, 2017

Photograph by “stempow” (March 2017) [Pixabay / CC0 public domain]

(January 1999)


Dr. Gary DeMar is a Reformed Protestant scholar, and Senior Fellow (former President) at  American Vision, a praiseworthy group which concentrates on Christianity and culture issues (and does an excellent job, generally speaking). It produces a worthwhile periodical Biblical Worldview. DeMar has also written much helpful material about the errors of evangelical Protestant dispensationalism, particularly with regard to failed end-time prophetical scenarios. Catholics can benefit from much of what he writes. Where he — unfortunately — gets off-track (as is so often the case with otherwise sound scholars), is in his critique of Catholicism.

This is a critique of his article, entitled, Denying Sola Scriptura: The Attempt to Neutralize the Bible. Gary DeMar’s words will be in blue. He wrote me a brief letter when I informed him of this response (written in January 1999), declining to counter-reply. I have added that to the end of this paper. Perhaps some other Protestant with more available time and motivation will take up the challenge.

* * * * *

A strange term, “neutralize.” I haven’t the slightest idea what he means by this, so I hope he elaborates in the article.

[omitted background material for brevity’s sake]

Many of the basic tenets of Catholicism are biblical. One of the distinguishing characteristics of a cult is the denial of the divinity of Christ. There is no such denial in Catholicism. Roman Catholics teach and adhere to the Apostles’ Creed. This is why men like Luther and Calvin are called Reformers: they wanted to reform the church, not replace it. They recognized that not everything within Catholicism was in error. On another level, the same can be said about Judaism. There is truth within Judaism because Christians and Jews share a portion of the same revelation the Hebrew Scriptures or what Christians call the Old Testament. But as system of theology both Catholicism and Judaism fall short of the whole truth, Judaism because it does not recognize the revelatory status of the New Testament and Catholicism because it puts tradition on an equal footing with both the Old and New Testaments.

So Catholicism isn’t a cult, but is it Christian, according to DeMar? Does anyone know? I am unsure. His remarks seem to me a bit ambiguous on this point.

Questioning Catholic Doctrine
After becoming a Christian in February of 1973, I began to question a number of Catholic doctrines.

To me, this implies that therefore, Catholicism is not Christian, since he “became” one. He didn’t qualify it at all.

The Bible had become the standard of faith for me. It was sola scriptura — Scripture alone — not the Bible plus anything else that led me to reconsider what I had been taught as a child about Catholicism. Those doctrines that lined up with the Bible, I retained. Those doctrines that could not be supported by an appeal to the Bible, I rejected. Again, sola scriptura was the reference point.

Fair enough. As I, too, believe all Catholic beliefs are explicitly or implicitly indicated in Holy Scripture (or harmonious with it), and accept the material sufficiency of Scripture, Gary and I are not far apart in a certain practical, Bible-based sense.

The doctrine of sola scriptura has been questioned by a number of former Protestants who have embraced the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Once the doctrine of sola scriptura is rejected a Pandora’s Box of doctrinal additions is opened. As one Catholic writer asserts, “Scripture has been, and remains our primary, although not exclusive, source for Catholic doctrines.”(1) This is the nature of the dispute. While the Protestant believes that Scripture is the “exclusive” source for doctrine — what the Westminster Confession of Faith calls “faith and practice” — the Catholic Church asserts that extra-biblical tradition plays an equal role.

Agreed, though I would beg to differ if he is implying (I’m not sure) that we deny the primacy of Scripture. We deny its absolute exclusivity. But it is just as central and crucial to us as it was to the Fathers. They, like us, placed apostolic succession in the role of ultimate “arbiter” of the truth or falsity of any given doctrine. Again, it is a matter of interpreting and applying the Scriptures, which all Christians agree are inspired, “God-breathed” words.

Former Protestants Speak
Former Protestants Scott and Kimberly Hahn have written a book that is getting a great deal of praise from Catholics and Protestants. The Hahns have become effective apologists for the Catholic position. Scott, a former Presbyterian minister, and his wife consider their embrace of Catholicism as a homecoming. In fact, the title of their book is Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism. (2) While there are many issues in this book that I would like to address, my goal is to concentrate on the central issue — sola scriptura.


Roman Catholic Propaganda


There is no doubt in my mind that Rome Sweet Home is a cleverly devised piece of propaganda published mainly for Catholics. Very few Protestants would ever be convinced by the arguments put forth by the Hahns.

It seems to me that “propaganda” is a loaded term (though not necessarily), implying perhaps disingenuousness or incompetence, or dishonesty. I wish DeMar would just keep to the arguments, without stooping to these sorts of rash judgments. I am disappointed thus far (I am responding as I read). I would have expected better from DeMar.

The book is designed to keep Catholics in check, most of whom do not know their Bibles.

So there are no Protestant books which discuss Church history, since many (most?) Protestants are woefully ignorant of their Church history? Would DeMar then deem such a work “propaganda” designed to keep ignorant Protestants “in check”?

The reasoning goes something like this:

Consider the Hahns. Scott and Kimberly were forceful Catholic antagonists while they studied in one of America’s leading Protestant seminaries. Scott had a promising career as a pastor and seminary professor. But as the Hahns studied the Bible more closely they found that they could not answer the most basic objection to Roman Catholic doctrines. In time they began to see what you already know: The Roman Catholic Church is the true church.

A conversion story (like a Catechism) is not usually the place to undertake an elaborate defense of Catholic belief (the several versions of my own story don’t do that, though they do some of it). I can assure Dr. DeMar that, elsewhere, Dr. Hahn vigorously defends the Faith. I have many Hahn links on my website, should he be interested in pursuing Dr. Hahn’s apologetic reasoning.

After reading Rome Sweet Home I came away bewildered. I could not believe how poorly the Hahns argued Catholic dogma.

I thought he was sticking to sola Scriptura . . . ?????

[therefore, I have omitted the section on the Rosary]

An Appeal to “Tradition”
No biblical justification can be found for praying the Rosary. But this does not matter to Catholics since they claim the authority of tradition.

This is foolish and silly. I can defend all aspects of the Rosary from the Bible Alone (but alas, that is another topic). Indeed, a good half of it is a citation right from Scripture, for Pete’s sake!

[Later, I produced these papers defending the Rosary:

Is the Rosary “Vain Repetition”?

Is the Rosary Christ-Centered?

Questions Regarding Catholic Mariology & the Rosary

Lutheran Pastor Bashes Prayer to Mary & Rosary (“Vain Repetition”) ]

The real debate is whether sola scriptura is a doctrine that is taught in the Bible. Does the Bible teach that the Bible alone is the Christian’s “only rule of faith and obedience?” Scott Hahn and other Catholics maintain that it does not.

And they are right.

[omitted anecdote about Hahn and proof texts for sola Scriptura]

Jesus and Sola Scriptura
What amazes me is that a seminary-trained scholar like Scott Hahn had to make these calls. Demonstrating sola scriptura from the Bible is not very difficult. Jesus used the Bible to counter the arguments of Satan. Scripture was quoted, not tradition (Matthew 4:1-10 and Luke 4:1-12). The same can be said about His debates with the religious leaders. He asks them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures?” (Matthew 21:42). He appeal is not made to any ecclesiastical body, the priesthood, or tradition.

This simply isn’t true. Apart from the fact that the Fathers constantly cited Scripture, too, while at the same time citing apostolic succession and Tradition as the final determinant of orthodoxy, Jesus refers to “the seat of Moses” (nowhere to be found in the OT) and tells the people to obey the Pharisees’ teaching, but not their actions (Mt 23:1-3), even while going on to vigorously condemn their hypocrisy, in the strongest terms (23:4-36). Jesus also contrasts corrupt, Pharisaical Tradition with true, biblical Tradition (Mt 15:3, 6; Mk 7:8-9, 13), thus clearly implying that there is indeed a true, valid, binding Tradition (in other words, He always qualifies any condemnation of “tradition”).

He established a Church (Matt 16:17-19), which He intended to uphold this very Tradition, long before the New Testament was even known, let alone collected together (by the Church He established) and canonized. This is abominably poor argumentation by DeMar, even as he condemns Dr. Hahn for alleged woeful ignorance.

Other examples given by David Palm in his paper “Oral Tradition in the New Testament” include Matthew 2:23, “He shall be called a Nazarene,” 1 Cor 10:4: the “rock which followed” the Jews in the wilderness, Jude 9, concerning the archangel Michael and the body of Moses, and Jude 14-15, a direct citation from 1 Enoch 1:9. Palm cites further examples in his paper:

          There are a number of other examples in the New Testament in which the writer likely draws on oral tradition, but not so clearly in support of any doctrine. For instance, Paul dips into rabbinic tradition to supply the names, Jannes and Jambres, of the magicians who opposed Moses in Pharoah’s court (2 Tim 3:8). [xxv] In the Old Testament, these individuals are anonymous (Exod 7:8ff.). James tells us that because of Elijah’s prayer there was no rain in Israel for three years (James 5:17), but the Old Testament account of Elijah’s altercation with King Ahab says nothing of him praying (1 Kings 17). It is rabbinic tradition that characterizes Elijah as the quintessential man of prayer. [xxvi] And even the Golden Rule, ‘So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets’ (Matt 7:12) was anticipated by Jewish oral Tradition: ‘What you do not like should be done to you, do not to your fellow; this is the whole Torah, all the rest is commentary.’ [xxvii]


The Sadducees, who denied the doctrine of the resurrection, hoped to trap Jesus with a question that seems to have no rational or biblical answer. Jesus, with all the prerogatives of divinity, could have manufactured a legitimate and satisfactory answer without an appeal to Scripture. He did not. Instead, he tells them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). Here we find Jesus rejecting ecclesiastical opinion – as represented by the Sadducees – in favor of sola scriptura.

So what? I constantly appeal to the Scriptures also, as I am doing in this very post, but it doesn’t follow that I thereby accept sola Scriptura.

[omitted further biblical examples of the appeal to Scripture, since they are irrelevant, and prove nothing with regard to the truth or falsity of sola Scriptura; what we need is a clear statement of the principle of sola Scriptura in Scripture. Will DeMar even attempt to provide that? I say he cannot, because it doesn’t exist]

Paul and Sola Scriptura
When Paul “reasoned” with the Jews, what revelational standard did he use? “And according to Paul’s custom” he “reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2). Paul, who claimed apostolic authority (Romans 1:1; 11:13 1 Corinthians 9:1; Galatians 1:1), did not rebuke the Berean Christians when they examined “the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things” he was telling them were so (Acts 17:11). Keep in mind that the Bereans are described as “more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica.”

I have already recently posted material on Paul’s notion of Tradition (and that of the NT in general). I trust that readers can consult those (and hopefully deal with them). As Bill Clinton would say, “these allegations are FALSE!”

Could a Roman Catholic put the Pope on the spot like this?

Yes, and they have.

Could a Catholic challenge a Church doctrine with such an appeal?

Yes, if it is a non-infallible doctrine, such as limbo, the exact nature of purgatory (a place or a condition), Molinism vs. Thomism on the question of predestination, etc. But even if Catholics weren’t allowed at all to question Catholic teaching (which is largely the case), that is still a different proposition from whether or not that teaching is biblically-based or not. If the Catholic Church’s doctrine is indeed entirely harmonious with Scripture (as I believe), then it may, by its God-granted authority, limit the amount of “challenge” it receives from Catholics (just as Protestants have their Creeds and Confessions which must be adhered to within the denominational “circle”).

But that does not prove in any way, shape, or form that it is “unbiblical.” It doesshow that it denies sola Scriptura. The bottom line being that sola Scriptura and Scripture are not identical: they are two different entities. One is a concrete thing, the other, a man-made (and late-breaking and novel) tradition of how to interpret and apply the inspired Scriptures of God, implying a certain denial of authority to the Church and Tradition.

Notice that the Bereans were equal to Paul when it came to evaluating doctrine by means of Scripture.

It still isn’t a proof of sola Scriptura. I have searched the Scriptures up and down, too, to see if Catholic doctrine can be squared with it. I have concluded that it does – and in my humble opinion far more than is the case for any brand of Protestantism. So how can any Protestant judge me (i.e., from their perspective) if I have applied the exact same methodology (just not exclusively so)? As for the Bereans, see the paper: Did The Noble-Minded Bereans Believe In The Bible Alone? (Steve Ray).

Paul’s argument for the defense of sola fide is an appeal to Scripture: “For what does the Scripture say?” (Romans 4:2). Roman Catholic doctrine would add, “and Church tradition.”

In line with Paul himself, as I have shown. DeMar conveniently overlooks those portions of Paul which substantiate our view . . .

Paul “opposed” Peter, supposedly the first Pope, “to his face” on this doctrine (Galatians 2:11), demonstrating that “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith [fide] in Christ Jesus” (verse 16).

So what? This has no relevance, as it was a rebuke for hypocrisy, and has nothing to do with infallibility.

Acts and Sola Scriptura
When church leaders met in Jerusalem to discuss theological matters, again, their appeal was to Scripture. Their deliberations had to “agree” with “the words of the Prophets” (Acts 15:15),

But of course. Catholics appeal to the Scripture just as much as Protestants do (ever see, e.g., the Vatican II Documents?). But this, of course, doesn’t eliminate the need for the authority of men. After all, in this very citation, James, the bishop of Jerusalem, reaches an authoritative decision based on the statement of Peter, who had previously spoken definitively (15:7-11). The Council is entirely in line with Catholic thought, even down to a papal pronouncement! :-) Since when do Protestants have councils at all?? So DeMar’s use of this verse only backfires heavily upon himself. This is typical of Protestant contra-Catholic proof-texting, and especially in this topic of sola Scriptura, where it is truly pathetic and insubstantial.

The Book of Acts is filled with an appeal to sola scriptura: the appointment of a successor to Judas (1:20); an explanation of the signs at Pentecost (2:14-21); the proof of the resurrection (2:30-36); the explanation for Jesus’ sufferings (3:18); the defense of Stephen (7); Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian and the explanation of the suffering Redeemer (8:32-35): “Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture [Isaiah 53] he preached Jesus to him” (verse 35). In the Book of Acts the appeal is always to Scripture (10:43; 13:27; 18:4-5; 24:14; 26:22-23, 27; 28:23). The word tradition is nowhere to be found.

Let it be known that such appeals are to Scripture, not the arbitrary and nonbiblical rule of faith of “Scripture Alone.” The two are not identical, and this assumes what the Protestant is trying to prove, and is thus a circular argument (which, unfortunately, happens all the time with regard to sola Scriptura . . ., kind of like a “fish in water” scenario). Acts is also filled with St. Peter exercising his papal prerogatives and leadership among the Apostles, recently given to him by our Lord Jesus. That is very curious, if sola Scriptura is true, and the papacy false, isn’t it?:

1. Peter’s name occurs first in all lists of apostles (Mt 10:2; Mk 3:16; Lk 6:14; Acts 1:13). Matthew even calls him the “first” (10:2). Judas Iscariot is invariably mentioned last.
2. Peter is regarded by the Jews (Acts 4:1-13) as the leader and spokesman of Christianity.
3. Peter is regarded by the common people in the same way (Acts 2:37-41; 5:15).
4. Peter’s words are the first recorded and most important in the upper room before Pentecost (Acts 1:15-22).
5. Peter takes the lead in calling for a replacement for Judas (Acts 1:22).
6. Peter is the first person to speak (and only one recorded) after Pentecost, so he was the first Christian to “preach the gospel” in the Church era (Acts 2:14-36).
7. Peter works the first miracle of the Church Age, healing a lame man (Acts 3:6-12).
8. Peter utters the first anathema (Ananias and Sapphira) emphatically affirmed by God (Acts 5:2-11)!
9. Peter’s shadow works miracles (Acts 5:15).
10. Peter is the first person after Christ to raise the dead (Acts 9:40).
11. Cornelius is told by an angel to seek out Peter for instruction in Christianity (Acts 10:1-6).
12. Peter is the first to receive the Gentiles, after a revelation from God (Acts 10:9-48).
13. Peter instructs the other apostles on the catholicity (universality) of the Church (Acts 11:5-17).
14. Peter is the object of the first divine interposition on behalf of an individual in the Church Age (an angel delivers him from prison – Acts 12:1-17).
15. The whole Church (strongly implied) offers “earnest prayer” for Peter when he is imprisoned (Acts 12:5).
16. Peter presides over and opens the first Council of Christianity, and lays down principles afterwards accepted by it (Acts 15:7-11).
17. Peter is often spoken of as distinct among apostles (Mk 1:36; Lk 9:28,32; *Acts 2:37*; 5:29; 1 Cor 9:5).
18. Peter is the first to recognize and refute heresy, in Simon Magus (Acts 8:14-24).
19. Peter’s proclamation at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41) contains a fully authoritative interpretation of Scripture, a doctrinal decision and a disciplinary decree concerning members of the “House of Israel” (2:36) – an example of “binding and loosing.”
20. Peter was the first “charismatic”, having judged authoritatively the first instance of the gift of tongues as genuine (Acts 2:14-21).
21. Peter is the first to preach Christian repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38).
22. Peter (presumably) takes the lead in the first recorded mass baptism (Acts 2:41).
23. Peter commanded the first Gentile Christians to be baptized (Acts 10:44-48).
24. Peter was the first traveling missionary, and first exercised what would now be called “visitation of the churches” (Acts 9:32-38,43). Paul preached at Damascus immediately after his conversion (Acts 9:20), but hadn’t traveled there for that purpose (God changed his plans!). His missionary journeys begin in Acts 13:2.

Furthermore, the book of Acts, which DeMar claims as a de facto “Protestant book,” upholding sola Scriptura, condemns the sectarianism and division so typical of Protestantism (4:32), and speaks explicitly of bishops (20:28; cf. 20:17). It is in Acts as well that we find an explicit biblical proof of apostolic succession, a key element of the Catholic ecclesiological viewpoint, over against the Protestant notion of sola Scriptura:

St. Paul teaches us (Ephesians 2:20) that the Church is built on the foundation of the apostles, whom Christ Himself chose (John 6:70, Acts 1:2,13; cf. Matthew 16:18). In Mark 6:30 the twelve original disciples of Jesus are called apostles, and Matthew 10:1-5 and Revelation 21:14 speak of the twelve apostles. After Judas defected, the remaining eleven Apostles appointed his successor, Matthias (Acts 1:20-26). Since Judas is called a bishop (episkopos) in this passage (1:20), then by logical extension all the Apostles can be considered bishops (albeit of an extraordinary sort).

If the Apostles are bishops, and one of them was replaced by another, after the death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ, then we have an explicit example of apostolic succession in the Bible, taking place before 35 A.D. In like fashion, St. Paul appears to be passing on his office to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:1-6), shortly before his death, around 65 A.D. This succession shows an authoritative equivalency between Apostles and bishops, who are the successors of the Apostles. As a corollary, we are also informed in Scripture that the Church itself is perpetual, infallible, and indefectible (Matthew 16:18, John 14:26, 16:18). Why should the early Church be set up in one form and the later Church in another?

All of this biblical data is harmonious with the ecclesiological views of the Catholic Church. There has been some development over the centuries, but in all essentials, the biblical Church and clergy and the Catholic Church and clergy are one and the same.

No Tradition in Acts? DeMar has not looked very closely, has he, and when he did, it was obviously with “Protestant-colored” glasses . . .

Scripture and Tradition
But what of those verses that discuss the validity of tradition? These were very troubling to Scott and Kimberly Hahn, especially 2 Thessalonians 2:15: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.” Before we look at this verse, consider the Old Testament. Prior to its inscripturation, most people heard God’s Word “in many portions and in many ways” (Hebrews 1:1). Some of this revelation came by way of oral instruction and written communiques. Over time this revelation came together in inscripturated form designated “Scripture” in the New Testament. By the time of Jesus’ birth this body of written revelation was recognized as being authoritative (Matthew 2:5; Luke 2:22-24). No church council was called to place its imprimatur on these Old Testament books. The Old Testament canon – Scripture – was not the product of the Old Testament church. “The church has no authority to control, create, or define the Word of God. Rather, the canon control, creates and defines the church of Christ.”(6)

Once the completed written revelation was in the hands of the people, appeal was always made to this body of material as Scripture. Scripture plus tradition is not a consideration.

But this is simply not true, as I have shown. If Scripture was intended to be the “death blow” of all Tradition, then certainly inspired Scripture itself would not have cited it, as I have clearly shown. Nor is this particular principle (that sola Scriptura would apply after the Bible canon was completed), itself found in the Bible; it is a completely arbitrary tradition of men. Nor is it even possible, since the canon was formulated by Church and Tradition in the first place (so that it is a self-defeating position). Lastly, the Fathers certainly weren’t aware of this allegedly ironclad principle. Why is it that they were so ignorant as to constantly cite Tradition as a piece with Scripture? St. Augustine even explicitly sanctions oral tradition!

In fact, Jesus condemns the Pharisees and scribes because they made the claim that their religious traditions were on an equal par with Scripture (Mark 7:1-13).

Absolutely not. The above passage never states this. It is simply assumed – as so often in the defense of sola Scriptura: endless circular arguments. Jesus is condemning false tradition as opposed to true Jewish/Christian Tradition, precisely as Catholics argue with regard to Jesus’ attitudes toward tradition in general. Jesus says, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition” (Mk 7:8; NRSV; cf. Mt 15:3). But the phrase “commandment of God” is not restricted to the written word of the Bible. That is a gratuitous assumption.

Furthermore, He says that the Pharisees are “making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on” (Mk 7:13; cf. Mt 15:6). “Word of God” is also not restricted to the Bible: that is a very silly (but unfortunately frequent) Protestant assumption. “Commandment” is used in a generic sense of God’s truth (Tradition, if you will) — not necessarily restricted to the OT, in the following verses: Rom 7:8-13 (6 times), 16:26, 2 Pet 3:2, 1 Jn 2:7. “Commandment” (i.e., singular), “word of God,” “gospel,” and “tradition,” are indeed all essentially synonymous and used interchangeably, as the following biblical comparisons (RSV) demonstrate:

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.

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.

These considerations, when applied to the interpretation of Mark 7:1-13, make mincemeat of DeMar’s interpretation, in my opinion. The passage has nothing to do with Scripture vs. Tradition; rather, it is all about True Tradition (including Scripture) vs. False (Pharisaical) traditions of men.

The Roman Catholic answer to this is self-refuting: “Jesus did not condemn all traditions; he condemned only erroneous traditions, whether doctrines or practices, that undercut Christian truths.”(7) Precisely. But how does one determine whether a tradition is an “erroneous tradition”? Sola scriptura!

No!!!; according to both the Bible and the Fathers, it is – in the final analysis – the historical test of “what has been received,” not the Bible Alone. This is easily demonstrable. Since Protestants have – by and large – abandoned apostolic succession, they are thrown back upon their own competing, subjective biblical interpretations in order to resolve doctrinal controversies (which method is clearly an abominable failure).

The Catholic Church maintains that the appeal must be made to the Church whose authority is based on Scripture plus tradition. But this is begging the question. How could anyone ever claim that a tradition is erroneous if the Catholic Church begins with the premise that Scripture and tradition, as determined by the Catholic Church, are authoritative?

It is not circular, because the claim of the Church is always based upon both Scripture and apostolic Tradition, as just explained. If it can be traced historically, it is not simply a “blind faith belief” based on unsubstantiated Catholic authority alone (precisely as is true concerning the very Resurrection of Christ, which is historically-based and grounded in eyewitness testimony, NOT just the word of some church). DeMar – I hate to say – exhibits gross ignorance, both of Church history and of Catholic ecclesiology.

How, then, is Paul using tradition in 2 Thessalonians 2:15? New Testament tradition is the oral teaching of Jesus passed down to the apostles. This is why Paul could write:

1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which you also stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.

In time, these New Testament doctrines — traditions — became inscripturated in the same way Old Testament doctrines became inscripturated. When the Old Testament canon closed, the canon was referred to as Scripture. The same is true of the development of the New Testament canon. After a complete end had been made of the Old Covenant order in A.D. 70, the canon closed. All New Testament books were written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. All that God wanted His church to know about “faith and life” can be found in Scripture, Old and New Testament revelation. The Westminster Confession of Faith states it this way:

All synods and councils, since the Apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both (Ephesians 2:20; Acts 17:11; 1 Corinthians 2:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14) (WCF 31:4).

This entirely begs the question, because DeMar merely assumes what he thinks he is proving, without argument and proof – the following tenet:

“All that God wanted His church to know about “faith and life” can be found in Scripture, Old and New Testament revelation.”

This needs to be proved!, and it seems to me that the idea ought to be in Scripture itself, if indeed it is true. It is no proof at all to bring forth endless citations of Scripture as allegedly “proving” sola Scriptura. That is not inconsistent with the Catholic or patristic view, and I have shown that the Bible also appeals to non-biblical opinions as well. That in itself is not fatal to sola Scriptura (since the biblical writers could cite any work which contained kernels of truth). What it does, do, however, I believe, is mitigate against this notion that nothing outside Scripture could any longer hold any authority, after the canonization of Scripture.

Any “tradition” that the church develops after the close of the canon is non-revelational.

But we agree with that. We hold that public revelation ceased with the Apostles, and merely develops thereafter.

Its authority is not in any way equal to the Bible. All creeds and confessions are subject to change based on appeal to Scripture alone.

Scripture, Tradition, and Church are the three legs of the “Christian stool,” and all of a piece, so we think it is foolish and nonsensical to try to pit them against each other. We contend that such a view is the biblical (and patristic) outlook. I have tried to demonstrate that with dozens of biblical proofs – and ours are relevant to our views, whereas the sola Scriptura “proofs” offered so far are non sequiturs and circular. I have seen no “proof” thus far approaching a relevant one, let alone strong or compelling. And this has always been the case, in my experience. I have more debates on this topic on my website than any other topic.

The denial of sola scriptura is Roman Catholicism’s foundational error.

If that is so, then we are in great shape, as sola Scriptura is perhaps the weakest link in the Protestant chain. DeMar needs to change the above wording a bit to be accurate: “The espousal of sola scriptura is Protestantism’s foundational error.”

If someone wants to contact Dr. DeMar and ask him if he is willing to defend his thesis against my critiques, I would eagerly welcome that. I will even print his replies on my website and let the world judge who has Scripture on their side. In my opinion (with all due respect), Dr. DeMar has made an insubstantial and fallacious attack upon the Catholic Church.

In Christ,

Dave Armstrong

Letter from Gary DeMar: 23 January 1999
Dear Dave,

Thank you for your interest in the Sola Scriptura article. I’m amazed how many people have read and benefited by it. The article was designed to respond to a poorly reasoned book by the Hahns; it was not meant to be a comprehensive statement on Sola Scriptura. Having been a Roman Catholic, I cannot imagine anyone converting. That was the essence of the article. There are enough Protestant apologists out there who are doing a good job in pointing out the errors of RCs. I have too many writing projects on my plate to get bogged down in another debate that was settled for me in 1973.

Gary DeMar

Concluding Comments and Challenges (August 2000)
1. If the above examples are the sort of reasons that caused Gary DeMar to “settle” his own difficulties and to leave Catholicism (I don’t know, but one would suspect as much), they are certainly far more insubstantial and “poorly reasoned” than Scott Hahn’s many biblically oriented reasons for converting to Catholicism.

2. I understand priorities and time commitments, though I am most disappointed that Dr. DeMar does not thus far wish to take up this golden opportunity to defend his thesis, and have his words published in their entirety on a major Catholic website (an audience he would clearly wish to convince). Perhaps, then, one of these other Protestant apologists he cites would like to take a shot? As for me, I am willing to defend any of my published papers against anyone at any time, and fully interact with critiques. And if my reasoning in any individual instance is shown to be faulty, unbiblical, or illogical, I will either retract it or modify it, as the case may be. If it is not shown to be fatally flawed, I retain my present position, as should be expected.

3. Dr. DeMar “cannot imagine anyone converting [to Catholicism].” He is entitled to his opinion, but again, if his reasons for that opinion are the ones above, or as poorly argued, fallacious, and as unsupported from Holy Scripture as the foregoing, then I cannot imagine any fair-minded and biblically oriented person being swayed by them, having seen how a Catholic would reply (and with a great abundance of Scripture at that). I welcome Dr. DeMar or any other Protestant apologist to critique my own conversion story and reasons for my move (in 1990). It is available on my website in several variations.

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