1 Timothy 3:15 = Infallible Church (vs. Lucas Banzoli)

1 Timothy 3:15 = Infallible Church (vs. Lucas Banzoli) June 3, 2022

Lucas Banzoli is a very active Protestant evangelical apologist in Brazil, who writes quite a bit in opposition to the Catholic Church and Catholic doctrine. He has a Master’s degree in theology, a degree and postgraduate work in history, a license in letters, and is a history teacher, author of 25 books, as well as blogmaster for six blogs. He’s also active on YouTube.

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The words of Lucas Banzoli will be in blue. I used Google Translate to transfer his Portugese text into English.

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This is a reply to Lucas’ article, “A Igreja é a coluna e sustentáculo da verdade!” [The Church is the pillar and support of the truth!] (7-1-15).

1 Timothy 3:15 (RSV). . . the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.

Papists love (pardon my redundancy) to quote a text in Paul’s first epistle to Timothy, when he said that the Church is the “pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). At least ten thousand times I had to read the repeated jargon that “the Church is the pillar of truth, not the Bible.”

I can beat that. At least ten trillion times have I heard the supposed “prooftext” that in fact proves nothing regarding sola Scriptura: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Folks do indeed often repeat what they think are strong arguments. Whether in fact the argument is strong is another question, and it has to be argued through and demonstrated. I’ve done that with 1 Timothy 3:15 and will again today. I thank Lucas and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to strengthen a rock-solid biblical argument about the infallibility of the Church.

The later addition that makes a point of saying that “it is not the Bible” is there only to accentuate the value they place on Scripture. A complete contempt.

Sheer nonsense. I’ve been a Catholic for 31 years and a Catholic apologist almost as long. I’ve never heard any orthodox Catholic ever say that the Bible is not also a support of the truth, or not completely true. Catholics revere Holy Scripture as God’s infallible and uniquely inspired revelation. It’s an infallible pillar of the truth; so is the Church and sacred apostolic tradition. We canonized Holy Scripture, preserved it (painstaking work by thousands of monks, transcribing), translated it for 1500 years, before the Protestant Revolution arose. Protestants don’t have a “monopoly” on the Bible.

The problem here is that whenever Catholics acknowledge infallible authority of anything besides the Bible (to the Church or sacred tradition or apostolic succession or ecumenical councils or the pope), Protestants automatically assume that we are running down the Bible (because this contradicts their false and unbiblical doctrine of sola Scriptura). That doesn’t follow at all, of course.

This comes from their “dichotomous / “either/or” mindset, as if it were a zero-sum game (belief in the authority of the Church must mean less belief in the Bible, etc.). This is kindergarten thinking. The Bible itself gives councils and the Church authority; therefore, Catholics believing in and following the same biblical teachings is pro-Bible, not anti-Bible. But this is the drivel we Catholic apologists must constantly encounter and refute: “A complete contempt.” Blatantly misrepresenting other Christians’ beliefs is a serious sin, and is against the Ten Commandments (bearing false witness).

In response to this argument, we must point out in conjunction with what has been written in the book:

1) Paul was not talking about the Roman Church. The “Roman” addition in the text does not exist. In fact: it exists, but only in the head of those who need to find “Roman” there to make sense of their argument.

Yes and no. He was talking about the Church established by Jesus Christ (with Peter as its head). This Church is historically the same as what later became known as the Catholic Church, headed by the popes (Peter’s successors) in Rome. “Rome” or “Roman” isn’t present in this text, but it’s beside the point. Paul is referring to the one true Church: an actual historical, concrete institution that can be identified (it’s not a mere abstraction or “mystical” only).

2) Paul was not talking about the Church as an institution. In chapter 2 of this book we check out numerous biblical proofs that the real and true concept of ekklesia is not that of a religious institution, much less a Roman one, but refers to Christians themselves, as the Body of Christ.

This is also false, and reflects Lucas’ very “low” and unbiblical ecclesiology. In the Bible, ekklesia refers to both local churches (as in Paul’s epistles and in the first three chapters of Revelation: the “seven churches”). It also refers to the one true institutional, universal, Catholic Church that can be pointed to and identified.  The Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) is a prime example of this institutional authority. A council there decreed certain things regarding what laws Christians are bound to obey. It did so by invoking the infallible protection of the Holy Spirit (“it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you . . “: 15:28).

The instruction was initially sent to “the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cili’cia” (15:23). These are areas not in Israel; therefore, this can’t possibly be merely a local church in play. It’s the universal Church: a council of elders and apostles including St. Peter and St. Paul, and James, the bishop of Jerusalem. Paul himself delivered its decrees to many more cities in Asia Minor (Turkey): see Acts 16:1-8.  This is one unified Church and an exercise of authority “from the top” which applied to all Christians henceforth. Christian men have not been required to be circumcised as an “entrance rite” into Christianity ever since that decision.

Other instances of “Church” as the universal, institutional Church (not merely the local congregation):

Matthew 16:18 . . . on this rock I will build my church . . .

Acts 5:11 And great fear came upon the whole , and upon all who heard of these things.

Acts 9:31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Sama’ria had peace and was built up . . .

Acts 20:28  . . . the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son

1 Corinthians 10:32 . . . the church of God

1 Corinthians 11:32 . . . the church of God . . .

1 Corinthians 12:28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.

1 Corinthians 15:9 . . . I persecuted the church of God. (cf. Gal 1:13; Phil 3:6)

Ephesians 1:22 and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, (cf. 3:10, 21; 5:23-25, 27, 29, 32)

Colossians 1:18 He is the head of the body, the church . . .

Colossians 1:24 . . . for the sake of his body, that is, the church,

3) Column is a completely different thing from foundation. The papist who argues that the truth is subject to the Church shows that he understands nothing of the meaning of “Church” and still less of “pillar.” The column is not a foundation, but is built on the foundation! Here Paul used two Greek words, one called hedraioma, which means: “support, support, support” [De acordo com a Concordância de Strong, 1477]. The other was stulos, which means “pillar or column” [De acordo com a Concordância de Strong, 4769]. As we can see, none of them has the sense of “foundation” (as some adulterated Catholic translations render it), but of something that is on the foundation.

However these two words are particularly defined, it remains true that they support the truth, which is on “top” of them (“pillar and bulwark of the truth” in RSV). I agree about the meaning of stulos (“pillar”). But hedraióma (Strong’s word #1477, as Lucas cited) is a stronger term. Strong defines it as “a foundation, stay, support” (Lucas conveniently omitted the definition of “foundation”). HELPS Word-studies on the same web page for hedraióma noted: Cognate: 1477 hedraíōma – the base, which ultimately supports the foundation itself (used only in 1 Tim 3:15). See also 1476 (hedraíos). [my bolding and italics].

But Lucas falsely claimed that “none of them has the sense of “foundation” (as some adulterated Catholic translations render it)”. I regret to inform him (but happy to inform readers) that this is a glaring falsehood, and it is proven not just by Catholic translations (in English), but by (mostly) Protestant Bibles, which translate hedraíōma as follows (Catholic Bibles in green) — including 24 of them which have foundation or foundation-stone:

foundation (NIV, NLT, Amplified, CSB, Holman, CEV, ISV, LSV, NAB, Young’s Literal, Berean Study, Lamsa, EHV, EXB, GW, Phillips, MEV, NOG, NTE, TLV, Goodspeed, Knox, Williams)

foundation-stone (Weymouth)

buttress (ESV, Mounce, Barclay)

ground (KJV, NKJV, ASV, Douay-Rheims, WEB, AKJV, ERV, Webster, Geneva, Bishop’s Bible, Coverdale, Tyndale, BRG, Good News, NMB, RGT)

bulwark (NET, NRSV, NCB, RSV, NEB, REB, Moffatt, Kleist & Lilly)

base (Darby, Smith’s Literal, Literal Emphasis, JUB)

[see web pages with most of these translations written out: one / two]

So much for Lucas’ groundless argument (no pun intended) . . .

Therefore, the meaning of the text is not that the truth is subject or dependent on the Church, but the opposite. As the pillar is dependent on the foundation, the Church is dependent on the truth. The foundation (truth) comes first, and the pillar (Church) comes later. The Church, therefore, has the role of announcing this truth, not manipulating that truth, as if whatever the Church said was true for the sole reason that the Church said it.

The text says the exact opposite of what Lucas argues, as shown. Far from the Church being “dependent on the truth”, The Bible says it is the foundation or ground or base of the truth: exactly what we Catholics are saying. It doesn’t follow that the Bible is not that (either/or reasoning). But the Church is, along with or alongside the Bible: precisely as in the Catholic rule of faith. This doesn’t make the Church inspired; only infallible. And that is quite enough to destroy sola Scriptura as a supposed biblical principle and rule of faith.

4) To clarify the issue, let us quote the text where Paul uses the same Greek word stulos (column) when saying:

“Recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James, Peter and John, regarded as pillars [stulos], stretched out their right hands to me and Barnabas as a sign of fellowship” (Galatians 2:9)

James, Peter and John were obviously not “above the truth,” much less the Church as a whole. This also does not mean that the Church would not exist without them. They were just “columns” that stood out from the rest. If Peter had been above the truth because he was a pillar, he could not have been rebuked by Paul (Gal.2:11-14), or denied Jesus (Jn.18:27). Being a column does not guarantee always preaching the truth, much less being above the truth.

The apostles, as well as Christians today (Church), had the function of preaching this truth, as they are pillars of it. If Christians do not preach the truth, the world will not hear it, and consequently will not believe the gospel. This is why, and in this sense, the Church is the pillar of truth, for she has the obligation to proclaim the truth of the Scriptures and keep the truth as it is.

The heart of the Catholic argument is not the word stulos, but the word hedraíōma, as shown. First Lucas defines it wrongly, and then ignores it as if it isn’t there. But the meaning is crystal-clear; couldn’t be more clear than it is!

[skipping over his section stating that the Bible is truth, which no one denies . . . also skipping over his one-sided, slanted presentation of the biblical data on tradition. The topic is 1 Timothy 3:15 and what it means]

. . . the Church, which is not a “foundation” of the truth, but a pillar, . . . The Bible is not really the pillar of truth, because it is much more than a pillar. It is not like a pillar (which depends on something), but the foundation, the truth itself.

The Church also is the foundation (or ground or base or bulwark) of “the truth”: as shown above. Lucas is foolishly denying what ought to be right in front of his face. I know it’s difficult to have one’s cherished (but false) belief crushed. But we all have to be strong enough to endure correction from the Bible. We can’t fight against it. That won’t do us any good at all.

Readers have now seen the utter weakness and blatantly Bible-opposing nature of Lucas’ argument. Now I will make my own concluding statement, to nail down the case beyond all argument. Here is the related portion of my book, 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura (2012, pp. 104-107, #82):

Pillars and foundations support things and prevent them from collapsing. To be a “bulwark” of the truth, means to be a “safety net” against truth turning into falsity. If the Church could err, it could not be what Scripture says it is. God’s truth would be the house built on a foundation of sand in Jesus’ parable. For this passage of Scripture to be true, the Church could not err — it must be infallible. A similar passage may cast further light on 1 Timothy 3:15:

Ephesians 2:19-21 . . . you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, [20] built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, [21] in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;

1 Timothy 3:15 defines “household of God” as “the church of the living God.” Therefore, we know that Ephesians 2:19-21 is also referring to the Church, even though that word is not present. Here the Church’s own “foundation” is “the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” The foundation of the Church itself is Jesus and apostles and prophets.

Prophets spoke “in the name of the Lord” (1 Chron 21:19; 2 Chron 33:18; Jer 26:9), and commonly introduced their utterances with “thus says the Lord” (Is 10:24; Jer 4:3; 26:4; Ezek 13:8; Amos 3:11-12; and many more). They spoke the “word of the Lord” (Is 1:10; 38:4; Jer 1:2; 13:3, 8; 14:1; Ezek 13:1-2; Hos 1:1; Joel 1:1; Jon 1:1; Mic 1:1, et cetera). These communications cannot contain any untruths insofar as they truly originate from God, with the prophet serving as a spokesman or intermediary of God (Jer 2:2; 26:8; Ezek 11:5; Zech 1:6; and many more). Likewise, apostles proclaimed truth unmixed with error (1 Cor 2:7-13; 1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11-14; 2 Pet 1:12-21).

Does this foundation have any faults or cracks? Since Jesus is the cornerstone, he can hardly be a faulty foundation. Neither can the apostles or prophets err when teaching the inspired gospel message or proclaiming God’s word. In the way that apostles and prophets are infallible, so is the Church set up by our Lord Jesus Christ. We ourselves (all Christians) are incorporated into the Church (following the metaphor), on top of the foundation.

1 Peter 2:4-9 Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; [5] and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. [6] For it stands in scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.” [7] To you therefore who believe, he is precious, but for those who do not believe, “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner,” [8] and “A stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall”; for they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. [9] But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (cf. Isa 28:16)

Jesus is without fault or untruth, and he is the cornerstone of the Church. The Church is also more than once even identified with Jesus himself, by being called his “Body” (Acts 9:5 cf. with 22:4 and 26:11; 1 Cor 12:27; Eph 1:22-23; 4:12; 5:23, 30; Col 1:24). That the Church is so intimately connected with Jesus, who is infallible, is itself a strong argument that the Church is also infallible and without error.

Therefore, the Church is built on the foundation of Jesus (perfect in all knowledge), and the prophets and apostles (who spoke infallible truth, often recorded in inspired, infallible Scripture). Moreover, it is the very “Body of Christ.” It stands to reason that the Church herself is infallible, by the same token. In the Bible, nowhere is truth presented as anything less than pure truth, unmixed with error. That was certainly how Paul conceived his own “tradition” that he received and passed down.

Knowing what truth is, how can its own foundation or pillar be something less than total truth (since truth itself contains no falsehoods, untruths, lies, or errors)? It cannot. It is impossible. It is a straightforward matter of logic and plain observation. A stream cannot rise above its source. What is built upon a foundation cannot be greater than the foundation. If it were, the whole structure would collapse.

If an elephant stood on the shoulders of a man as its foundation, that foundation would collapse. The base of a skyscraper has to hold the weight above it. The foundations of a suspension bridge over a river have to be strong enough to support that bridge.

Therefore, we must conclude that if the Church is the foundation of truth, the Church must be infallible, since truth is infallible, and the foundation cannot be lesser than that which is built upon it. And since there is another infallible authority apart from Scripture, sola scriptura must be false.

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Photo credit: Chris Brignola cjbrignola (6-6-15) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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Summary: Brazilian Protestant apologist Lucas Banzoli presents a very weak argument against the plain meaning of 1 Timothy 3:15 (which is that the Church is infallible).

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