Reply to Gavin Ortlund’s 6-Minute Sola Scriptura Defense

Reply to Gavin Ortlund’s 6-Minute Sola Scriptura Defense January 26, 2024

Including the Biblical Case for Prophets as Inspired and Infallible Authorities Besides Holy Scripture

Gavin Ortlund is a Reformed Baptist author, speaker, pastor, and apologist for the Christian faith. He has a Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary in historical theology, and an M.Div from Covenant Theological Seminary. Gavin is the author of seven books as well as numerous academic and popular articles. For a list of publications, see his CV. He runs the YouTube channel Truth Unites, which seeks to provide an “irenic” voice on theology, apologetics, and the Christian life. See also his website, Truth Unites and his blog. His words will be in blue. I use RSV for Bible passages.

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I’m responding to Gavin’s video, Sola Scriptura Defended in 6 Minutes” (1-17-24).

Sola Scriptura means that Scripture is the Church’s only infallible rule. It doesn’t mean that Scripture is the only authority.

This is the standard Protestant definition and one that many Catholics don’t understand. Even some Catholic apologists don’t; for example, John Martignoni. In his case, I myself (as the editor of many of these particular tracts) tried to correct him by noting that the definition is as Gavin states here, but to no avail. In his tract, “The Bible Alone?” (St. Paul Street Evangelization), John wrote about sola Scriptura:  “Many Christians believe that the Bible, and the Bible alone, is the sole authority, or the sole rule of faith, that one needs in order to know what is and is not authentic Christian teaching and practice. . . . nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Bible should be used by Christians as the sole authority . . .” He never mentions the words infallible or infallibility, which are an essential part of the actual definition, as Protestants understand it to be.

Sola Scriptura simply means that popes, councils, and other post-apostolic organs of the church are fallible.

I submit that sola Scriptura is not in the Bible, and is not an accurate statement of what the Bible teaches. It’s a Protestant “tradition of men” (Mk 7:8). Therefore, by Gavin’s and Protestantism’s own criteria, it itself is fallible. If that’s the case, then anyone can dissent against it and disbelieve it. The Bible teaches the infallibility of the Church (1 Tim 3:15; see my detailed argument about that) and of the Jerusalem council, in which the decree made was described as being verified by the Holy Spirit Himself: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28). That is virtual inspiration; it is at the very least certainly infallible, since God agreed with it. Right off the bat, then, sola Scriptura is ruled out as a rule of faith by the Bible itself. It’s not only shown to be fallible, but contrary to inspired Scripture. Moreover, logically speaking, it’s self-defeating and viciously circular.

Gavin then argues that Scripture is “ontologically unique” because it is the “inspired Word of God.” The Bible is certainly unique, and Catholics wholeheartedly agree. But sola Scriptura doesn’t inexorably follow from this fact alone, because, as I just demonstrated, this same Bible teaches the infallibility of Church and of the one Church council that we have recorded in the Bible: in Jerusalem. Therefore, the Bible is not the only infallible authority according to the Bible. It only is according to extrabiblical — and therefore fallible and arbitrary — Protestant tradition

Prophets in the Old Testament are another example of infallible authorities. They were not simply “walking Bibles.” They said many things that were not recorded in the Bible, but were still from God, and as such, effectively inspired. So, for example, the prophet Samuel told Saul that he would “make known” to him “the word of God” (1 Sam 9:27). It was written that “the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God” (1 Kgs 12:22). “The Word of the LORD” appears 243 times in the Protestant Old Testament (RSV); mostly coming through men. For example:

Genesis 15:1 . . . the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision . . .

Numbers 3:16 So Moses numbered them according to the word of the LORD, as he was commanded.

1 Samuel 3:21 . . . the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD.

2 Samuel 7:4 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan,

2 Samuel 24:11 . . .  the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer . . .

1 Kings 6:11 Now the word of the LORD came to Solomon,

1 Kings 14:18 . . . the word of the LORD, which he spoke by his servant Ahijah the prophet.

1 Kings 18:1 . . . the word of the LORD came to Elijah, . . .

2 Kings 20:19 Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good.” . . .

2 Chronicles 36:21 to fulfil the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah . . .

Etc., etc. . . .

The prophet Ezekiel wrote down the phrase, “the word of the LORD came to me” 49 times.

Nor is this only in the Old Testament. Prophets still exist in the New Testament, too, such as the “prophetess” Anna (Lk 2:36). St. Luke again wrote: “Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world; and this took place in the days of Claudius” (Acts 11:27-28; cf. 21:10-11, where he predicts Paul’s captivity, prefacing his words with “Thus says the Holy Spirit, . . .”). Luke almost casually mentions the fact that “in the church at Antioch there were prophets . . ” (Acts 13:1) and that “Judas and Silas . . . were themselves prophets” (Acts 15:32).

St. Paul includes “prophets” —  whom “God has appointed in the church” — as one of the Church offices (1 Cor 12:28-29; 14:29, 32, 37; Eph 4:11), and refers to “prophesy[ing]” (1 Cor 14:1, 3-5, 24, 31, 39) and “prophecy” (1 Cor 14:6, 22). Paul even wrote that “the mystery of Christ, . . . has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph 3:4-5) and noted the “prophetic utterances” that accompanied the ordination of Timothy (1 Tim 1:18; 4:14). Philip the evangelist “had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied” (Acts 21:8-9).

Therefore, there are many examples of infallible and virtually inspired revelation in both Testaments that are distinct from Holy Scripture itself. Whatever of  it was recorded, would be part of Scripture, but of course there was a lot that wasn’t recorded. It still had the same ontological essence nonetheless (just as Jesus’ hundreds of thousands of words to His family or disciples that are unrecorded, remained inspired and infallible). And all of this disproves sola Scriptura, as classically formulated, because it claims that only Scripture is infallible (let alone inspired). The “word of the LORD” given to a prophet is just as “God-breathed” (the literal meaning of “inspiration”) as Scripture, because it comes straight from God, as Scripture does.

It sure takes a lot more than six minutes to go through the literally scores of biblical arguments against sola Scriptura. Refuting falsehood always takes a lot more words than the assertion of it does. But I’m trying to be as brief as I can be.

Ironically, Gavin cites 2 Peter 1:21 as evidence of the unique inspiration of Scripture. Yet this very passage is about prophets (!): “because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” I’ve just shown how prophets (including prophets after Pentecost) are inspired, too, on the same basis, and that the first Christian council was inspired, since the Holy Spirit agreed with it (Acts 15:28). The first pope, Peter, even made an infallible declaration in the council (Acts 15:7-11) that was crucial in its determination.

This in turn was largely based on a “vision” (Acts 10:17) that God gave to Peter (Acts 10:11-16), while he was in a “trance” (Acts 10:10). Peter was at first “perplexed” by it (10:17), but then God showed him the meaning by sending to him the Gentile centurion, Cornelius (Acts 10:25 ff.), to whom He had communicated by an angel (10:22, 30-32). The larger point is that so much of this had nothing directly to do with Scripture at all. Yet it was infallible (and arguably inspired as well).

So what Gavin believes to be a prooftext for sola Scriptura actually blatantly contradicts it, at least in part. Peter also mentions “no prophecy of scripture” in 1:20. But the “prophetic word” (1:19) and “prophecy” (1:21) are categories that clearly go beyond Scripture, as the Bible itself testifies.

Scripture is divine speech, or the words of God.

Absolutely. But this “proves too much” since the same thing occurs in God’s communication to prophets or to others through visions and direct encounters. In other words, it goes far beyond only Holy Scripture. Moreover, when Jesus was talking to His disciples about future persecution, He said, “do not be anxious how or what you are to answer or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Lk 12:11-12). Mark in his parallel passage puts it even more strongly: “it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mk 13:11). Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist “was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied” (Lk 1:67). Simeon also had a close relationship with the Holy Spirit (Lk 2:25-26).

Now, if the Holy Spirit can talk to Jesus’ disciples in that way (and by extension possibly to any follower of Christ), or literally talk through them, is that, too, “divine speech”? Is it “the words of God”? Since the Holy Spirit is God, the answer must be yes. But again, that’s not Scripture. Paul also refers to two spiritual gifts that seem to involve direct communication from God to human beings: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit” (1 Cor 12:7-8). Here again God the Holy Spirit is communicating to persons. Is that “inspired”? Is it “divine speech” and “the words of God”? It seems to me that all words that authentically come from God must be so.

So Scripture — though amazing and extraordinary and the greatest revelation, as all Christians agree it is — is not as unique as Gavin makes out. It shares some characteristics — inspiration and revelation — with non-biblical things like prophecy and words of knowledge and wisdom.

I’ve only gotten through two minutes of the video!

Gavin cites Romans 3:2 as a self-description of Scripture in the Bible: “the oracles of God.” Once again, prophecies and visions and other direct communications between God and man also are that. So Romans 3:2 can’t and doesn’t prove sola Scriptura. This is how it always goes when Protestants try to prove it from Scripture. It’s always doomed to failure. Catholics always have a superior explanation of all of the factors brought to the table, considered together in a harmonious whole.

This explains why Scripture is infallible, or as Jesus puts it, it cannot be broken” [Jn 10:35].

Of course Gavin is contending that only Scripture can have that characteristic. But in fact, so can these other things I have detailed. When the apostles and elders at the Jerusalem Council stated that “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” that was equally as infallible. When Paul in the Bible states about the Church, that it’s “the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), that is clearly infallible as well. When Agabus in the NT prophesied that a famine would come, and it did, that was infallible before it was recorded in the Bible, and it was verified by its coming to pass. It was no different from the state of affairs in the Old Testament:

Deuteronomy 8:20-22 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ [21] And if you say in your heart, `How may we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ — [22] when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him.

If the prophet’s prediction was proven to be wrong in the old covenant, he was killed. He had better be infallible, then. His life depended upon it.

God is infallible, and Scripture is God’s speech.

And several other things besides Scripture also entail God speaking, as shown. Gavin could have figured this out. He’s a very sharp guy. But he doesn’t because he is overly biased by this false tradition and erroneous premise of sola Scriptura. Protestants repeat it ad nauseam without properly scrutinizing it by that same Scripture.

As Scripture is unique in its nature, so it is correspondingly unique in its authority.

This is untrue. I have already shown several instances of infallible extrabiblical authority. And I relentlessly used the Bible itself to do this, just as I did in my book, 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura (Catholic Answers Press: May 2012).

Gavin says we must test non-biblical teachings by the Bible. Sure; I do that every day. I’m doing it right now. That’s not the same thing as sola Scriptura. The early Christians didn’t simply use a biblical prooftext to solve every problem that came up. They called a council (Acts 15) and worked through it. And then the council, led by the pope and the Holy Spirit, made an authoritative pronouncement.

About this, Luke recorded that Paul and Timothy “went on their way through the cities” and “delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem” (Acts 16:4). These cities were in Asia Minor (Turkey): many hundreds of miles away. So we see that it was not simply local jurisdiction in play, but a seemingly universal decree for all Christians everywhere. That’s infallible conciliar and ecclesial authority, folks. There is no way out of it. And this — among many many other things — demolishes sola Scriptura.

God’s speech has greater authority than other speech.

Exactly! I totally agree. But I see many incidences of God’s speech outside of the Bible alone. Gavin seems to be blind to those; not even aware that he is virtually self-refuting as he goes along making his presentation.

In the New Testament there is not even a hint of any post-apostolic infallible entities in the Church,

Untrue. The Jerusalem Council was infallible, since the Holy Spirit led it. The entire Church was and is, according to Paul (1 Tim 3:15). Agabus’ prophecy about the famine was infallible. Utterances of other prophets, insofar as God gave them a word (which He does by the definition of a prophet), were infallible. Peter’s vision was infallible (so was Paul’s when he was taken up to heaven). Even the Jewish high priest Caiaphas, who persecuted Jesus, uttered a true and infallible prophecy, according to St. John:

John 11:49-52 But one of them, Ca’iaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all; [50] you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” [51] He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, [52] and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

Etc., etc. How are any of those things not infallible? That’s plenty of hints that Gavin claim don’t exist at all.

. . . despite the fact that we have so much detailed information about the offices and nature of the Church.

While he was stating this, Ephesians 4:11-13 and 1 Corinthians 12:28, both of which included “prophets” as one such office of the Church, flashed onto the screen. So again he was refuting himself and didn’t even know that he was doing so. Then he claims that the early Church wasn’t aware of any non-biblical infallible authority, and cites (who else?) St. Augustine praising Scripture, as if he advocated sola Scriptura. He did not at all, as I have proven many times, including in debate with Gavin himself (my only reply to his material so far — some ten times — that he actually responded to):

Augustine & Sola Scriptura (vs. Gavin Ortlund) (+ Part Two) [4-28-22]

Early Development of the Papacy: Random Reflections (includes St. Augustine’s views) [2-26-02]

St. Augustine (d. 430) vs. Sola Scriptura as the Rule of Faith [8-1-03]

Bible and Tradition Issues: Reply to a “Bible Christian” Inquirer (Particularly Regarding St. Augustine’s Position) [3-1-07]

Reply to a “Reformation Day” Lutheran Sermon [Vs. Nathan Rinne] (Including St. Augustine’s View on the Rule of Faith & the Perspicuity of Scripture; Luther & Lutherans’ Belief in Falling Away) [10-31-23]

It’s only much later in Church history that such an idea develops, and when it does come in, it frankly doesn’t have a good track record.

This is massively, absurdly untrue. It couldn’t be further from the truth. I have studied the Church fathers’ view with regard to this matter of the rule of faith more than anything else I have researched in terms of patrology. Examine for yourself, what they believed (I have saved you many hundreds of hours of research):

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Church Fathers and Sola Scriptura [originally July 2003; somewhat modified condensation: 4-5-17]
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Debate: Church Fathers & Sola Scriptura (vs. Jason Engwer) [8-1-03]
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Chrysostom & Irenaeus: Sola Scripturists? (vs. David T. King) [4-20-07]
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Papias (c. 60-c. 130) & the Rule of Faith (vs. Jason Engwer) [1-18-10]
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Gregory the Great vs. Sola Scriptura as the Rule of Faith [3-1-21]

Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) vs. Sola Scriptura as the Rule of Faith [3-1-21]

Rufinus (d. 411) vs. Sola Scriptura as the Rule of Faith [3-2-21]

John Cassian (d. 435) vs. Sola Scriptura [3-3-21]

Origen & the Rule of Faith (vs. “Turretinfan”) [12-2-21]

St. Ambrose (c. 340-397) vs. Sola Scriptura [12-18-21]

Papias (c. 60-c. 130) vs. Sola Scriptura [12-19-21]

Clement of Rome (d. 99) vs. Sola Scriptura [12-20-21]

Ignatius of Antioch (d. c. 117) vs. Sola Scriptura [12-21-21]

Polycarp (69-155) vs. Sola Scriptura [12-21-21]

Tertullian (c. 155-c. 220) vs. Sola Scriptura [12-23-21]

Cyprian (c. 210-258) vs. Sola Scriptura [12-23-21]

Church Fathers vs. Sola Scriptura (Compendium) [12-26-21]

Banzoli Sez Origen & Tertullian are Sola Scripturists [5-31-22]

Justin Martyr & Sola Scriptura (vs. Lucas Banzoli) [6-1-22]

A Lot of Patristic Problems with Sola Scriptura [Facebook, 8-17-22]

Self-Interpreting Bible & Protestant Chaos (vs. Turretin): Including Documentation that St. Basil the Great — Contrary to Turretin’s Claim — Did Not Believe in Sola Scriptura [8-29-22]

Did Athanasius Accept Sola Scriptura? (vs. Bruno Lima) [10-14-22]

St. Athanasius Was Catholic — He Knew Sola Scriptura Was False [National Catholic Register, 10-20-22]

St. Ignatius, Bishops, & the Rule of Faith (vs. T.F. Kauffman) [7-14-23]

“Catholic Verses” #3: Tradition, Pt. 1 (Including the Church Fathers’ Opinion Regarding Authoritative Apostolic Oral Tradition) [10-26-23]

St. Jerome, Papacy, & Succession (Vs. Gavin Ortlund) [1-20-24]

Ignatius Of Antioch On Monarchical Bishops [1-25-24]

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Photo credit: geralt (5-2-17) [Pixabay / Pixabay Content License]

Summary: Reformed Baptist Gavin Ortlund makes his six-minute case for sola Scriptura as the rule of faith. I absolutely demolish it, with relentless, numerous biblical arguments.

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