Response to a Challenge of Why I Rejected “Sola Scriptura”

by Steve Ray on September 12, 2018

My e-mail response:

Regarding Sola Scripture:
First, when Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives and before he entered the cloud he did NOT yell back down saying, “Oh by the way, don’t forget to read My Book!“
In fact, Jesus left no book called the New Testament, he never wrote anything down to be published and he never promised there would be a book attached to the Law and Prophets. What did Jesus leave behind when you went to heaven? He left 12 men with one of them carrying the Keys of the Kingdom (Isaiah 22 and Matthew 16). Those 12 men went out to practice and teach what they had learned from Jesus and the special charism the Holy Spirit imparted on them. What they taught and practiced became known as the Apostolic Tradition. Only 400 years later were some of their writings collected into a book of 27 writings called the New Testament.

So, How Did the First Christians Know How to Live — and Act and Be Saved — without the Book (sola scriptura)?

Second, I explain things this way because I’m a simple man. What was the source of Jewish authority? When Moses went up Mount Sinai he came down with three things from God. First, he had the written word of God on stone. Second, he had an oral tradition that was never written down but it was practiced among the Israelites as equally a revelation from God. Third, Moses came down with authority. It says in Exodus 18 that he “took his seat and judged the people.”

This was like a three legged stool. Written word, sacred tradition and authority to teach and judge. In fact, if you read my book Upon This Rock I quote one of the most prominent protestant commentaries that actually says that God gave Joseph in Egypt the infallible ability of interpretation.
 “The miraculous power of God is to be seen in the fact, that God endowed Joseph with the gift of infallible interpretation, and so ordered the circumstances that this gift opened the way for him to occupy that position in which he became the preserver, not of Egypt alone, but of his own family also.”41 
41 C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, The Pentateuch, vol. 1 of Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1978), 352; emphasis added.
 Stephen K. Ray, Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church, Modern Apologetics Library (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 286.
A stool needs at least three legs to stand and if you pull one or two off like the Protestants have done (removing Magisterium and Tradition) you have only the Bible left and the stool falls down. I actually demonstrate this in my movie on the Apostolic Fathers :-). Ended up with a bump on my head!

Since the Church is the new Israel it would be assumed we would have parallel structure authority. And that is the case. It is not Sola Scripture but it is the written word of God, the Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium or teaching office of the Church. Ding, ding ding! Looks a lot like Israel :-)
When they present the idea of Bible Alone they open the door to mass confusion because there is no official teacher and there is no tradition by which to put parameters around true doctrine and practice. Like Luther said, “I am my own Pope and Council!” And thus, chaos.
As history shows, millions of people lay dead in the ditch of our history because they interpreted the Bible on their own in crazy ways leading to their own destruction. In fact, I think Peter tells us that in his second encyclical entitled 2 Peter 3:15-16:  “…and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you,
as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
Anyway, I’ll let others get into all of the deep Greek and Hebrew in the technological debate. I think it’s all really rather simple and that’s the reason I became Catholic.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth A Warynick September 12, 2018 at 12:46 PM

I really wish this web-site had a link for Pinterest! It’s how I file great articles like this!

R.C. September 21, 2018 at 3:04 PM

There is a simple way to sum all this up.

Jesus intended that all Christians, from His Ascension until He returns, be “one” as Jesus and the Father are “one” (John 17).

Jesus never disagrees with His Father about infant baptism, baptismal regeneration, baptism by immersion, the Real Presence, the authority-model for ordination and hierarchy, who may validly consecrate the Eucharist, whether it is possible to lose one’s salvation (and how), or any of the thousands of other topics on which modern Christians dispute doctrine and divide from one another. Consequently, we can assume He intends for us to be “one” in doctrine, that there be “one faith, one Lord, one baptism.” This is the only way we could possibly obey St. Paul’s command to “agree on everything.”

Very well. If we are to agree on everything, then Jesus must provide — yes, He MUST provide — an objective way for all of us, in every place, in every century from the Ascension to the Second Advent, to objectively come to know the doctrines of the Christian religion.

What means did Jesus provide, so we could do this?

How DID He intend us to come to know the content of Christianity?

THAT is the question.

Even if we don’t know the answer right away, we can at least see the SHAPE of the answer. Whatever means/technique Jesus provided would fit certain criteria:
– For it to work to produce unity, it would not require everyone to be master exegetes skilled in ancient languages and nuanced hermeneutics, who all came to identical conclusions.
– For it to work to produce unity, would not rely on all Christians individually using their own skills as a master theologian, to all arrive at identical conclusions.
– For it to work to produce unity, it would not require the Holy Spirit to teach all Christians individually what the truth was, so that they all arrived at identical conclusions.
– Human sin and stubbornness would prevent it working in a particular individual, but mere human fallibility would not make obedience to it a practical impossibility for those willing to obey.
– When obeyed, it would produce unity through that obedience. (There’d be a historical record of it doing exactly this.)

We know the means/technique given by Jesus MUST fulfill all of the above criteria, because in history, we find that people relying merely on guidance from the Holy Spirit, or masterful exegesis and theologizing, do NOT in fact come to identical conclusions. While we can write that off to sinful dishonesty in some persons, we can’t do it for ALL persons and still hold that Jesus’ means/technique can produce unity. (In that case, it’d be a unity of zero persons!) Consequently we MUST hold that unity WAS produced whenever people were willing to obediently follow this means/technique…and since mere exegetical/theological skill has historically NOT produced such unity, we can conclude that hermeneutics is not enough.

Here are some other likely attributes we should expect to see, in Jesus’ divinely-given means/technique for knowing the content of Christianity:
– It would involve things Jesus actually said and did, and who He was;
– It would look First-Century Jewish, because Jesus is a Jew;
– It would look fitting for a Davidic Kingdom, because Jesus is the Son of David;
– We would expect Jesus to declare it, or at least mention it obliquely, or at least assume it, somewhere in the New Testament;
– We would expect the apostles to assume it was in place any time after the Ascension;
– It would be possible for all Christians to use it during the time of the apostles;
– We would have records of it being used in that period;
– It would be possible for all Christians to use it during every century AFTER the death of the last apostle;
– We would have records of it being used during each of THOSE periods;
– It would produce identical conclusions and similar behaviors during all periods of history and amongst differring kinds of peoples;
– It would not be wildly impractical or self-contradictory.

Now, regarding Sola Scriptura, we need only ask: “Does Sola Scriptura fit these criteria?”

It doesn’t. Not even close.

First, it relies on skilled exegesis to know what “the Bible really says” on complex disputed topics, and the theologians employing it don’t come to unified conclusions. We can perhaps dismiss some of them as theological liberals unwilling to be led by the Holy Spirit, but not ALL of them. (If that is the outcome of Jesus’ technique and the Holy Spirit’s guidance, then it clearly doesn’t work.)

Secondly, it isn’t Jewish enough: Where are the elders and judges and tribal patriarchs? Where is the oral tradition? Where are the binding judgments? Where are the councils and the Amarcalin and the Al Bayith and the Kohenim and all that jazz?

It certainly lacks the character of a Davidic Dynasty Kingdom. Again, where are the Al Bayith (or Grand Vizier) and the other stewards (or viziers)? Where is the Gebireh? Where is are the legislative and judicial acts of governance guiding and organizing the people of God?

Sola Scriptura is not mentioned by Jesus. He couldn’t have, inasmuch as the New Testament wasn’t yet written. Nor was it used by Christians during the Apostolic Era: For much of that era, the New Testament wasn’t finished; once finished, not all books were in the hands of all Christians (and many of them couldn’t read!). Nor was it used by Christians during the era prior to the canonization of the New Testament: We see traditions practiced and doctrines firmly held which advocates of Sola Scriptura deny. Either that means that the early Christians all used Sola Scriptura to arrive at conclusions opposite from those of modern Sola Scriptura advocates — in which case it doesn’t produce unity — or else it means the early Christians didn’t use Sola Scriptura to know the content of Christianity. Either way, it shows Sola Scriptura isn’t what Jesus intended.

Finally, Sola Scriptura fails the test of being practical and internally consistent:

For “Sola Scriptura” to be true, it must be in the Bible. But Sola Scriptura is not in the Bible. Consequently we can only believe Sola Scriptura on the basis of an extra-Biblical authority. But Sola Scriptura MEANS there is no extra-Biblical authority. Therefore it is contradictory.

For “Sola Scriptura” to be true, it must be in the Bible. But the Bible is a collection of books put together after the time of their composition. For the Bible to contain all the important doctrines, it would minimally need to declare its own Table of Contents: A list of books that belong in the Bible. (Or, failing that, a way to distinguish canonical books from non-canonical ones.) But the Bible contains no canon-list or principle for distinguishing it. Consequently we can only obtain the canon-list on the basis of an extra-Biblical authority. But Sola Scriptura MEANS there is no extra-Biblical authority. Therefore it is contradictory.

For “Sola Scriptura” to be true, it must hold the Bible inerrant. But the Bible teaches against Sola Scriptura. Therefore either the Bible errs, or Sola Scriptura is false.

For all these reasons, we can definitively say: Sola Scriptura is a 16th-century tradition of men which nullifies the word of God, contradicts itself, and fails to provide believers any way to come to know the content of the Christian religion.

It ought to be abandoned by all believers.

Peter Aiello September 22, 2018 at 12:05 AM

People that went out to practice and preach Christianity also wrote, and some of the writings were compiled into the New Testament in the fourth century. The earliest Christians had preachers, and also gospels and epistles to teach them the basics of Christianity, along with the Old Testament.
Vatican II, in Dei Verbum 21 says: "Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture."
The Catholic Church recognizes the importance of Scripture to the point of being regulated by it and nothing else. This sounds a little bit like Sola Scriptura to me. The Bible is now easily available to almost everyone. Why not make use of it?

STEVE RAY HERE: I am Catholic and do you know anyone who uses the Bible more than I? It does NOT sound anything like sola scripture, as you mention above. Sola Scriptura means the ONLY binding authority and source of revelation. That is not the case. Remember that when Jesus ascended to heaven he did not leave us a book. He left a living Church with an active government made up of 12 men, one of them carrying the keys of the kingdom. The book was not finally collected and canonized for almost 400 years — and that was done by the Holy Spirit THRU the Church which he had established.

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