Christian Answers to Two Roman Catholic Questions on "Catholic Answers"

The show that calls itself “Catholic Answers,” recently featured a Missouri Synod Lutheran caller as highlighted on a recent Dividing Line.  In response to the caller, the hosts began asking him some questions.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you get these same questions from some of your Roman Catholic friends and acquaintances, particularly those who listen to “Catholic Answers.”

Question 1: Where is Sola Scriptura in the Bible?
Short Answer: John 20:31 says, “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” And many other verses.
Brief Explanation: John’s statement implies that a person could pick up John’s gospel, read it, believe it, and receive eternal life in that way.  Moreover, John’s statement at least hints at the fact that the other gospels have a similar purpose – they are written for us to read, believe, and have eternal life.
Possible Objection: But where is the only in that text?
Response: The sola or only of “Sola Scriptura” is simply a negative claim – in other words, it’s saying that Scripture is unique – there’s nothing else like Scripture. If you want some verses that emphasize the unique character of Scripture, those also exist.
For example, Romans 3:4 says “God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, “That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.’ (Psalm 51:4)”  This emphasizes the crucial distinction between God’s word and mens’ words.
Another example is this: 

Deuteronomy 13:1-5If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, “Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them;” thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the Lord thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.

The point to take away from that passage is that even if someone has authority that appears to be attested by working wonders, the person’s message should be judged by the Scriptures (in this case, by the Pentateuch). 
Paul similarly warns the Galatians: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8)  Someone may object that “preached” could refer to the gospel Paul delivered orally.  Nevertheless, we have that gospel in written form today.
Likewise, the Bereans are commended for subjecting the apostles’ own preaching to a comparison with the Scriptures: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
Question 2: Where is “Scripture interprets Scripture” in the Bible?
Short answer: 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” If that is true, then it follows that all Scripture has one divine author even if it has many human authors.
Longer answer: Indeed, we have examples of Scripture interpreting itself explicitly, such as the quotation from John 20:31, above, which provides a purpose for the book of John, and more broadly for Scripture. Other examples include the citation of Old Testament passages in the New Testament, together with explanations of what they meant or how they were fulfilled in Christ.  Indeed, sometimes the New Testament includes Jesus’ own explanation of his parables.  Numerous other examples could be provided.
Rejoinder: But even if we had no answer, can the matter seriously be doubted?  Does the person asking the question really think that the Bible is either incomprehensible or should not be understood by taking one part in relation to another?  
Even the Roman Catholic “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” puts it this somewhat poetic (and consequently imprecise) way (CCC 102): 

Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely: You recall that one and the same Word of God extends throughout Scripture, that it is one and the same Utterance that resounds in the mouths of all the sacred writers, since he who was in the beginning God with God has no need of separate syllables; for he is not subject to time.

We understand that Rome wishes to deny Christians the ability to judge her doctrines by Scripture, but surely it cannot be denied that Scripture does interpret Scripture.  How else would one read it?  As just isolated statements each possibly meaning anything at all?  The very notion seems bizarre.


15 Responses to “Christian Answers to Two Roman Catholic Questions on "Catholic Answers"”

  1. jp Says:

    So in other words, sola john. Btw when you say that verse is teaching sola scriptura are you meaning that it was john's intent to teach us sola scriptura?

  2. Andrew McCallum Says:

    There are a number of Scriptures that speak to the final and conclusive nature of Scripture. But rather than dealing with what God says explicitly about Scripture (although definitely an important topic), when answering Roman Catholics my tact has been to ask them where in the corpus of the ECF's do we have the theologians of the Church arguing for an infallible authority which rises to the level of the authority of Scripture. That is, did the ECF's teach that there was any tradition which, along with Scripture, ought to be considered as infallible and thus have equal weight as Scripture? If the answer is “no” then we are left with the only logical conclusion that Scripture alone is the only infallible source of revelation that God has granted to His Church. If this is the case then sola scriptura must be true.

    I'm not arguing for sola scriptura here, only pointing out a different way to approach the problem.

  3. Robert Armistead Says:

    JP, As a Christian, baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, I glean that from Scripture.

    The authorial intent, the original meaning of the words, are enough for me to understand, to be convicted, and to turn from my sins, to Believe in the Son of God.

    Now for any concerned about boundaries, Yes, our doctrine should be guided by the Church. That doctrine that follows, should be measured by Scripture, as noted by Paul in Galatians 1:8, or Deut. 13.

    Good Jews were in the Northern Kingdom of Judah and the Southern Kingdom of Israel. They both counted themselves as children of Abraham. Much the same way that orthodox denominations count themselves in the Universal church (catholic), grafted into the Vine.


  4. John Sellman Says:

    Although not a direct answer to question #2, I recall that Augustine does very clearly teach the principle of “Scripture interpreting scripture” in his book, “Christian Doctrine”.

  5. David Brainerd Says:

    But your answer from John 20:31 would imply sola scriptura only in the sense that sola scriptura is legitimate in the absence of the more frillies, not that it is necessary to stick with it alone.

  6. David Brainerd Says:

    Again, perhaps you can argue from 2 Timothy 3:16 that scripture interprets scripture, but that is still not the same as only scripture may interpret scripture.

  7. David Brainerd Says:

    “If the answer is “no” then we are left with the only logical conclusion
    that Scripture alone is the only infallible source of revelation that
    God has granted to His Church.”

    The answer can't be “no” because you can't know what even is scripture without a tradition external to scripture. Why, for instance, do Protestants reject the Apocrypha? Protestant tradition says to. Why do they keep the other book of the Old Testament that the Jews also keep? Jewish tradition says too. Why didn't they throw James and Hebrews out since they contradict Protestant doctrine? Somehow Catholic tradition prevailed over Martin Luther's opinion even in Protestant circles. Why do they have a Bible at all? Tradition says to.

  8. Andrew McCallum Says:

    John Sellman,

    Agreed. Here's just one of the passages from On Christian Doctrine where Augustine speaks about how he approaches Scripture:

    “…among the things that are plainly laid down in Scripture are to be found all matters that concern faith and the manner of life,—to wit, hope and love, of which I have spoken in the previous book. After this, when we have made ourselves to a certain extent familiar with the language of Scripture, we may proceed to open up and investigate the obscure passages, and in doing so draw examples from the plainer expressions to throw light upon the more obscure, and use the evidence of passages about which there is no doubt to remove all hesitation in regard to the doubtful passages.”

  9. Andrew McCallum Says:


    The Protestants rejected the Apocrypha for the same reason that Athanasius and Jerome and many other scholars throughout the Middle Ages did. As the Catholic Encyclopedia point out on the topic, there was no consensus on the matter of whether the Apocrypha was to be considered canonical and even Aquinas was confused on the matter. The topic was still an open matter up until Trent and even as brilliant a scholar as Cajetan in the 16th century takes Jerome's position and rejects the Apocrypha as canonical. So it's hardly just about Protestant traditions.

    Protestants agree with Catholics that God worked through his Church to provide an infallible canon. Just as much as God worked though fallible men to produce infallible books, so God worked through fallible collections of men (the Church) to produce an infallible Scripture. The difference between Catholics and Protestants is not over whether the Church was used to produced something infallible, but rather where the locus of that infallibility lay. For Catholics there is a charism of infallibility granted to the Church, for the Protestants infallibility lies solely with God who worked through a fallible Church. If you want to call the writing and preserving of the Bible as “Tradition” that's fine, but note that it's tradition which finds it's genesis in the explicit promises of God.

    My point was that if we are to consider the question as to whether there were times and places in which the Church spoke infallibly outside of Scripture, the debate ought to focus at least partially on what the ECF's said about the matter. Specifically the question I raise is whether there is any argument for any man-made traditions being accorded with an infallible status in the ECF corpus. If the answer is no, then we are left with Scripture as the only infallible rule for the Church, at least for the ECF's that we might query on the matter.

    David, do you understand, as I wrote previously, that I was not trying to argue for sola scriptura in my reply you responded to, but rather to suggest a methodology for addressing the question?

  10. jp Says:

    JP, As a Christian, baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, I glean that from Scripture.
    If it wasn't John's intent to teach Sola Scriptura, then the only other way you can potentially arrive at it is by saying that John's words carry a double meaning and it is this secondary meaning, i.e., unknown to John at the time, that you “glean”. Is this the “proper” practice for one adhering to sola scriptura, to arrive at their beliefs?

    John certainly could not have been teaching Sola Scriptura by any definition.

  11. jp Says:

    Response: The sola or only of “Sola Scriptura” is simply a negative claim – in other words, it's saying that Scripture is unique – there's nothing else like Scripture. If you want some verses that emphasize the unique character of Scripture, those also exist.
    How does scripture having this “unique character” contribute to a person's salvation in a way that the message, if it were only in oral from, could not?

  12. jp Says:

    Robert:, Galatians 1:8
    Technically that verse would have to be taken as Paul telling the Galatians to measure doctrine by his oral tradition since what was “preached” to them was done so by mouth before it was written down :)

  13. PeaceByJesus Says:

    1. It is abundantly evidenced that Scripture was held as assured Word of God and transcendent standard for obedience and testing and establishing truth claims. Even when the canon was still open (which some argue Trent did not close)/

    2. Scripture provides for recognizing and establishing both men and writings as being of God, without an infallible magisterium, and thus it provides for a canon.

    3. While Scripture provides for the magisterium, it does not provide for it being perpetually infallible and the supreme authority above Scripture. Moreover, Scripture sometimes shows the people having more discernment than the magisterium, though conditional obedience to it is enjoined. (Mk. 11:27-33; Mt. 23:2)

    4. As Scripture is the supreme standard, thus the church began in dissent, following an Itinerant Preacher who was rejected by the magisterium, whom He reproved by Scripture, and established His own claims upon Scriptural substantiation in word and in power, (Mt. 22:23-45; Lk. 24:27,44; Jn. 5:36,39; Acts 2:14-35; 4:33; 5:12; 15:6-21;17:2,11; 18:28; 28:23; Rm. 15:19; 2Cor. 12:12, etc.)

    5. Under the RC model, in which the stewards of Scripture are the infallible interpreters of it, and judge of what and who is of God, the 1st c. souls should have followed those who sat in the seat of Moses.

    Also, a pertinent link re SS:

  14. PeaceByJesus Says:

    Technically that verse would have to be taken as Paul telling the Galatians to measure doctrine by his oral tradition since what was “preached” to them was done so by mouth before it was written down :)

    But what was preached orally was Scriptural Truths that had been preached and normally written down, as is the norm for anything called the word of God/the Lord, not some ancient fable such as the Assumption, which even lacked early testimony .

    Obviously Scripture is not opposed to oral preaching, and the whole church was preaching the Word, (Acts 8:4) while inspired men preached and wrote the formal Word of God.

    But in contrast, Rome cannot claim, nor does it, to be inspired of God as these men were, but makes her amorphous ancient oral stories equal with Scripture, with herself supreme over them, thus they become her servants.

    And this is what is opposed by those who hold to Scripture as supreme.

  15. PeaceByJesus Says:

    The answer can't be “no” because you can't know what even is scripture without a tradition external to scripture. Why, for instance, do Protestants reject the Apocrypha? Protestant tradition says to.

    Rejection of “Tradition” as an established recognition or practice is not the issue, but the Scriptural basis upon which it becomes established, thus being in subjection to the assured Word of God, versus “Tradition” being established upon the basis of an assuredly infallible entity – which has infallibly defined itself infallible – declaring their Tradition, with its stories and practices, to be equal with Scripture.

    You ask why “do Protestants reject the Apocrypha” which is really asking how does anyone one any books are of God. And for that matter, how did anyone know Abraham, Isaiah, and an Itinerant Preacher from Galilee were of God?

    We have God supernaturally attesting to the faith and virtues of Abraham, and even more manifestly do Moses, thus affirming the faith of Abraham, and who penned the Law, and which became the standard for obedience and testing truth claims .

    In conformity with and complementarity to more writings as well as men of God were recognized and established as being so, essentially due to their enduring unique Heavenly qualities and attestation – all without a perpetual infallible magisterium. And thus the NT as well.

    And therefore the Lord and His apostles established their Truth claims and authority upon Scriptural substantiation in word and in power. And whereby souls had assurance that Jesus was the Christ, having better discernment than the magisterium which sat in the seat of Moses, who rejected John the Baptist and the Son of God.

    And thus the church began in dissent from those who presumed of themselves above that which is written, (1Cor. 4:6) who claimed the same authority as the Biblical law.

    Yet we have another entity which autocratically that presumes the same, and requires submission to traditions that may even lack early testimony, and are not actually taught in Scripture.

    Although egregious extrapolative attempts may be made to support them, assurance of Truth for the RC does not rest upon the weight of Scriptural support, but upon the premise of the assured veracity of Rome, which she has defined herself to have, and even fostering faith in herself for salvation.

    As Keating said, he mere fact that the Church teaches the doctrine of the Assumption as definitely true is a guarantee that it is true.” — Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988), p. 275.

    And due to traditions of men being made equal with Scripture, therefore Catholics engage in such things as prayer to departed saints, even though the Holy Spirit provides absolutely zero examples of prayer to anyone else in Heaven but the Lord, nor in instruction on who to pray to (“our Father,” “call upon the Lord”).

    And many more examples could be given.

    Certainly unity is easier to obtain under sola ecclesia(though in Catholicism there is division and substantial disagreement), thus cults effectively operate under it as well, versus souls being persuaded by “manifestation of the Truth, (2Cor. 4:2) but the former is not Scriptural for the church.

    Instead, as the church began so must it continue, which requires it to perpetually establish its Truth claims upon Scriptures and the power of God, with the degree of Biblical unity being corespondent to it (so that if we had the apostles of Scripture today we would see far more), versus an entity autocratically declaring its interpretation of Scripture, tradition and history to be infallible.

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