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Why Protestant Arguments for Sola Scriptura Fail

Source: Catholic Answers on
Reprinted with permission

Author: Karlo Broussard

As we wrap up our conversations with Karlo Broussard on his book Meeting the Protestant Challenge, he asks: How can the Catholic Church teach that we need Tradition as well as Scripture when the Bible says that Scripture is sufficient? And how can the Catholic Church teach that Scripture is not our sole infallible source for doctrine when the book of Acts praises the Bereans for using Scripture alone to determine the truth?

Cy: Do Protestant arguments for sola scriptura succeed? Next with Karlo Broussard. Hello and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I’m Cy Kellett, your host. Today we welcome once again a third in a series of podcasts we’re doing with Karlo Broussard, conversations drawing from his book Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Belief. In that book, the form of the objections are where a Protestant person might say, or a Protestant minister might preach with the question, “How can the Catholics teach this when the Bible clearly teaches that? How can the Catholics teach that you can baptize in a variety of ways when the Bible clearly teaches that immersion is necessary?” That kind of thing, and we covered that one in episode one in this three-part series. Today we tackle the big one. This is probably the one that everybody who knows anything about the Catholics and Protestants and our relationship over the centuries knows, that Protestants and Catholics differ on their understanding of scripture as a rule of faith. Why Protestant arguments for sola scriptura fail? You comfortable with that, Karlo?

Karlo: Yeah, let’s do it.

Cy: You’re ready to tackle that?

Karlo: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cy: And in 20 minutes, you will prove the Catholic faith. All right. Let me give you one challenge on that regard. Okay. How can the Catholic church teach that we need tradition as well as scripture, when the Bible says that scripture is sufficient as a rule of faith and for making a man, and I put this in quotes, complete?

Karlo: Yeah. The challenge is coming from or appealing to, however you want to look at it, in second Timothy chapter three verses 16 through 17. And so there, Paul instructs Timothy, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” And from this passage, of course, well, Protestants will conclude that scripture is all we need for equipping a man of God for every good work and for making him complete. Right?

Cy: Right.

Karlo: It’s all-sufficient for that. One way in which we can respond is that I think first of all, it’s important to point out that when Paul is talking about the man of God, he’s not necessarily referring to all Christians. In fact, the man of God could be understood as instructions that Paul is giving to Timothy as an ordained minister. Paul is giving instruction to Timothy in his work as an ordained minister, as a man of God. That phrase “man of God” Paul uses elsewhere within the context of giving a series of instructions to Timothy about how he is to minister as an ordained minister. For example, in first Timothy chapter six verse 11. It’s possible that Paul is simply giving instructions to Timothy as a man of God, as an ordained minister, and this is not instructions being given to all Christians.

Secondly, Paul says that the scriptures inspired by God indeed are profitable for making a man of God equipped for every good work and making him complete, in light of the context of what I’ve already articulated as an ordained minister. But just because the scriptures are profitable for Timothy’s ministry as an ordained minister, equipping him for every good work as an ordained minister, as a man of God, it doesn’t necessarily follow that those inspired scriptures are all he needs in order to accomplish that work. Right?

For example, I might be training to become a police officer and I need to read the handbook, whatever handbook they give, I don’t know.

Cy: Yeah, the Police Officer Handbook.

Karlo: Yeah, yeah. If there’s a handbook, I need-

Cy: It’s called the Police Officer Handbook, Karlo.

Karlo: There you go. I need to read the handbook, and that’s going to equip me to be a police officer. That’s going to be profitable for me being a police officer.

Cy: Right, yeah.

Karlo: It’s not sufficient. Why? I need some street experience, right? I need to go through the basic training. I need to go through the Academy. I need to learn how to shoot the gun, how to load and unload the gun.

Cy: You’ve got to be the rookie riding next to Denzel Washington for… Yeah, okay.

Karlo: Yeah, yeah. Or traveling with Jamie in Blue Bloods, you know?

Cy: Yeah, right. Okay.

Karlo: Jamie Reagan there. First of all, within the immediate context, it seems as if Paul is giving instruction to Timothy as an ordained minister. The scriptures are profitable. That doesn’t mean they were sufficient. But even if, for argument’s sake, we say this passage applies to all Christians, the man of God in general, it still wouldn’t follow that scripture is sufficient for the man of God in his walk as a Christian, and for determining what is a part of God’s revelation based upon the fact that the scripture is inspired by God or profitable. Because for the scriptures to be profitable, that doesn’t mean they’re sufficient, and that’s all that we need. Now, our Protestant friend might counter and say, “Well, it talks about scriptures making the man of God complete.” And so therefore, inferring from that, then the scriptures is all we need. If it’s going to make us complete, that’s all we need. But consider this analogy. If we were to follow that logic, we could see how it’s fallacious.

Consider this analogy. Let’s say I’m a stamp collector and I tell you, “Cy, I just need this one stamp in order for my collection to be complete.” Does that mean the one stamp is all I need to be a stamp collector? No. I need all the other stamps, right? I need everything else in order for-

Cy: Yeah, you can’t trade all the other ones for that one stamp and go, “Now it’s complete!”

Karlo: It would be incomplete, right?

Cy: Right.

Karlo: That one stamp is what I need for my collection to be complete, but we can’t infer from that that I somehow don’t need all the other stamps.

Cy: Yeah.

Karlo: So too, the scripture is needed for us to be completed as Christians, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need other things to be complete as a Christian. I mean, I can think of a couple of things. I articulate this in the chapter in my book. We need to obey the judgment of the church according to Matthew 18:15 through 17. “For if we do not, we are to be treated as a Gentile and a tax collector.” We’re an outcast, so we need to be obedient to the judgments of the church. We also need to hold fast to the standard of sacred tradition that Paul articulates in second Thessalonians 3:6. He says, “In the name of Jesus, I command you to withhold yourselves from the idol brother who’s not living in accord with the tradition.” What’s the implication? You Christians must live in accord with the tradition in the name of Jesus, right?

Cy: Right.

Karlo: That’s something that we need to do in order to be complete as a Christian. So yes, the scriptures are profitable in helping us to be complete as a Christian, to achieve that perfection. It’s God’s word. Of course it’s going to be profitable in achieving that end goal of perfection, but we also have other things that the scriptures actually point to themselves that we need in order to achieve this goal of perfection. Obedience to the judgment of a church, adhering to the sacred tradition. And so these are ways in which we can meet this path. A couple of ways in which we can meet this challenge. There are more. For example, the immediate context. I mean, if you look at it, Paul’s talking about the scriptures that Timothy was familiar with from his childhood. Which scriptures are those?

Cy: Those would be the Jewish people’s scriptures, the Old Testament.

Karlo: That’s the Old Testament.

Cy: Yeah.

Karlo: So if we apply the logic of sola scriptura here, we’re going to have to say Paul is commanding Timothy to abide by the Old Testament alone in order to be completed as a man of God.

Cy: Oh, because that’s all the scriptura there was.

Karlo: That’s all the scriptura there was within its immediate historical context, but of course we don’t want to conclude that, right?

Cy: No.

Karlo: So I think this passage actually would lead us, if we follow the logic of the challenge, it would lead us to a conclusion that our Protestant friends even do not want to conclude with.

Cy: Okay. I suppose, I guess the way I want to say it is, the church then is not saying disregard the scripture or replace it with something else, but it’s saying that scripture is part of the big stamp collection.

Karlo: That’s right.

Cy: That includes the oral teaching that Paul has given him. That includes his own ordination. All these things are part of the fullness.

Karlo: That’s right. It’s setting scripture within its proper context and for the sake of truth. We’re not trying to devalue scripture in any way. Indeed, it is an inspired word of God. We could even challenge our Protestant friends on this passage and say, “Okay, it says all scripture is inspired, but it doesn’t tell you what constitutes scripture, which historical documents are scriptura.”

Cy: Oh, so someone could be like-

Karlo: As inspired, right. So how do we know? Whose testimony do we appeal to in order to come to the knowledge that, for example, Philemon is inspired? Or for example, that Luke is inspired or that Mark is inspired or that Matthew is the inspired word of God?

Cy: Right.

Karlo: Which testimony do you appeal to? Jesus never tells you the book of Matthew is inspired by God.

Cy: Or who tells you the gospel of Thomas is not inspired?

Karlo: That’s right.

Cy: Right? Sometimes people go, “Hey, there’s another gospel over there. That’s scripture.”

Karlo: Now, they might say, “Well, it might contradict what the apostles taught.”

Cy: Okay.

Karlo: And that’s valid, but to know that a particular historical document written by an apostle or even a non-apostle, in the case of Mark and Luke, is inspired by God?

Cy: Yeah.

Karlo: That’s a belief that many Christians, that Christians hold to, our Protestant friends hold to, based upon something that’s not found in the Bible.

Cy: Right.

Karlo: That is the-

Cy: The Bible doesn’t have a table of contents.

Karlo: Nowhere do we find Jesus or the apostles telling us, for example, “Matthew is inspired by God.”

Cy: No.

Karlo: Sure, it’s all authoritative. It’s written by an apostle of Jesus. Amen. But that God is the primary author? That belief? That’s based upon something that comes outside of the Bible, and that’s the judgment of the church.

Cy: Okay, fair enough. But I got a tougher challenge for you.

Karlo: Okay, man.

Cy: All right?

Karlo: Let’s do it.

Cy: How can the Catholic church teach that scripture is not our sole infallible source of doctrine when the Book of Acts praises the Bereans for using scripture alone to determine the truth? And come on, this is a tough one.

Karlo: Right. This is coming from Acts chapter seven, right?

Cy: Yeah.

Karlo: Excuse me, 17.

Cy: Right.

Karlo: And in the beginning of the chapter, Paul is in Thessalonica. He’s preaching there. Some of the Thessalonians accept what he’s preaching, but then some of them don’t. There’s a lot of hostility there. Paul has to leave. He goes to Berea. And whenever he’s in Berea, the Bereans there accept what he’s teaching, but Paul says, “They received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily.” And then he goes on to talk about to see if what he was teaching was true, and he praises the Bereans for this, saying that they were more noble than the Thessalonians. Right?

Cy: Right, right.

Karlo: So it would seem as if the Bereans were more noble, because they’re using scripture as the standard and the judge and the arbiter in order to determine the truth of what Paul’s teaching.

Cy: Which is that Christ is the Messiah.

Karlo: That’s right. That would seem to establish a paradigm on how we ought to be functioning as Christians, right?

Cy: Yeah, go to the scriptures.

Karlo: That we need to be using the scriptures alone in order to determine true and authentic teaching. How do we meet this challenge? Well, first of all, the conclusion that scripture is sufficient as an infallible rule of faith and morals doesn’t follow from the Bereans behavior recorded here in Acts chapter 17. First of all, I’d like to point out that the Bereans are actually appealing to the Old Testament. Like in second Timothy three, are we going to say the Old Testament is all we need in order to measure what’s true and authentic teaching? Of course not. That’s the first thing. But notice that the appeal to scripture, that’s a good thing. But just because they appeal to scripture, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s our only infallible source.

Cy: No.

Karlo: We as Catholics also affirm, “Yeah, you appeal to scripture. We want to see what the scripture says as well.” Amen, because that’s a means by which God’s revelation is transmitted to us.

Cy: It seems like Paul is praising them because they took seriously his claim that Christ is the Messiah, and they’re like, “Well, we’re going to investigate this every way we can.” And so they crack it. They don’t just dismiss it out of hand.

Karlo: Right. You’re actually leading to the next way in which we can meet the challenge, and that is to say the nobility of the Bereans wasn’t necessarily due to their appeal to scripture, but to their lack of hostility and their open mindedness, unlike the Jews in Thessalonica. If you look at the context, Paul makes it the focus. The issue that’s Paul’s focus is that in Thessalonica, when he was proclaiming and preaching, some accepted. There were Jewish converts, but Paul tells us that, or Luke records how there were many of the Jews in Thessalonica who were getting pretty angry. And they took some wicked fellows of the rabble and they gathered a crowd, and they set the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the people. And that’s in verse five of Acts chapter 17.

That’s in response to some of the Jews in Thessalonica converting based upon Paul’s preaching. And it got so bad that Paul had to, in the secret of the night, escape to Berea, right?

Cy: Right.

Karlo: And then in Berea, what do you have? He’s preaching, and then they’re responding. They’re appealing to the scriptures. And then he says in verse 11, “More noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all eagerness.” Now, notice within the context, the Bereans respond without hostility, whereas the Thessalonians did. And it seems as if that is the primary reason why the Bereans are more noble than the Thessalonians. They were more open-minded. They weren’t as shut off and close-minded as those Thessalonians were who were pulling, trying to get people out into the street and to persecute them.

And furthermore, the Greek word there in the Greek text for noble, that’s translated as noble, it actually used to be referred to those who have a noble birth. But it later came to be used for those who are open-minded, who have open-minded behavior and a willingness to learn, which at the time was associated with the upper class. So it seemed as if Paul is saying they’re noble because they were open-minded, because they were eager to learn and they weren’t shut off and responding with the sort of hostility like many in our contemporary culture do who aren’t willing to engage in a rational discussion and to look at things, but they only respond with angry emotion, with anger and sort of this vindictive type of response rather than reasonable, calm discussion. So that seems to be the reason why Paul is saying the Bereans are more noble than that Thessalonians.

And finally, I would just say this, Cy. All this passage proves is that whatever the church teaches can’t contradict scripture. The Bereans are appealing to scripture to see if anything Paul is saying is incoherent with it, and that’s a good and noble thing to do. We affirm that. In fact, that’s what my whole book is about, is to show that what we teach doesn’t contradict scripture. So that’s really, bottom line is that’s all this passage proved.

Cy: They have Paul and they have scripture. It’s like they have the apostle there with them and scripture.

Karlo: That’s right.

Cy: It’s like scripture and tradition, almost, right there.

Karlo: Amen. Yeah.

Cy: Like the oral tradition is being given to them.

Karlo: And in fact, Paul’s word in his preaching is called the word of God in first Thessalonians chapter two verse 13 when he’s talking about his preaching to the Thessalonians. He identifies it as, “The word of God that which I’ve preached to you,” and that applies to the Apostolic preaching. And we’re told that the Thessalonians received his preaching as the word of God, not as the word of man, at least those who were receiving his preaching. So we see the word of God not being restricted to the written form of God’s revelation, but also to the oral form, the unwritten form, the Apostolic tradition. And now think about this, Cy. Let’s say the Bereans examined those scriptures and they came to the conclusion, “No, Paul’s wrong.” We have to ask the question, whose judgment should they go with?

Cy: Ah!

Karlo: Should they go with their interpretation of scripture or should they go with the Apostolic of preaching of Paul?

Cy: Yeah.

Karlo: They should go with Paul. It’s a noble thing to appeal to the scriptures, but when push comes to shove, if your interpretation of scripture is contradicting what the Apostolic preaching is, then you’re wrong.

Cy: The apostle is right.

Karlo: The Apostolic preaching, the apostle is right. Then of course their successors, the bishop’s in union with the Bishop of Rome, right? And so rather than this passage actually undermining the Catholic belief of sacred tradition along with sacred scripture, I would argue that it actually supports it, because it shows that along with the written form of God’s revelation, you also have the oral form, the unwritten form, the Apostolic preaching that is binding and authoritative. So much so that if your interpretation of the written word of God is contradicting what the sacred tradition is proposing, then you need to give up your own interpretation and go with the tradition, and how the sacred tradition is understanding that written form of God’s revelation.

Cy: Man Karlo, everybody should just go out and get Meeting the Protestant Challenge.

Karlo: Yeah, we’d like that.

Cy: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Belief. Because these are the ones that we run into in real-time. The kids that my kids hang out with, evangelical Christians and all that, these are the exact challenges that they’re being given, and so are sharing with me or with my kids or whatnot. This is real-time stuff. These are real challenges that are being made to the Catholic faith and there are answers to these things.

Karlo: Amen.

Cy: Yep. All right. Once again, the book is Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Belief. The author is Karlo Broussard. He has been our guest. Thanks, Karlo.

Karlo: Hey, thank you, Cy. It’s always a great joy, man.

Cy: For me it is too. We got to do more of these. I love doing this.

Karlo: Indeed.

Cy: Yeah.

Karlo: We shall.

Cy: I really like this approach too. Just take the challenge.

Karlo: Yeah.

Cy: Treat it as a challenge and give the Catholic response. I like it a lot.

Karlo: Amen. Thank you, bud.

Cy: All right. Thanks for listening to Catholic Answers Focus. Please give us a like wherever you get your podcast and share it with your friends. That’s how we grow the Catholic Answers Focus podcast, and we’d like to grow it. We’ll see you next time, God willing, right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

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