Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sola Scriptura: An Unbiblical Tradition: Refutation of Dr. John MacArthur and Richard Bennett

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Dr. John MacArthur

Former Catholic priest Richard Bennett is a prominent anti-Catholic apologist, and editor (with Martin Buckingham) of Far from Rome, Near to God: The Testimonies of 50 Converted Catholic Priests (Lafayette, IN: Associated Publishers & Authors, Inc., 1994), where we learn such interesting and fascinating tidbits of information such as, for example, well-known anti-Catholic Bart Brewer's initial reason for forsaking Catholicism:

I also cherished teaching my religion class at the Carmelite high school . . . I enjoyed watching the girls giggle as they flirted with teasing boys . . . my attention was drawn to one of the more diligent students, who thoroughly captivated my interest . . . She was lovely and shyly responded as we stole moments talking alone after class. This was a new adventure, and I soon interpreted our newly discovered affection as love . . .

I listened with interest as some openly discussed the impractical nature of mandatory celibacy . . . For the first time in my life, I doubted the authority of my religion. (pp. 31-32)

Mr. Bennett's paper which will be refuted below, is entitled "It is Written: Sola Scriptura," and is available online.

Richard Bennett's words will be in blue. The sub-titles are his, from the original paper (the Roman numerals have been added, for reference purposes). They will be colored brown.

Richard Bennett: former Catholic priest

* * * * *


The Biblical message breathed out by God is revelation in written form. (2 Timothy 3:15-16). The Biblical claim is that what God has inspired was His written word (2 Peter 1:20-21). When the Lord Jesus Christ said, "the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35), He was speaking of God's written word. The events, actions, commandments, and truths from God are given to us in propositional, i.e. logical, written sentences.

Catholics do not disagree with this, as we, too, accept the inspiration and infallible authority of Scripture. We simply don't pit it against Church and Tradition, which Holy Scripture considers as possessing authority also.

God's declaration in Scripture is that it and it alone, is this final authority in all matters of faith and morals. Thus there is only one written source from God, and there is only one basis of truth for the Lord's people in the Church.

This is a clever mixture of truth and falsehood. Nowhere does scripture proclaim that "it alone, is this final authority in all matters of faith and morals," if by that, Bennett means (as I am assuming) the formal system and rule of faith of sola Scriptura. I submit that this would explain why no Scripture is offered here to illustrate this supposed biblical claim. If he offers such alleged "proof" below, it will be shown to be altogether insufficient to establish this claim of Bennett's, and of Protestants generally-speaking. We agree that there is one written and inspired, "God-breathed" revelation. As for "one basis of truth" (as opposed to "one truth") this truth is not limited to the Bible, but also includes prophetic and apostolic proclamation and oral tradition, as well as teaching not included in the Bible itself, as seen in the following biblical passages (RSV):

Mark 4:33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them . . .
In other words, by implication, many parables are not recorded in Scripture.
Mark 6:34 . . . he began to teach them many things.
None of these "many things" are recorded here.
John 16:12 I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
Perhaps these many things were spoken during His post-Resurrection appearances alluded to in Acts 1:2-3 (see far below). Very few of these teachings are recorded, and those which are contain only minimal detail.
John 20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.

John 21:25 But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.


The Lord Jesus Christ, in His great high priestly prayer, declared clearly the truth of God's Word. He said, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." This was consistent with the declarations right through the Old Testament in which the Holy Spirit continually proclaims that the revelation from God is truth, as for example Psalm 119:142, "thy law is truth." The Lord Himself therefore identified truth with the written Word. There is no source other than to Scripture alone to which such a statement applies. That source alone, the Holy Scripture, is the believer├»¿½s standard of truth.

This is lousy logic. To say that something is true does not mean that it (even if inspired) is the sole source of truth. The Psalmist could also have cried, "2 + 2 = 4 is truth," or, "That David, the one who killed Goliath, was King of Israel is truth." To establish this grandiose claim, the Bible would have to state something like, "only the written word contained in the Bible is true, and nothing else is true or authoritative." No such passage can be found, and much can be found which would contradict this bogus claim, based on an illogical application of a few Scripture passages. So, Bennett unwittingly commits this fallacy (very common in Protestant circles) and then follows up with a second: the notion that only the written word is authoritative, or a "standard of truth." Scripture certainly is a "standard of truth" (we agree fully), even the preeminent one, but not in a sense that rules out the Church and Tradition.

Furthermore, "Word" in Holy Scripture quite often refers to a proclaimed, oral word of prophets or apostles, not only to the written word later compiled as the Bible. Prophets spoke the word of God, whether or not their utterances were later recorded as written Scripture (undoubtedly much of their preaching was not recorded for posterity, just as in the case of, for example, John the Baptist). This is utterly obvious, and can be profusely documented. So for example, we read in Jeremiah 25:1-9 (NIV):

1 The word came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. 2 So Jeremiah the prophet said to all the people of Judah and to all those living in Jerusalem: 3 For twenty-three years-from the thirteenth year of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah until this very day-the word of the LORD has come to me and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened.
4 And though the LORD has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, you have not listened or paid any attention. 5 They said, "Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices, and you can stay in the land the LORD gave to you and your fathers for ever and ever. 6 Do not follow other gods to serve and worship them; do not provoke me to anger with what your hands have made. Then I will not harm you."
7 "But you did not listen to me," declares the LORD , "and you have provoked me with what your hands have made, and you have brought harm to yourselves."
8 Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: "Because you have not listened to my words, 9 I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon," declares the LORD , "and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy [1] them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin.
Note how the Lord equates His words with those of Jeremiah. Jeremiah, as God's prophet, spoke His words, when they "came to" him. This was the word of God or word of the Lord whether or not it was recorded in writing and whether or not it made it into later canonized Scripture. It had equal authority in writing or as proclamation-never-reduced-to-writing. This was also true of the Apostle Paul and other apostles, as will be shown below. When the phrases word of God or word of the Lord appear in Acts and the Epistles, they almost alway refer to oral preaching, not to Scripture. For example:
1 Thessalonians 2:13 . . . when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as what it really is, the word of God . . . (see also 2 Thessalonians 3:6 below)
Equally obviously, no one would be foolish enough to claim that every sermon and plea and prophetic warning of Jeremiah or any of the other prophets was recorded in writing and preserved in the Bible. In one long night alone, if Jeremiah had kept talking, that would add up to more words than we have in the entire book named for him. If this had been the "word of the Lord," it would not have been recorded, just as, for example, Jesus' words explaining the messianic prophecies concerning Himself, to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, were not recorded, but they were true, and inspired, since they came from Jesus Himself (see Luke 24:26-27). The hearers of both Jeremiah and Jesus were bound to obey their words. Thus, the words carried a binding authority before they were written down and regardless of whether they were ever later written down. This realization refutes Mr. Bennett's words above.

In the New Testament, it is the written word of God and that alone to which the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles refer as the final authority. In the temptation, the Lord Jesus three times resisted Satan, saying, "It is written" as for example, in Matthew 4:4, "he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." In stating "It is written," the Lord used the exact same phrase that is used in the Holy Bible forty six times. The persistence of the repeated phrase underlines its importance. The Lord's total acceptance of the authority of the Old Testament is evident in His words found in Matthew 5:17-18,

Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfil. For verily, I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled.
Of course Jesus accepted the authority of the Old Testament. This is not in dispute. But what is most disputable is Mr. Bennett's claim that "it is the written word of God and that alone to which the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles refer as the final authority." This is simply untrue, and demonstrably so. The rhetoric may sound nice, but it must be backed up by fact, and not refuted by counter-factual evidence. I shall provide that counter-evidence by citing a passage from my second book, More Biblical Evidence for Catholicism: (pages 54-55; passages: RSV)
a) Matthew 2:23: the reference to ". . . He shall be called a Nazarene " cannot be found in the Old Testament, yet it was passed down "by the prophets." Thus, a prophecy, which is considered to be "God's Word" was passed down orally, rather than through Scripture.

b) Matthew 23:2-3: Jesus teaches that the scribes and Pharisees have a legitimate, binding authority, based on Moses' seat, which phrase (or idea) cannot be found anywhere in the Old Testament. It is found in the (originally oral) Mishna, where a sort of "teaching succession" from Moses on down is taught. Thus, "apostolic succession," whereby the Catholic Church, in its priests and bishops and popes, claims to be merely the Custodian of an inherited apostolic Tradition, is also prefigured by Jewish oral tradition, as approved (at least partially) by Jesus Himself.

c) In 1 Corinthians 10:4, St. Paul refers to a rock which "followed" the Jews through the Sinai wilderness. The Old Testament says nothing about such miraculous movement, in the related passages about Moses striking the rock to produce water (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:2-13). Rabbinic tradition, however, does.

d) 1 Peter 3:19: St. Peter, in describing Christ's journey to Sheol/Hades ("he went and preached to the spirits in prison . . . ", draws directly from the Jewish apocalyptic book 1 Enoch (12-16).

e) Jude 9: about a dispute between Michael the archangel and Satan over Moses' body, cannot be paralleled in the Old Testament, and appears to be a recounting of an oral Jewish tradition.

f) Jude 14-15 directly quotes from 1 Enoch 1:9, even saying that Enoch prophesied.

g) 2 Timothy 3:8: Jannes and Jambres cannot be found in the related Old Testament passage (Exodus 7:8 ff.).

h) James 5:17: the reference to a lack of rain for three years is likewise absent from the relevant Old Testament passage in 1 Kings 17.

Since Jesus and the Apostles acknowledge authoritative Jewish oral tradition (even in so doing raising some of it literally to the level of written Revelation), we are hardly at liberty to assert that it is altogether illegitimate. That being the case, the alleged analogy of the Old Testament to sola Scriptura is again found wanting and massively incoherent.

Jesus attacked corrupt traditions only, not tradition per se, and not all Oral Tradition. The simple fact that there exists such an entity as legitimate Oral Tradition, supports the Catholic "both/and" view by analogy, whereas in a strict sola Scriptura viewpoint, this would be inadmissible, it seems to me. It is obvious that there can be false oral traditions just as there are false written traditions which some heretics elevated to "Scripture" (e.g., the Gospel of Thomas).

This is precisely why we need the Church as Guardian and Custodian of all these traditions, and to determine (by the guidance of the Holy Spirit) which are Apostolic and which not, just as the Church placed its authoritative approval on the New Testament Canon. Holy Scripture is absolutely central and primary in the Catholic viewpoint, just as in Protestantism. No legitimate Oral Tradition can ever contradict Scripture, just as no true fact of science can ever contradict it.


Furthermore, in refuting the errors of the Sadducees, the Scripture records the Lord saying, "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Matthew 22:29). Christ Jesus continually castigated and rebuked the Pharisees because they made their tradition on a par with the Word of God. He condemned them because they were attempting to corrupt the very basis of truth by equating their traditions to the Word of God. So He declared to them in Mark 7:13 "[You are] making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such things do ye." Since Scripture alone is inspired, it alone is the ultimate authority and it alone is the final judge of Tradition.

The Bible does not teach that all "tradition" is bad or evil or merely the "traditions of men." Rather, it teaches that there are indeed such bad and untrue traditions (see, e.g., Matt 15:2-6, Mk 7:8-13, Col 2:8), but that there are also true, apostolic traditions which are positively endorsed. These apostolic traditions are - far from being contrary to Scripture - in total harmony with the Bible. Catholics believe that the true traditions must always be consistent with Scripture. In that sense, Scripture is its "final Judge," but not in the sense that Scripture somehow rules out or makes impossible all Tradition and Church authority. It does not at all. In fact, it asserts those things. Here are instances where the Bible espouses true tradition (RSV):

Luke 1:1-2 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses . . .

1 Corinthians 11:2 I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 . . . stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth, or by letter.

2 Thessalonians 3:6 . . . keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

The Apostle Paul explicitly grants oral proclamation or teaching the same authority as written:
2 Timothy 1:13-14 Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me . . . guard the truth which has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

2 Timothy 2:2 And what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Most shocking of all (to a Protestant sola Scriptura mindset) is the fact - established by a simple biblical cross-referencing - that Tradition, Word of God, and the Gospel are regarded as essentially identical in Scripture. All are conceived as predominantly oral, and all are referred to as being delivered and received. I now cite a passage from my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (pp. 7-8):
1 Corinthians 11:2 . . . maintain the traditions . . . . even as I have delivered them to you.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 . . . hold to the traditions . . . . taught . . . by word of mouth or by letter.

2 Thessalonians 3:6 . . . the tradition that you received from us.

1 Corinthians 15:1 . . . the gospel, which you received . . .

Galatians 1:9 . . . the gospel . . . which you received.

1 Thessalonians 2:9 . . . we preached to you the gospel of God.

Acts 8:14 . . . Samaria had received the word of God . . .

1 Thessalonians 2:13 . . . you received the word of God, which you heard from us, . . .

2 Peter 2:21 . . . the holy commandment delivered to them.

Jude 3 . . . the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. [cf. Acts 2:42]

In St. Paul's two letters to the Thessalonians alone we see that three of the above terms are used interchangeably. Clearly then, tradition is not a dirty word in the Bible, particularly for St. Paul. If, on the other hand, one wants to maintain that it is, then gospel and word of God are also bad words! Thus, the commonly-asserted dichotomy between the gospel and tradition, or between the Bible and tradition is unbiblical itself and must be discarded by the truly biblically-minded person as (quite ironically) a corrupt tradition of men.

The Word of the Lord says as a commandment in Proverbs 30:5,6 "Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar." God commands that we are not to add to His Word: this command shows emphatically that it is God's Word alone that is pure and uncontaminated.

All this is saying is that one must not contradict or corrupt God's word, which (as shown) can be both oral and written. Of course, the inspired revelation is pure and uncontaminated, but this doesn't logically (or biblically) rule out other sources of truth; otherwise Jesus and the apostles would not have cited other sources in order to back up various claims (as also demonstrated above, from Scripture).

Aligned with Proverbs, the Lord's strong, clear declaration in Isaiah 8:20 is: "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." The truth is this: since God's written word alone is inspired, it - and it alone - is the sole rule of faith. It cannot be otherwise.

It certainly can be "otherwise" since it is in fact, according to the Bible itself (thus showing sola Scriptura to be a self-defeating concept, since it cannot even be established from Scripture Alone - the very concept under consideration). This thinking is shot-through with internal contradiction. One falsehood is accepted, and then the system is built upon it, by adding other falsehoods. But a structure with a weak foundation cannot stand.

Mr. Bennett keeps appealing to the Old Testament to "prove" his nonexistent case, as if (his hidden, unspoken assumption) the Jews of that period accepted sola Scriptura as he does. But they did not. And this fact is clearly attested by reputable Protestant scholarly sources, such as The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (edited by Allen C. Myers, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1987 - from Bijbelse Encyclopedie, ed. W.H. Gispen, Kampen, Netherlands, 1975 -, 1014-1015). In its article on "Tradition," we read:

Because oral communication was more significant in biblical than in modern societies, oral tradition in the form of standardized forms of stories, sayings, and the like was part of the process toward the composition of every type of biblical literature . . .

While the Sadducees viewed the written text of the Torah as alone authoritative, the Pharisees cultivated an elaborate interpretive tradition . . . The resultant "tradition of the elders" (or "oral Torah") was considered equal in authority to the written text elaborated by it. It represented simply the unfolding of what was implied in the written commandments, and was said to have been received by Moses from God on Mt. Sinai along with the written commandments and passed down orally from that time . . .

Jesus did not totally reject the oral tradition. He affirmed the traditional rules on the tithing of herbs ("these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others"; Matt. 23:23), though he insisted on the relative triviality of the practice. His own interpretation of the Torah in the Sermon on the Mount employs the scribal principle of "building a fence about the Torah" . . .

Appeals to authoritative Church tradition are found already in the earliest New Testament writings, the letters of Paul . . . 2 Thess. 3:6 . . . 1 Cor. 11:23-26 . . . 15:3-7 . . . 11:2; Phil. 4:9; 2 Thess. 2:15; cf. Rom. 6:17; Gal. 1:9) . . .

. . . the New Testament writings were first valued not as inspired Scripture but as deposits of apostolic tradition in fixed written form, to be interpreted authoritatively by the bishops and according to the rule of faith . . .

Catholic theologians have regarded Scripture and tradition as a single authority (they "flow from the same divine wellspring"), noting with some historical justification that Scripture is itself a part and product of apostolic tradition.

In Scripture, moreover, besides the teaching about authoritative apostolic tradition, the Church also had a binding authority. This is seen in the passages about "binding and loosing," a rabbinic term:
Matthew 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Matthew 18:18 . . . Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

John 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

The same Protestant source above, in its article on "binding and loosing" (p. 158), explains the meaning of these terms:
In rabbinic usage the terms mean "to forbid" and "to permit" with reference to interpretation of the law, and secondarily, "to condemn" or "place under the ban" and "to acquit." Thus, Peter is given the authority to determine the rules for doctrine and life . . . and to demand obedience from the Church, reflecting the authority of the royal chamberlain or vizier in the Old Testament (cf. Isa. 22:22 . . . ).
We see the binding authority of the Church in Paul's statement: ". . . the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). Paul himself binds and looses in the following two passages:
1 Corinthians 5:3-5 . . . I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (see 5:1-2)

2 Corinthians 2:6-8,10-11 For such a one this punishment by the majority is enough; so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him . . . Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive . . . in the presence of Christ, to keep Satan from gaining the advantage over us; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

Paul binds in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 and looses in 2 Corinthians 2:6-7,10, acting as a type of papal figure in 2 Corinthians 2:10, much like St. Peter among the Apostles. He forgives, and bids the Corinthian elders to forgive also, even though the offense was not committed against them personally. Clearly, both parties are acting as God's representatives in the matter of the forgiveness of sins and the remission of sin's temporal penalties.

We find ecclesiastical authority in Matthew 18:17, where "the church" is to settle issues of conflict between believers. Above all, we see Church authority in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:6-30), where we see Peter and James speaking with authority. This Council makes an authoritative pronouncement (citing the Holy Spirit - 15:28) which was binding on all Christians:

. . . abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. (15:29)
In the next chapter, shortly thereafter we read that Paul, Timothy, and Silas were traveling around "through the cities." Note how Scripture describes what they were proclaiming:
. . . they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.

(Acts 16:4)

This is Church authority, far more like Catholic ecclesiology than sola Scriptura Christianity, which cannot be found in the Bible itself, and is an arbitrary tradition of men. Even the apostle Paul was no lone ranger. He did what he was told to do by the Jerusalem Council. As I wrote in my treatise on the Church (where many additional biblical indications of Church authority can be found):
In his very conversion experience, Jesus informed Paul that he would be told what to do (Acts 9:6; cf. 9:17). He went to see St. Peter in Jerusalem for fifteen days in order to be confirmed in his calling (Galatians 1:18), and fourteen years later was commissioned by Peter, James, and John (Galatians 2:1-2,9). He was also sent out by the Church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-4), which was in contact with the Church at Jerusalem (Acts 11:19-27). Later on, Paul reported back to Antioch (Acts 14:26-28).
I would anticipate Mr. Bennett and other Protestants to object that Pharisaical tradition was cited, and that Jesus and the early Christians were totally opposed to this as hypocritical "traditions of men" - lock, stock, and barrel. But what must be understood was that the Pharisees were not entirely corrupt as a class. Jesus Himself followed the Pharisaical tradition, as argued by Asher Finkel in his book The Pharisees and the Teacher of Nazareth (Cologne: E.J. Brill, 1964). He adopted the Pharisaical stand on controversial issues (Matthew 5:18-19, Luke 16:17), accepted the oral tradition of the academies, observed the proper mealtime procedures (Mark 6:56, Matthew 14:36) and the Sabbath, and priestly regulations (Matthew 8:4, Mark 1:44, Luke 5:4). This author argues that Jesus' condemnations were directed towards the Pharisees of the school of Shammai, whereas Jesus was closer to the school of Hillel. The Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem: 1971) backs up this contention, in its entry "Jesus" (v. 10, 10):
In general, Jesus' polemical sayings against the Pharisees were far meeker than the Essene attacks and not sharper than similar utterances in the talmudic sources.
This source contends that Jesus' beliefs and way of life were closer to the Pharisees than to the Essenes, though He was similar to them in many respects also (poverty, humility, purity of heart, simplicity, etc.). The Sadducees were the liberals of Jesus' time, and they believed in sola Scriptura. But Jesus and the early Church did not follow their tradition; rather, they were much closer to the Pharisaical tradition, as I argued in More Biblical Evidence for Catholicism: (pages 59-60):
Many people do not realize that Christianity was derived in many ways from the Pharisaical tradition of Judaism. It was really the only viable option in the Judaism of that era. Since Jesus often excoriated the Pharisees for hypocrisy and excessive legalism, some assume that He was condemning the whole ball of wax. But this is throwing the baby out with the bath water. Likewise, the Apostle Paul, when referring to his Pharisaical background doesn't condemn Pharisaism per se.

The Sadducees, on the other hand, were much more "heretical". They rejected the future resurrection and the soul, the afterlife, rewards and retribution, demons and angels, and predestinarianism. Christian Pharisees are referred to in Acts 15:5 and Philippians 3:5, but never Christian Sadducees. The Sadducees' following was found mainly in the upper classes, and was almost non-existent among the common people.

The Sadducees also rejected all 'oral Torah,' - the traditional interpretation of the written that was of central importance in rabbinic Judaism. So we can summarize as follows:

a) The Sadducees were obviously the elitist "liberals" and "heterodox" amongst the Jews of their time.

b) But the Sadducees were also the sola Scripturists of their time.

c) Christianity adopted wholesale the very "postbiblical" doctrines which the Sadducees rejected and which the Pharisees accepted: resurrection, belief in angels and spirits, the soul, the afterlife, eternal reward or damnation, and the belief in angels and demons.

d) But these doctrines were notable for their marked development after the biblical Old Testament Canon was complete, especially in Jewish apocalyptic literature, part of Jewish codified oral tradition.

e) We've seen how - if a choice is to be made - both Jesus and Paul were squarely in the "Pharisaical camp," over against the Sadducees.

f) We also saw earlier how Jesus and the New Testament writers cite approvingly many tenets of Jewish oral (later talmudic and rabbinic) tradition, according to the Pharisaic outlook.

Ergo) The above facts constitute one more "nail in the coffin" of the theory that either the Old Testament Jews or the early Church were guided by the principle of sola Scriptura. The only party which believed thusly were the Sadducees, who were heterodox according to traditional Judaism, despised by the common people, and restricted to the privileged classes only.

The Pharisees (despite their corruptions and excesses) were the mainstream, and the early Church adopted their outlook with regard to eschatology, anthropology, and angelology, and the necessity and benefit of binding oral tradition and ongoing ecclesiastical authority for the purpose (especially) of interpreting Holy Scripture.


From the time of the giving of the Decalogue on Mt. Sinai, when Holy God wrote with His finger on the tablets of stone (Exodus 31:18), until this present day, the written word of God has been extant in the world. The term "sola Scriptura" or "the Bible alone" as the measure of truth is short hand, as it were, for the emphatic and repeated statements of Scripture and of the commandment of God. The very phrase " It is written" means exclusively transcribed, and not hearsay.

No one is denying that "written" means "written" (which would be silly), but "word of God" is not always the equivalent of "written" in Scripture, as shown, and not all oral Tradition can be conveniently (and quite unjustly and groundlessly) collapsed into the pejorative term, "hearsay." Mr. Bennett has a problem with the Bible and Jesus Himself and the Apostle Paul (not just the Catholic Church), because all accepted the authority of Tradition and the Church alongside Scripture: they are all of a piece: one harmonious whole, or a "three-legged stool," as Catholics like to describe them.

Mr. Bennett has yet to show that the Bible teaches Bible Alone as a formal principle or Rule of Faith. It can't be done, as I've observed in many dialogues on the subjects with several Protestants who have a measure of expertise on the subject. They make a valient effort, and offer many alleged proof texts, but the reasoning is filled with erroneous assumptions and false, untrue conclusions flowing therefrom. I believe the inadequacies of this argument are being more than amply demonstrated presently.

The command to believe what is written means to believe only the pure word of God. It separates from all other sources the corpus what a man is to believe. What is at stake before the All Holy God is His incorruptible truth.

To believe what is written and inspired does not preclude also believing in authoritative pronouncements of apostles and of the Church which preserves (by the assistance of the Holy Spirit) the apostolic deposit passed on from the apostles (who in turn received it from our Lord Jesus).

In the very last commandment in the Bible God resolutely tells us not to add to nor take away from His Word.

"For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book: If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the Book of Life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Revelation 22:18-19)
This refers only to the book of Revelation (as seen in the words "if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy" - not all Scripture is prophetic in nature). That's all it is referring to. It does not in any way prohibit an authoritative extrascriptural or oral teaching.

His Word is absolutely sufficient in itself. (Psalm 119:160)

The text does not make this more grandiose claim, that Mr. Bennett tries to interpret in terms of the conception of sola Scriptura ("sufficient" - i.e., somehow ruling out other authorities, which doesn't follow from being sufficient, anyway). The text simply says (RSV):

The sum of thy word is truth; and every one of thy righteous ordinances endures for ever.
Who would argue against this? But it is no proof whatsoever of the full-blown Protestant invention and previously-unknown novelty of sola Scriptura.


The principle of "sola Scriptura" is consistent with the very way in which the word of truth that comes from God, is to be interpreted, as Psalm 36:9 explains, "For with thee is the fountain of life; in thy light we see light". God's truth is seen in the light of God's truth. This is exactly the same as the Apostle Paul says, "Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (I Corinthians 2:13). It is precisely in the light which God's truth sheds, that His truth is seen. (Cp. John 3:18-21, II Corinthians 4:3-7.)

The Apostle Peter, under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, declares, "knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation. For prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:20-21). Logically then, Peter makes it very clear that in order to maintain the purity of Holy God's written word, the source of interpretation must be from the same pure source as the origin of the Scripture itself. Scripture can only be understood correctly in the light of Scripture, since it alone is uncorrupted. It is only with the Holy Spirit's light that Scripture can be comprehended correctly. The Holy Spirit causes those who are the Lord's to understand Scripture (John 14:16-17, 26). Since the Spirit does this by Scripture, obviously, it is in accord with the principle that Scripture itself is the infallible rule of interpretation of its own truth "it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth" (I John 5:6).

Catholics agree that comparing Scripture with Scripture is an excellent way to do exegesis and systematic theology. It doesn't follow, however, that we are left with this method alone in seeking to understand Scripture. This isn't necessary; it is not explicitly taught in Scripture (nor are other methods condemned), and there are many contra-indications, as I will demonstrate shortly. Furthermore, this belief in a clear or "perspicuous" Scripture (to the extent that an individual needs no necessary outside help) has not in fact, produced the marvelous unity and agreement on doctrine which was always the dream of the early Protestants, but which has never managed to become a concrete reality. See my papers: Fictional Dialogue on Sola Scriptura, and The Perspicuity (Clearness) of Scripture.

The Jerusalem Council authoritatively interpreted Scripture, and not by simply comparing Scripture with Scripture. "Binding and loosing" is also exercised by the apostles (and priests and bishops later on). Nor did the Old Testament Jews interpret in this way (Mr. Bennett has again given us Old Testament Scripture in supposed support of sola Scriptura - Psalm 36:9). From my second book once again (pp. 56-57):

The Jews did not have a "me, the Bible, and the Holy Ghost" mindset. Protestants have, of course, teachers, commentators, and interpreters of the Bible (and excellent ones at that - often surpassing Catholics in many respects). They are, however, strictly optional and non-binding when it comes down to the individual and his choice of what he chooses to believe. This is the Protestant notion of private judgment and the nearly-absolute primacy of individual conscience (Luther's "plowboy").

In Catholicism, on the other hand, there is a parameter where doctrinal speculation must end: the Magisterium, dogmas, papal and conciliar pronouncements, catechisms - in a word (well, two words): Catholic Tradition. Some things are considered to be settled issues. Others are still undergoing development.

All binding dogmas are believed to be derived from Jesus and the Apostles. Now, who did the Jews resemble more closely in this regard? Did they need authoritative interpretation of their Torah, and eventually, the Old Testament as a whole? The Old Testament itself has much to "tell" us (RSV):

a) Exodus 18:20: Moses was to teach the Jews the statutes and the decisions - not just read it to them. Since he was the Lawgiver and author of the Torah, it stands to reason that his interpretation and teaching would be of a highly authoritative nature.

b) Leviticus 10:11: Aaron, Moses' brother, is also commanded by God to teach.

c) Deuteronomy 17:8-13: The Levitical priests had binding authority in legal matters (derived from the Torah itself). They interpreted the biblical injunctions (17:11). The penalty for disobedience was death (17:12), since the offender didn't obey the priest who stands to minister there before the LORD your God. Cf. Deuteronomy 19:16-17, 2 Chronicles 19:8-10.

d) Deuteronomy 24:8: Levitical priests had the final say and authority (in this instance, in the case of leprosy). This was a matter of Jewish law.

e) Deuteronomy 33:10: Levite priests are to teach Israel the ordinances and law. (cf. 2 Chronicles 15:3, Malachi 2:6-8 - the latter calls them messenger of the LORD of hosts).

f) Ezra 7:6,10: Ezra, a priest and scribe, studied the Jewish law and taught it to Israel, and his authority was binding, under pain of imprisonment, banishment, loss of goods, and even death (7:25-26).

g) Nehemiah 8:1-8: Ezra reads the law of Moses to the people in Jerusalem (8:3). In 8:7 we find thirteen Levites who assisted Ezra, and who helped the people to understand the law. Much earlier, in King Jehoshaphat's reign, we find Levites exercising the same function (2 Chronicles 17:8-9). There is no sola Scriptura, with its associated idea "perspicuity" (evident clearness in the main) here. In Nehemiah 8:8: . . . they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly [footnote, "or with interpretation"], and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

So the people did indeed understand the law (8:12), but not without much assistance - not merely upon hearing. Likewise, the Bible is not altogether clear in and of itself, but requires the aid of teachers who are more familiar with biblical styles and Hebrew idiom, background, context, exegesis and cross-reference, hermeneutical principles, original languages, etc.
h) I think all Christians agree that prophets, too, exercised a high degree of authority, so I need not establish that.
The Catholic Church continues to offer authoritative teaching and a way to decide doctrinal and ecclesiastical disputes, and believes that its popes and priests have the power to "bind and loose," just as the New Testament describes. Protestantism has no such system.

The Old Testament and Jewish history attest to a fact which Catholics constantly assert, over against sola Scriptura and Protestantism: that Holy Scripture requires an authoritative interpreter, a Church, and a binding Tradition, as passed down from Jesus and the Apostles.

Those truly desiring to be true to Lord in this very matter of the standard of "sola Scriptura" must turn to the Lord to obey His command, "Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you" (Proverbs 1:23). If one is yearning of truth in this essential matter, in the attitude of Psalm 51:17 "with a broken and a contrite heart", the Lord God will not despise, but reveal to him or her the basic foundation where the Lord Christ Jesus stood, as did the apostles. In the words of the Apostle John, "This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true." (John 21:24). The Apostle John wrote, as did Peter and Paul, in order that those who are saved should know that his testimony is true.

This is all well and good, and we believe it, but it doesn't prove a single thing that Mr. Bennett is trying to prove, and doesn't disprove in the least the host of counter-factual biblical evidences that I have brought to bear, or the different view of authority that flows logically from them. Protestant defenses of sola Scriptura are almost always of this simplistic, "take-it-for-granted" nature, They simply assume what they are trying to prove from the outset and struggle mightily to make Scripture itself fit into their preconceived notions. That's what is called in logic, "circular argument" or "begging the question." But it is a losing battle. What Protestant defenders of sola Scriptura think is so "obvious" and "clear" is not at all that, when objectively examined.

Protestants think sola Scriptura is "obvious" and "unquestionable" in the way that a fish in an aquarium (with - theoretically - no people ever to observe it) thinks it is "obvious" that the entire world consists of water and that all creatures live in it. John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote eloquently about this strong tendency:

That Scripture is the Rule of Faith is in fact an assumption so congenial to the state of mind and course of thought usual among Protestants, that it seems to them rather a truism than a truth. If they are in controversy with Catholics on any point of faith, they at once ask, Where do you find it in Scripture? and if Catholics reply, as they must do, that it is not necessarily in Scripture in order to be true, nothing can persuade them that such an answer is not an evasion, and a triumph to themselves. Yet it is by no means self-evident that all religious truth is to be found in a number of works, however sacred, which were written at different times, and did not always form one book; and in fact it is a doctrine very hard to prove . . . It [is] . . . an assumption so deeply sunk into the popular mind, that it is a work of great difficulty to obtain from its maintainers an acknowledgment that it is an assumption.

(An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1955; originally 1870, 296)

I am here to try to persuade Protestants that there is a respectable, plausible, cogent, coherent and consistent, biblical way of thinking which is contrary to sola Scriptura: that the latter "worldview" or schema of authority is not "all there is" or the only way to faithfully read and interpret Holy Scripture, and that Scripture itself teaches this, rather than sola Scriptura.

If sola Scriptura is all one knows or hears about, then of course one will come away with that viewpoint. "We are what we eat." But if the biblical, patristic, and pre-16th century ways of viewing authority are presented, it can readily be seen that the case for them is far superior. I believe that is evident above. Mainly I have presented scripture and scholarly commentary on it and on the ancient Jews and the early Christians. The case presents itself and is very strong. It doesn't depend on my own skills or cleverness.


The total sufficiency of Scripture is declared by the Apostle Paul, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Timothy 3:16-17). For final truth and authority, all that we need is the Scripture.

But the passage doesn't teach formal sufficiency, which excludes an authoritative role for Tradition and Church. Protestants merely extrapolate onto the text what simply isn't there. Catholics accept the material sufficiency of Scripture. All true Christian doctrines can be found in Scripture, explicitly or implicitly, or clearly deduced from biblical evidences.

I proposed a contextual, analogical, and exegetical argument against this standard Protestant interpretation of 2 Timothy 3:16-17, in my first book (pp. 9-11):

In 2 Timothy alone (context), St. Paul makes reference to oral Tradition three times (1:13-14, 2:2, 3:14). In the latter instance, St. Paul says of the tradition, knowing from whom you learned it. The personal reference proves he is not talking about Scripture, but himself as the Tradition-bearer, so to speak . . . The "exclusivist" or "dichotomous" form of reasoning employed by Protestant apologists here is fundamentally flawed. For example, to reason by analogy, let's examine a very similar passage, Ephesians 4:11-15:
Ephesians 4:11-15 And his gifts were that some should be apostle, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are able to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
If the Greek artios (RSV, complete / KJV, perfect) proves the sole sufficiency of Scripture in 2 Timothy, then teleios (RSV, mature manhood / KJV, perfect) in Ephesians would likewise prove the sufficiency of pastors, teachers and so forth for the attainment of Christian perfection. Note that in Ephesians 4:11-15 the Christian believer is equipped, built up, brought into unity and mature manhood, knowledge of Jesus, the fulness of Christ, and even preserved from doctrinal confusion by means of the teaching function of the Church. This is a far stronger statement of the perfecting of the saints than 2 Timothy 3:16-17, yet it doesn't even mention Scripture.

Therefore, the Protestant interpretation of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 proves too much, since if all non-scriptural elements are excluded in 2 Timothy, then, by analogy, Scripture would logically have to be excluded in Ephesians. It is far more reasonable to synthesize the two passages in an inclusive, complementary fashion, by recognizing that the mere absence of one or more elements in one passage does not mean that they are nonexistent. Thus, the Church and Scripture are both equally necessary and important for teaching. This is precisely the Catholic view. Neither passage is intended in an exclusive sense.


In an attempt to justify a tradition as an authority, an appeal is often made to the very last verse in John's gospel where it is stated, "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen". (John 21:25) Of course there were many of the deeds and sayings of the Lord, which are not recorded in Scripture. Scripture is the authoritative record that Holy God has given His people. We do not have a single sentence that is authoritatively from the Lord, outside of what is in the written word. To appeal to a tradition for authority when Holy God did not give it is futile. The idea that somehow sayings and events from the Lord have been recorded in tradition is simply not true.

But we have seen above (in many instances) that the Bible itself teaches differently. So this is not true. The advocate of sola Scriptura needs to deal with all the counter-arguments that Catholics present. usually they do not, so their position attains a false facade of invulnerability.

Another desperate attempt to justify tradition, is the statement that the early church did not have the New Testament. The Apostle Peter speaks about the writings of the Apostle Paul when he states, "even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:15-16). Peter also declares that he was writing so that the believers could remember what he said. So he wrote, "Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth" (2 Peter 1:12).

All this shows is that there was such a thing as a written revelation, which was supremely important in the Christian life. But Catholics wholeheartedly agree with that and it is not at issue. It's irrelevant to the discussion of whether sola Scriptura is true and biblical. The Protestant needs to show that both an authoritative Church and Tradition (always in harmony with Scripture in the Catholic view) are excluded by the Bible. This cannot be done. It is impossible because the Bible doesn't teach it. Sola Scriptura cannot be proven by simply citing all passages about a written scripture. To prove that a written Scripture exists and that it possesses inspiration and authority is not the same thing as proving that it is formally sufficient without Church or Tradition. This is such an obvious truth of logic and common sense that it is often overlooked.

From the earliest times a substantial part of the New Testament was available. Under the inspiration of the Lord, the Apostle Paul commands his letters to be read in other churches besides those to which they were sent. This clearly shows that the written word of God was being circulated even as the Apostles lived. The Lord's command to believe what is written has always been something that the believers could obey and did obey.

But authoritative commands to believe (recorded in the Bible itself) were not confined to the written word. Paul gave oral tradition the same weight and authority, as shown above. Jesus accepted various oral traditions of the Jews.

In this matter we must have the humility commanded in the Scripture not to think above what is written. "that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another" (1 Corinthians 4:6).

I dealt with this supposed "proof text" also, in my first book (pp. 11-12):

The whole passage is an ethical exhortation to avoid pride, arrogance and favoritism, and as such, has nothing to do with the idea of the Bible and the written word as some sort of all-encompassing standard of authority over against the Church. St. Paul's teaching elsewhere . . . precludes such an interpretation anyway. One of the foundational tenets of Protestant hermeneutics is to interpret less clear, obscure portions of Scripture by means of more clear, related passages. St. Paul is telling the Corinthians to observe the broad ethical precepts of the Old Testament (some translators render the above clause as keep within the rules), as indicated by his habitual phrase, it is written, which is always used to precede Old Testament citations throughout his letters. Assuming that he is referring to the Old Testament (the most straightforward interpretation), this would again prove too much, for he would not be including the entire New Testament, whose Canon was not even finally determined until 397 A.D.

To summarize, then, 1 Corinthians 4:6 (that is, one part of the verse) fails as a proof text for sola Scriptura for at least three reasons:

1) The context is clearly one of ethics. We cannot transgress (go beyond) the precepts of Scripture concerning relationships. This doesn't forbid the discussion of ethics outside of Scripture (which itself cannot possibly treat every conceivable ethical dispute and dilemma);

2) The phrase does not even necessarily have to refer to Scripture, although this appears to be the majority opinion of scholars (with which I agree);

3) If what is written refers to Scripture, it certainly points to the Old Testament alone (obviously not the Protestant "rule of faith"). Thus, this verse proves too much and too little simultaneously.


The Lord brings the topic of truth to bear on our love for Him. This again underscores its importance. "Jesus answered and said to him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings; and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent Me" (John 14:23-24). And then again "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matthew 24:35).

But this presupposes that Jesus was always talking about His words recorded in Scripture, rather than all of them, recorded or not. It thus begs the question once again (an extremely common and annoying occurrence in apologias for sola Scriptura). In Matthew 28:19-20, in the "Great Commission" passage, Jesus tells the disciples to evangelize and baptize, "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (28:20). There is no reason (textually or contextually) to believe that He intended the "all" here to be confined to a written word.

The disciples who heard Jesus say this certainly would not have understood the injunction in that way, either, as there was no written Gospel during Jesus' lifetime. The Gospels were written after He died. Evangelical Bible scholar Donald Guthrie, in his huge work, New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, revised one-volume edition, 1970), dates Matthew anywhere from 80-100 A.D. (p. 46), Mark from 60-70 (p. 74), Luke from 90-100 (p. 112), and John, between 90 and 110 (p. 283).

The hearers would have understood the Lord as telling them to pass on to others what they had learned from Him, orally. We have no record of Jesus Himself writing anything. So Mr. Bennett's argument above is plain shortsighted, if not downright silly in its excessive simplicity. This point is verified in the following passage as well:

Acts 1:2-3 . . . the apostles . . . To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. (cf. Luke 24:15-16,25-27)
The Lord himself looked to the authority of the Scriptures alone, as did His apostles after Him.

Neither did this, as shown.

They confirmed the very message of the Old Testament. "The law of the LORD is perfect" (Psalm 19:7). The believer is to be true to the way of the Lord, holding alone to what is written: "Thy Word is truth."

This has already been dealt with. We see, then, that Mr. Bennett's case is virtually non-existent or extremely weak at all fundamental points. It collapses under its own weight of internal contradiction and false premises. This is always the case where sola Scriptura is concerned. One must sympathize with the plight of sola scripturists, in a sense. It's an uphill battle to argue for something which isn't true in the first place. Even the most brilliant minds, skilled arguers, and eloquent rhetoricians will fail in that impossible task. And the reason why Catholics believe it is not true have been presented above, almost entirely from the Bible itself, which is where the "battle" for sola Scriptura must be fought and either won or lost.

Refutation of Dr. John F. MacArthur, Jr's article, "The Sufficiency of the Written Word: Answering the Modern Roman Catholic Apologists"

(available online)

Dr. John MacArthur is an influential and well-known radio preacher, Bible expositor, and author, well-worth listening to (until he gets to the subject of Catholicism . . . ). I will quote a great deal of his article, but not all (unlike Mr. Bennett's piece, which was reproduced in its entirety). Dr. MacArthur's words will be in red. The subtitles are his own.

Teaching as Doctrines the Precepts of Men

. . . The Jews of Jesus' day also placed tradition on an equal footing with Scripture. Rather, in effect, they made tradition superior to Scripture, because Scripture was interpreted by tradition and therefore made subject to it.

It doesn't follow that because interpretation exists, therefore, Scripture is "subject to it," in the sense that it is somehow lesser or inferior. That is simply an unbiblical and false Protestant dichotomy (one of many). Interpretation must exist because that is simply the reality with regard to all written documents: even inspired ones. This is presupposed in Scripture itself (RSV):

. . . no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation . . .

(2 Peter 1:20)

. . . Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him . . . in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their destruction.

(2 Peter 3:15-16)

In Nehemiah 8:1-8, we find that Ezra reads the law of Moses to the people in Jerusalem (8:3). In 8:7 we find thirteen Levites who assisted Ezra, and who helped the people to understand the law. Much earlier, in King Jehoshaphat's reign, we find Levites exercising the same function (2 Chronicles 17:8-9). There is no sola Scriptura, with its associated idea "perspicuity" (evident clearness in the main) here. In Nehemiah 8:8: . . . they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly [footnote, "or with interpretation"], and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. So the people did indeed understand the law (8:12), but not without much assistance - not merely upon hearing.

See other examples of such interpretation in Old Testament times in Section V above.

Whenever tradition is elevated to such a high level of authority, it inevitably becomes detrimental to the authority of Scripture.

This doesn't follow, either. To say that supremely authoritative Scripture has to be interpreted is not to denigrate it in the slightest. Many Protestant scholars have pointed out that the Catholic Church's regard for Scripture is in no wise inferior to that of evangelical Protestantism:

Roman Catholicism has a high regard for Scripture as a source of knowledge . . . Indeed, official Roman Catholic statements concerning the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture would satisfy the most rigorous Protestant fundamentalist.
(Robert McAfee Brown, The Spirit of Protestantism, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1961, 172-173)
There was never a time in the history of the western Church during the 'Dark' or 'Middle' Ages when the Scriptures were officially demoted. On the contrary, they were considered infallible and inerrant, and were held in the highest honour.
(Peter Toon, Protestants and Catholics, Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1983, 39)

After quoting 19 eminent Church Fathers to the effect that Scripture is infallible and held in the
highest regard (bolstering his own thesis in this book), and citing all sorts of examples of Protestant denominations lowering their view of biblical infallibility and inerrancy, Harold Lindsell, former editor of Christianity Today and well-known evangelical scholar, has this to say about the Catholic reverence for Scripture:

The view expressed by Augustine was the view the Roman Catholic Church believed, taught, and propagated through the centuries . . . It can be said that the Roman church for more than a thousand years accepted the doctrine of infallibility of all Scripture . . . The church has always (via Fathers, theologians, and popes) taught biblical inerrancy . . . The Roman church held to a view of Scripture that was no different from that held by the Reformers.
(The Battle For the Bible, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976, 54-56)

Jesus made this very point when he confronted the Jewish leaders. He showed that in many cases their traditions actually nullified Scripture. He therefore rebuked them in the harshest terms:

"Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men."

"Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men." He was also saying to them, "You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death'; but you say, 'If a man says to his father or his mother, anything of mine you might have been helped by is Corban (that is to say, given to God),' you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother, thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that (Mark 7:6 - 13).

A half-truth is little better than a lie. Protestant defenders are always presenting these passages where unbiblical traditions of men are condemned, and then making out that this is the biblical and apostolic view of all notions of tradition whatsoever. In other words, for them, Tradition is a "dirty word." This is manifestly false, as I have shown by many many Scriptural proofs in Section III above. To be fair to Dr. MacArthur, he later deals with some of the verses about "tradition" that Catholics present, but he misinterprets them, as I will show.

It was inexcusable that tradition would be elevated to the level of Scripture in Judaism, because when God gave the law to Moses, it was in written form for a reason: to make it permanent and inviolable. The Lord made very plain that the truth He was revealing was not to be tampered with, augmented, or diminished in any way. His Word was the final authority in all matters: "You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you" (Deuteronomy 4:2). They were to observe His commandments assiduously, and neither supplement nor abrogate them by any other kind of "authority": "Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:32).

This was dealt with at length in the refutation of Richart Bennett: following the written word does not automatically rule out an oral tradition.

So the revealed Word of God, and nothing else, was the supreme and sole authority in Judaism. This alone was the standard of truth delivered to them by God Himself. Moses was instructed to write down the very words God gave him (Exodus 34:27), and that written record of God's Word became the basis for God's covenant with the nation (Exodus 24:4, 7). The written Word was placed in the Ark of the Covenant (Deuteronomy 31:9), symbolizing its supreme authority in the lives and the worship of the Jews forever. God even told Moses' successor, Joshua: "Be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night., so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it" Joshua 1:7 - 8).

This is patently untrue, and was dealt with in Sections II, III, and V above.

Of course, other books of inspired Scripture beside those written by Moses were later added to the Jewish canon - but this was a prerogative reserved by God alone. Sola Scriptura was therefore established in principle with the giving of the law. No tradition passed down by word of mouth, no rabbinical opinion, and no priestly innovation was to be accorded authority equal to the revealed Word of God as recorded in Scripture.

Then why did Jesus appeal to authoritative oral and/or non-biblical written Jewish traditions, as in many examples shown in Section II above? Either our Lord Jesus was right or Dr. MacArthur is. They can't both be right. I rather prefer Jesus, if I must make a choice between the two . . .

Agur understood this principle: "Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words lest He reprove you, and you be proved a liar" (Proverbs 30:5 - 6).

The Scriptures therefore were to be the one standard by which everyone who claimed to speak for God was tested: "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20, KJV).

The Old Testament itself and the conclusions of Old Testament scholars lead to an understanding that the ancient Jews did not believe in sola Scriptura, so it is foolish to appeal to the Old Testament as "proof" that they did, or that this is the biblical position.

In short, tradition had no legitimate place of authority in the worship of Jehovah. Everything was to be tested by the Word of God as recorded in the Scriptures.

Tradition can be in harmony with the written word, which is the possibility that Dr. MacArthur either doesn't realize, or won't allow because of preconceived notions which won't allow this.

That's why Jesus' rebuke to the scribes and Pharisees was so harsh. Their very faith in Rabbinical tradition was in and of itself a serious transgression of the covenant and commandments of God (cf. Matthew 15:3).

Insofar as they transgressed true tradition, yes. But that is not the whole "ball of wax." One who loves Holy Scripture won't ignore or "sweep under the rug" certain portions of it (ones I have detailed above).

The Rise and Ruin of Catholic Tradition

Unfortunately, Christianity has often followed the same tragic road as paganism and Judaism in its tendency to elevate tradition to a position of authority equal to or greater than Scripture. The Catholic Church in particular has its own body of tradition that functions exactly like the Jewish Talmud: it is the standard by which Scripture is to be interpreted. In effect, tradition supplants the voice of Scripture itself.

No evidence is given for such a wild assertion. It is merely anti-Catholic cynicism and prejudice. Dr. MacArthur can't even accurately detail what Scripture says in the first place about tradition. He gives us only a small portion of that (not coincidentally the verses where false traditions of men are being condemned). Now he goes on to make false and unsubstantiated claims about the Catholic Church.

How did this happen? As James White has demonstrated in his chapter on "Sola Scriptura and the Early Church," the earliest church Fathers placed a strong emphasis on the authority of Scripture over verbal tradition. Fierce debates raged in the early church over such crucial matters as the deity of Christ, His two natures, the Trinity, and the doctrine of original sin. Early church councils settled those questions by appealing to Scripture as the highest of all authorities. The councils themselves did not merely issue ex cathedra decrees, but they reasoned things out by Scripture and made their rulings accordingly. The authority was in the appeal to Scripture, not in the councils per se.

Of course the Fathers appealed to Scripture as supreme authority in doctrinal matters (so do Catholics; it is the overwhelming emphasis of my own apologetic and evangelistic ministry). But the Fathers did not believe in sola Scriptura, which is a different thing. Dr. MacArthur is seriously mistaken.

Unfortunately, the question of Scriptural authority itself was not always clearly delineated in the early church, and as the church grew in power and influence, church leaders began to assert an authority that had no basis in Scripture.

That's an unproven assumption, as are many remarks following, which I will delete for the sake of space. What is "biblical" or not, or consistent with Holy Scripture or not has to be established in lengthy discussions on each particular topic.

Tradition, according to Roman Catholicism, is therefore as much "the Word of God" as Scripture.

That is what the Bible itself clearly teaches, as conclusively shown in Sections II and III above.

So in effect, tradition is not only made equal to Scripture, but it becomes the true Scripture, written not in documents, but mystically within the Church herself. And when the Church speaks, her voice is heard as if it were the voice of God, giving the only true meaning to the words of the "documents and records." Thus tradition utterly supplants and supersedes Scripture.

How, then, does Dr. MacArthur deal with the Council of Jerusalem, where the Holy Spirit led the delegates to pronounce an authoritative interpretation, which Paul, Timothy, and Silas then went out and preached in many cities (see Section III above). Was that an instance in which the very apostles themselves "supplanted and superseded Scripture"?

Modern Catholic Apologetics and Sola Scriptura

In other words, the official Catholic position on Scripture is that Scripture does not and cannot speak for itself. It must be interpreted by the Church's teaching authority and in light of "living tradition."

The Bible itself teaches that, as shown repeatedly. We are not saying that the Bible is radically unclear (we believe it is more often than not clear, and materially sufficient as well); only that men will, in fact, disagree on its interpretation (for whatever reason); thus making some form of authoritative interpretation necessary. The Bible is not clear or "perspicuous" enough to render unnecessary such authority. Nothing illustrates this point better than the history of Protestantism itself.

De facto this says that Scripture has no inherent authority, but like all spiritual truth, it derives its authority from the Church.

That doesn't follow at all, logically, and is a gross distortion of our position. It is not a matter of whether or not Holy Scripture possesses authority. It certainly does (and inherently, intrinsically so), as it is inspired, "God-breathed" revelation. The only question is how to best interpret what is not self-evidently clear, simply by virtue of its existence (if it were that clear, then we wouldn't have all the divergent interpetations of its teachings, even between Protestants, who supposedly all accept sola Scriptura and perspicuity of Scripture).

Furthermore, the Bible itself gives authority to both Church and Tradition, as shown over and over in the refutation of Mr. Bennett. So the authority of those entities is the biblical position. Dr. MacArthur, on the other hand, is neglecting a vast area of relevant biblical passages, and instead misrepresents and caricatures the Catholic position (probably not deliberately, but it is still equally false and slanderous and unfair).

Only what the Church says is deemed the true Word of God, the "Sacred Scripture... written principally in the Church's heart rather than in documents and records." This position obviously emasculates Scripture. That is why the Catholic stance against Sola Scriptura has always posed a major problem for Roman Catholic apologists. On one hand faced with the task of defending Catholic doctrine, and on the other hand desiring to affirm what Scripture says about itself, they find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. They cannot affirm the authority of Scripture apart from the caveat that tradition is necessary to explain the Bible's true meaning. Quite plainly, that makes tradition a superior authority. Moreover, in effect it renders Scripture superfluous, for if Catholic tradition inerrantly encompasses and explains all the truth of Scripture, then the Bible is simply redundant. Understandably, sola Scriptura has therefore always been a highly effective argument for defenders of the Reformation.

I've been doing Catholic apologetics for thirteen years now, and have a published book and many published articles (in books and magazines) and one of the three most-visited Catholic apologetics websites on the Internet, according to Alexa Web Search. I've discussed this issue with Protestants dozens of times. I've probably written more on this than on any other topic (and I have authored ten books and written nearly 500 papers on this website). I can testify that I haven't had the slightest problem refuting sola Scriptura and defending the Catholic position on Bible, Church, and Tradition.

The reader can see plainly in this very paper how much Scripture Protestant polemicists are ignoring. I've debated people on this matter who had Master's degrees specializing in sola Scriptura (Carmen Bryant, James White), or who edited books like the revised Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (Jerome Smith), or who have written whole books on the subject (James White). They simply ignore many of the biblical passages that can be brought to bear. Nor have they ever proven that the Bible itself teaches sola Scriptura. I've yet to see it. I contend that it cannot be done; period.

Furthermore, Protestant apologists and defenders of sola Scriptura can't show that the Fathers believed anything like this. In my recent dialogue with Jason Engwer (cited and linked above), I was critiquing his claim that the Fathers believed in sola Scriptura. I set out to show how ten Fathers (as representative examples) did not in fact believe this - with copious documentation. Mr. Engwer was apparently not very confident in his own thesis, seeing that he departed the discussion (a public one on the large Protestant CARM Discussion forum) after counter-replying to my arguments regarding only four of the ten Fathers I dealt with at length. Dr. MacArthur can wax triumphant if he likes, but the facts show otherwise. I will inform him and Mr. Bennett of this very paper, and the reader can follow my website to see if they ever respond. I can almost guarantee that neither one of them will, if past experience is any guide.

Now, if someone wishes to interpret that as the Protestant position concerning sola Scriptura being superior and the Catholic one inferior and supposedly reduced to special pleading and distorting the biblical facts, so be it. I think the Protestant silence of counter-argument speaks volumes. Perhaps other Catholic apologists have had a different experience, but that is mine. In fact, I would say that refuting sola Scriptura is one of the very easiest of my tasks as an apologist. It's a piece of cake; easy as pie. Every time I have dialogued on this topic, I come away even more amazed at the virtual nonexistence of the Protestant case, and the strength of the Catholic argument.

In my own opinion, this is the biggest weakness in Protestant thought: the "Achilles' Heel," so to speak, because it is of such fundamental importance; so much is built upon it, and because the Bible can offer nothing whatsoever to conclusively establish this view. It is indeed an unbiblical "tradition of men" (which is supremely ironic and tragi-comic). It came out of nowhere in the 16th century and cannot be sustained from the Bible, no matter how futilely and desperately and quixotically someone tries to do so. There is literally nothing in the Bible which would even suggest (let alone "prove") sola Scriptura.

So it is not hard to understand why in recent years Catholic apologists have attacked sola Scriptura with a vengeance. If they can topple this one doctrine, all the Reformers' other points fall with it.

Exactly; so much rests upon it, as I just stated (and I am answering as I read, so I didn't know Dr. MacArthur was about to state this). And this is why (I speculate, but with much firsthand knowledge) Protestant apologists are scared to death to deal with this topic in the depth it deserves, with a Catholic opponent. Too much is at stake. I think they sense this, so they avoid the topic like the plague (in terms of seriously debating it; really getting to the bottom of this issue), for fear of the consequences, should they be shown a more biblical and logical way.

For under the Catholic system, whatever the Church says must be the standard by which to interpret all Scripture. Tradition is the "true" Scripture, written in the heart of the Church.

It should be noted in passing that all Christian groups have some tradition, whether or not they outwardly deny this. Sola Scriptura is one such Protestant tradition (and not even a biblical one). Dr. MacArthur is a Calvinist. If he were to start interpreting certain Scriptures about falling away from grace and from the faith as literally suggesting something other than perseverance of the saints or eternal security, he would be suspect in the eyes of his Calvinist comrades, as a biblical exegete. He would not be allowed to interpret in such a way in his own circle of fellow Calvinist believers, sola Scriptura or no, perspicuity of Scripture or no, supremacy of conscience and private judgment or no. Thus, there is a limit and a barrier as to how far a Calvinist can go in interpreting Scripture.

If a Lutheran (Missouri Synod) pastor started asserting that the Eucharist and baptism were purely symbolic, he would be in big trouble (as classic orthodox Lutheranism holds to the Real Presence - consubstantiation - and baptismal regeneration). If a Baptist pastor or theologian adopted a belief in infant baptism, he would be told that he doesn't see the clear evidence of Scripture for adult, believer's baptism, and would probably soon be out of a job. And so on and so forth. So the Catholic Church, too, has parameters and standards of orthodoxy (like everyone else) beyond which a Catholic is not allowed to go. There may be relatively more of these, granted, but the restrictions are not different in kind from any Protestant restrictions on dogma and hermeneutics and exegesis. All Christian groups do this. So it is foolish to chide only the Catholic Church for allowing only so much leeway in biblical hermeneutics.

Besides, it is a little-known fact that the Catholic Church has only required the interpretation of a mere nine Bible verses as absolutely binding. See my paper: The Freedom of the Catholic Biblical Exegete. The Church is not (in effect) staring over every Catholic's shoulder as they read the Bible (that's much more likely to be true of the local pastor, in many Protestant denominations). To claim that it is doing so is to be exceedingly ignorant of the Catholic ethos and approach to theology and the Bible.

The Church - not Scripture written in "documents and records" - defines the truth about justification by faith, veneration of saints, transubstantiation, and a host of other issues that divided the Reformers from Rome.

Dr. MacArthur simply assumes that "Reformed" doctrines are biblical and Catholic ones are not. But this begs the question. I've devoted my life's work to showing that the Catholic positions are eminently biblical and not anti-biblical at all, with my website, Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, and first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism. And why must Church be pitted against Scripture as if the two are unalterably opposed and cannot be synthesized? This is not the way that the Bible presents the relationship between the two, or between Scripture and Tradition. Why is it impermissible to believe (in faith) in a harmony between the three and a protection by the Holy Spirit from error?

Protestants believe this about Scripture. Why cannot Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit can also protect God's apostolic deposit from error? In fact, the gift of ecclesial infallibility is easier to believe in faith than biblical inspiration, because it is only a negative protection against error, not a positive guarantee that every word in Scripture is "God-breathed."

To put it another way, if we accept the voice of the Church as infallibly correct, then what Scripture says about these questions is ultimately irrelevant.

That doesn't follow at all, and is a gross distortion, if in fact (as Catholics believe) Scripture and Church teaching are harmonious, as just argued. Protestants simply assume that Catholic doctrines can't be harmonized with Scripture; therefore they conclude that there is a fundamental disconnect between the two, with Church authority or Tradition placed higher than the Scripture they supposedly contravene. But the premise remains to be proven. Most Protestants are also unaware of Catholic (and patristic) biblical arguments in favor of their doctrines.

This statement is as fallacious as saying that the human proclamation of the canon of Scripture somehow undercuts the inspiration and inherent status of the books of the Bible. It does not; it is merely authoritatively proclaiming what already is true of its own accord (and this is precisely what the Catholic Church believes about the canon). That is the case with Church and Scripture. Scripture doesn't somehow become "irrelevant" merely because the Church says something about it. This is a ludicrous assertion . . .

And in practice this is precisely what happens. To cite but one example, Scripture very plainly says, "There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). Nonetheless, the Catholic Church insists that Mary is her Son's "co-mediatrix."

And in practice, most Protestants don't have a clue as to what this means, or the reasoning behind it. I have many papers explaining it and defending it from the Bible. Again, Dr. MacArthur assumes what he is ostensibly trying to prove. He pulls out an example that he knows will resonate with all Protestant readers, because they are probably least-familiar with Catholic Mariology, of all the Catholic distinctives. Then in effect he proclaims, "A-ha! See how radically unbiblical Catholicism is??!!" But he hasn't proven this; he has only asserted it. I understand that one can't prove every assumption on the spopt, but the repeated use of this tactic among Protestant polemicists gets a bit annoying.

And in the eyes of millions of Catholics, what the Church says is seen as the final and authoritative Word of God. First Timothy 2:5 is thus nullified by Church tradition.

Not if the Catholic belief on Mary in this regard is shown to be not at all at odds with many biblical indications . . . it is not explicitly biblical, but it is not at all contrary to biblical thought

Obviously, if Rome can prove her case against sola Scriptura, she overturns all the arguments for the Reformation in one fell swoop.

I'm delighted to hear Dr. MacArthur state this. In fact, I think he goes too far. I wouldn't even argue this, but I would say that overturning the Protestant Rule of Faith would be a severe blow, which should cause Protestants to reconsider their system of belief and how it is arrived-at. Thus, the lack of substantive reply that I always receive when arguing this point is all the more alarming, and the consequences very serious for the Protestant position.

If she can establish her tradition as an infallible authority, no mere biblical argument would have any effect against the dictates of the Church.

We never regard our authority as in such a radical dichotomy or adversarial relationship with Holy Scripture, but rather, of a piece with it. This is a caricature of our position, and it does not follow at all from it.

The Sufficiency of Scripture

First, it is necessary to understand what sola Scriptura does and does not assert. The Reformation principle of sola Scriptura has to do with the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture.

Catholics agree with the last sentence; that is what is called material sufficiency. We even agree with the sentence before it, as long as such authority is not pitted against Church and Tradition.

It only means that everything necessary, everything binding on our consciences, and everything God requires of us is given to us in Scripture.

Since Scripture teaches us about an authoritative Church and Tradition, then those things, too, must be binding on Christians, as they are biblical, which alone can bind us, according to Protestantism. It's as if they cut off the limb they are sitting on.

Scripture is therefore the perfect and only standard of spiritual truth, revealing infallibly all that we must believe in order to be saved, and all that we must do in order to glorify God. That - no more, no less - is what sola Scriptura means.

This standard must be interpreted by human beings somewhere along the line (even Protestants have creeds and confessions, which presuppose interpretation).

So sola Scriptura simply means that Scripture is sufficient. The fact that Jesus did and taught many things not recorded in Scripture John 20:30; 21:25) is wholly irrelevant to the principle of sola Scriptura. The fact that most of the apostles' actual sermons in the early churches were not written down and preserved for us does not diminish the truth of biblical sufficiency one bit. What is certain is that all that is necessary is in Scripture - and we are forbidden "to exceed what is written" (1 Corinthians 4:6).

This has all been dealt with above (as has 2 Timothy 3:15-17, which is brought up next - as it always is). The Bible teaches that oral tradition is also authoritative, so Dr. MacArthur is simply wrong.

How Do We Know the Doctrine of the Apostles?

Now let's examine the key Scriptures Rome cites to try to justify the existence of extrabiblical tradition. Since many of these passages are similar, it will suffice to reply to the main ones. First we'll examine the key verses that speak of how apostolic doctrine was transmitted, and then we'll explore what the apostle Paul meant when he spoke of "tradition."

2 Timothy 2:2: "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also." Here the apostle Paul instructs Timothy, a young pastor, to train other faithful men for the task of leadership in the church. There is no hint of apostolic succession in this verse, nor is there any suggestion that in training these men Timothy would be passing on to them an infallible tradition with authority equal to the Word of God. On the contrary, what this verse describes is simply the process of discipleship . . .

Dr. MacArthur misses the point. This passage is (usually) not used as a proof of either apostolic succession or infallibity, but for the presence of authoritative oral tradition per se. Apostolic succession can be proven elsewhere in the Bible.

What was this truth? It was not some undisclosed tradition, such as the Assumption of Mary, which would be either unheard of or disputed for centuries until a pope declared ex cathedra that it was truth. What Timothy was to hand on to other men was the same doctrine Paul had preached before "many witnesses." Paul was speaking of the gospel itself. It was the same message Paul commanded Timothy to preach, and it is the same message that is preserved in Scripture and sufficient to equip every man of God (2 Timothy 3:16 - 4:2).

Precisely; I agree. And I have shown above (Section III) that Tradition, Word of God, and the Gospel are regarded as essentially identical in Scripture, and by Paul. There is no dichotomy. That is merely a Protestant fiction, or invention. Tradition can't be separated out; that would be like trying to separate hydrogen atoms from a water molecule.

In short, this verse is wholly irrelevant to the Catholic claim that tradition received from the apostles is preserved infallibly by her bishops. Nothing in this verse suggests that the truth Timothy would teach other faithful men would be preserved without error from generation to generation.

No one is arguing that; one has to be clear what is a proof or indication of what. Yet Dr. MacArthur would say that the Gospel was preserved infallibly. If, then, we can show that it is equated with "tradition" in the Bible (as I think I have done), then we have gone 90% of the way towards winning the "battle," if not all the way.

That is indeed what Scripture says of itself: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching" (2 Timothy 3:16), but no such assertion is ever made for tradition handed down orally.

Tradition is equated with the Word of God and the Gospel; therefore, this is said of tradition. See, e.g., verses like Jude 3 and Acts 2:42. More than just the Bible is being referred to.

Like Timothy, we are to guard the truth that has been entrusted to us. But the only reliable canon, the only infallible doctrine, the only binding principles, and the only saving message, is the God-breathed truth of Scripture.

This assumes what it is trying to prove, once again . . .

Acts 2:42: "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." This verse simply states that the early church followed the apostles' teaching as their rule of faith. Once again this passage says nothing about apostolic succession and contains no hint of a guarantee that "the apostles' teaching" would be infallibly preserved through any means other than Scripture.

As the New Testament was not yet compiled at that point, this was clearly an oral tradition. As for infallibility, that would be deduced from passages like Matthew 16:18 and John 16:13 and Acts 15:28. One doesn't have to prove everything from one passage. Dr. MacArthur seems to assume that is the Catholic burden or outlook, and proceeds to tear down such a silly methodology. But it's a straw man in the first place. The Catholic biblical argument is a cumulative one, based on many strands of evidence from throughout Scripture.

Note also that this verse describes the attitude of the earliest converts to Christianity. The "they" at the beginning of the verse refers back to verse 41 and the three thousand souls who were converted at Pentecost. These were for the most part rank-and-file lay people. And their one source of Christian doctrine (this was before any of the New Testament had been penned) was the oral teaching of the apostles.

Exactly. How that is an indication for sola Scriptura is beyond me.

This verse is even more irrelevant to the question of infallible tradition than 2 Timothy 2:2. The only point it asserts that is remotely germane to the issue is that the source of authority for the early church was apostolic teaching. No one who holds to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura would dispute that point. Let it be stated as clearly as possible: Protestants do not deny that the oral teaching of the apostles was authoritative, inerrant truth, binding as a rule of faith on those who heard it. Moreover, if there were any promise in Scripture that the exact words or full sense of the apostolic message would be infallibly preserved through word of mouth by an unbroken succession of bishops, we would be bound to obey that tradition as a rule of faith.

This is all well and good, as far as it goes, but where the Protestant goes wrong is to assume that nothing besides Scripture could ever have authority after Scripture was completed. That is overthrown by Jesus' own multiple appeals to non-biblical literature or oral traditions.

Scripture, however, which is God-breathed, never speaks of any other God-breathed authority; it never authorizes us to view tradition on an equal or superior plane of authority; and while it makes the claim of inerrancy for itself, it never acknowledges any other infallible source of authority. Word-of-mouth tradition is never said to be theopneustos, God-breathed, or infallible.

This is untrue, as has been shown in a variety of ways, in the Richard Bennett portion of this paper. I knew that these two men would ba making many of the same arguments, which is why I combined the refutation into one paper, to save a lot of re-writing.

What Tradition Did Paul Command Adherence To?

We've already noted, however, that Catholic apologists claim they do see verses in Scripture that accord authority to tradition. Even non-Catholic versions of Scripture, speak of a certain "tradition" that is to be received and obeyed with unquestioning reverence.

What of these verses? Protestants often find them difficult to explain, but in reality they make better arguments against the Catholic position than they do against sola Scriptura. Let's examine the main ones:

1 Corinthians 11:2: "Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you." Those words of Paul to the Corinthians speak of tradition, do they not?

Yet as is often true, the meaning is plain when we look at the context. And examining the context, we discover this verse offers no support whatsoever for the Roman Catholic notion of infallible tradition.

First of all, the apostle is speaking not of traditions passed down to the Corinthians by someone else through word of mouth. This "tradition" is nothing other than doctrine the Corinthians had heard directly from Paul's own lips during his ministry in their church . . . In this case, however, it refers only to Paul's own preaching - not to someone else's report of what Paul taught . . .

Why would Dr. MacArthur think he is disproving that Paul is referring to authoritative tradition merely by stating that Paul delivered it? It makes no sense. Whether Paul or anyone else delivered it has no bearing on what it is. Elsewhere, Paul speaks many times of doctrines which he received and is passing on. So if Dr. MacArthur's point is that this instance was not passed on (therefore, it isn't tradition), there are two other instances in Paul's writing to the Corinthians where he describes a tradition that he recieved (Greek, paralambano) and in turn passed on, or delivered (Greek, paradidomi) ; thus his argument in this regard collapses (RSV):

1 Corinthians 11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,

1 Corinthians 15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,

I Corinthians 11:2 . . . is nothing but Paul's exhortation to the Corinthians that they remember and obey his apostolic teaching. It reflects Paul's own personal struggle to protect and preserve the doctrinal tradition he had carefully established in Corinth. But again, there is no implication whatsoever that Paul expected this tradition to be infallibly preserved through any inspired means other than Scripture.

Paul assumes that it is binding and authoritative. Thus, it is reasonable to infer that he regarded it as infallible, lest he be commanding them to follow a mistaken doctrine. He writes, for example:

2 Thessalonians 3:14 If any one refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.
Romans 16:17: . . . take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in
opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them.
Paul didn't write:
. . . . in opposition to the pretty-much, mostly, largely true but not infallible doctrine which you have been taught . . .
2 Thessalonians 2:15: "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us." This is perhaps the favorite verse of Catholic apologists when they want to support the Catholic appeal to tradition, because the verse plainly delineates between the written word and oral "traditions."

Again the Greek word is paradosis. Clearly, the apostle is speaking of doctrine, and it is not to be disputed that the doctrine he has in mind is authoritative, inspired truth.

So what is this inspired tradition that they received "by word of mouth"? Doesn't this verse rather clearly support the Catholic position?

No, it does not. Again, the context is essential to a clear understanding of what Paul was saying. The Thessalonians had evidently been misled by a forged letter, supposedly from the apostle Paul, telling them that the day of the Lord had already come (2 Thessalonians 2:2).

The entire church had apparently been upset by this, and the apostle Paul was eager to encourage them. For one thing, he wanted to warn them not to be taken in by phony "inspired truth." And so he told them clearly how to recognize a genuine epistle from him - it would be signed in his own handwriting: "I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write" (3:17). He wanted to ensure that they would not be fooled again by forged epistles.

But even more important, he wanted them to stand fast in the teaching they had already received from him. He had already told them, for example, that the day of the Lord would be preceded by a falling away, and the unveiling of the man of lawlessness. "Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?" 2:5). There was no excuse for them to be troubled by a phony letter, for they had heard the actual truth from his own mouth already.

Now, no one - even the most impassioned champion of sola Scriptura - would deny that Paul had taught the Thessalonians many things by word of mouth. No one would deny that the teaching of an apostle carried absolute authority. The point of debate between Catholics and Protestants is whether that teaching was infallibly preserved by word of mouth. So the mere reference to truth received firsthand from Paul himself is, again, irrelevant as support for the Catholic position.

What is irrelevant, and - beyond that - absurd, is an argument like the one above, in which it is asserted that Paul could not be talking about tradition even when he uses the very word and refers to oral teaching. What else is needed or required, for heaven's sake? Even when the proof is this clear, the Protestant polemicist has to weasel out of it by special pleading. This is what Dr. MacArthur attempts to do, and it is effective until exposed, as presently. He tries to argue (using his own words in quotes):

1. "it is not to be disputed that the doctrine he has in mind is authoritative, inspired truth."
2. "The Thessalonians had evidently been misled by a forged letter, supposedly from the apostle Paul." "He wanted to ensure that they would not be fooled again by forged epistles."
3. "he wanted them to stand fast in the teaching they had already received." "they had heard the actual truth from his own mouth already."
4. "The point of debate between Catholics and Protestants is whether that teaching was infallibly preserved by word of mouth."
5. "Certainly nothing here suggests that the tradition Paul delivered to the Thessalonians is infallibly preserved for us anywhere except in Scripture itself."
6. "he was ordering them to receive as infallible truth only what they had heard directly from his own lips."
This is very clever, and a vigorous attempt to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but ultimately it is illogical special pleading, and I will now show why I consider that to be the case, by commenting on each proposition in turn:
1. How is it that a doctrine specifically called a "tradition" by Paul and delivered orally as well as by letter - which even Dr. MacArthur describes as "authoritative, inspired truth" - is somehow seen to not be a tradition and not a disproof of the Protestant notion that binding doctrine can never rest on oral transmission? Dr. MacArthur might just as well argue that black is white or that a square is a circle. He can (quite remarkably) see something plainly before him, yet make it into a different thing, because it creates a difficulty for his Rule of Faith.

2. Paul is concerned about a forged letter; therefore, there exists no such thing as authoritative tradition???? Is this logical? Does it make any sense? Students of logic can see that several steps in the needed logical progression of thought have either been entirely skipped over (suggesting a shortcoming in logical thinking) or assumed to be true without proof (which is circular argument). Either way it is a terribly shoddy "argument."

3. The Thessalonians had received oral teaching from Paul already, and he wanted them to hold to it, therefore there is no such thing as authoritative oral teaching, and the real truth in matters of authority is Bible Alone. Huh???!!!

4. This is correct. According to Jesus, various traditions before His time were preserved in such a way (as shown in Section II). That would seem to be sufficient for any Christian, but here we are merely trying to show that there is such a thing as authoritative oral tradition. Whether it was infallible or not is a separate issue logically (technically or philosophically speaking), but I would strongly contend that Paul (and all the apostles) casually assumed that the message they were delivering (orally, in most instances) was infallible. There is certainly no indication that they regarded it as fallible. When Paul spoke of receiving such traditions, he showed no indication whatever that it was fallible or that he questioned it because it came from oral transmission rather than written. Thus he appears to easily assume and take for granted that which Dr. MacArthur has the hardest time grasping and accepting, even when it is staring him right in the eye on the pages of the very Scripture that he grants the highest inspired authority (as Catholics do).

5. This skips over several points or steps in the logical progression of the argument Dr. MacArthur wishes to make. It is not at all clear that Paul's teaching could only have been faithfully preserved in Scripture and nowhere else. That is simply the later conception of sola Scriptura smuggled into the text. At this point there was no compiled New Testament; in fact, the letters to the Thessalonians are some of the earliest portions of the New Testament (possibly as early as 50 A.D., according to scholars). So it is absurd to even apply an analysis of sola Scriptura (regardless of whether that concept is true or not) to this scenario. At this point in history, Paul regards oral tradition as equally authoritative, as clearly shown in this verse, despite Dr. MacArthur's clever attempts to evade its clear meaning and import for our topic. It is equally ludicrous to assume sola Scriptura, and then contend that the apostles always intended for subsequent Christian teaching after their deaths to be by the written word in the Bible alone, and never by oral or Church tradition, for the simple reason that this is never taught in Scripture, either. It is a bald assumption made by Protestants; assumed with no proof or argument whatever, other than some supposed mythical connection with verses which in fact (closely-scrutinized) don't support sola Scriptura at all, like 2 Timothy 3:15-17. On the other hand, Scripture plainly teaches that the Church would have authority, as seen in the Jerusalem Council, and the "binding and loosing" passages, among many others.

6. Dr. MacArthur evidently thinks that "if Paul said it, even if it is oral (though this is not a tradition, of course), then it is binding, and will (almost always) be recorded in Scripture later, anyway, so we know exactly what Paul was telling them." None of this is at all certain. Besides, this epistle was actually from Silvanus and Timothy also (see 2 Thess. 1:1). He (as primary author) often uses the plural "we" or "us" (see, e.g., 1:3-4,11, 2:1,13). Thus, in the passage under consideration, Paul is not only considering his own instruction authoritative, but also that of Silvanus and Timothy ("traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us"). This undercuts much of Dr. MacArthur's "Paul as the pastor of the Thessalonians" contextual argument. This plurality is reiterated again in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-7 (RSV):

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you,
So we see that this tradition was larger than simply Paul's own teaching, to be recorded in the Bible, and there alone, without one whit of it being transmitted in any other fashion. Thus Jude (3) can speak of "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." What faith? By whom? This was not just Paul and it was not the New Testament. It was already known and was proclaimed by the apostles, in its fullness (Matthew 28:20 - see particularly the word "all"). This is not sola Scriptura, pure and simple. Catholics agree that Scripture contained this deposit, but not all of it explicitly or not absolutely every jot and tittle of apostolic tradition. If the Protestant says we are not bound to anything not found explicitly in Scripture, we ask them where in Scripture do we find such a notion, and why should we think ourselves in a better place than the earliest Christians, before the New Testament was compiled? Paul and the other apostles show no indication whatever that pre-New Testament Christians were somehow in a less-prepared or equipped position vis-a-vis Christianity than us "Bible Christians" today are. Sola Scriptura is unbiblical and unhistorical mythology.
Paul was urging the Thessalonians to test all truth-claims by Scripture, and by the words they had heard personally from his own lips. And since the only words of the apostles that are infallibly preserved for us are found in Scripture, that means that we, like the Bereans, must compare everything with Scripture to see whether it is so.

Where did Paul urge them to "test all truth-claims by Scripture" in 2 Thessalonians? Dr. MacArthur must have a very different Bible than I do (I use the RSV). "Gospel" is mentioned twice (1:8 and 2:14), "tradition" twice (2:15 and 3:6), but neither "Scripture" nor "Scriptures" appears. "Word of the Lord" appears once (3:1), but it appears not to refer to the Bible:

Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you.
This is referring to the proclamation of the gospel (i.e., Jesus' death on the cross on our behalf, Resurrection, Ascension, Atonement, and Redemption - not a technical theory of soteriology and justification, as many Protestants mistakenly define the biblical "gospel"), which is what St. Paul and his aides were doing, not going around passing out Bibles like the Gideons or something. The New Testament was far from being compiled at all at this early stage, so the above could not possibly have been referring to it. It can't refer to the Old Testament because that was not the new Good News that they were preaching.

Yet somehow Dr. MacArthur gets out of this book that it offers no support for Catholic notions of tradition whatever and completely supports sola Scriptura because of the Bereans mentioned in the book of Acts? This is very curious exegesis indeed. As for the standard Protestant argument concerning the Bereans, it is no proof, either, as my friend, Catholic apologist Steve Ray has shown in his paper, Did The Noble-Minded Bereans Believe In The Bible Alone?.

A similar state of affairs occurs in 1 Thessalonians also. "Scripture" or "Scriptures" never appear. "Word," "word of the Lord," or "word of God" appear five times (1:6,8, 2:13 - twice - , 4:15), but in each instance it is clearly in the sense of oral proclamation, not Scripture. We have no reason from the text to believe that this oral "word of the Lord" was understood to be restricted to what was later recorded in the New Testament. Dr. MacArthur assumes this, but he has no proof. It is simply an inadequate Protestant way of dealing with all this authoritative oral proclamation and tradition going on in the Bible itself.

Roman Catholic apologists protest that only a fraction of Paul's messages to the Thessalonians are preserved in the two brief epistles Paul wrote to that church. True, but may not we assume that what he taught the Thessalonians was the very truths that are found in generous measure throughout all his epistles - justification by faith alone, the true gospel of grace, the sovereignty of God, the Lordship of Christ, and a host of other truths?

For the most part, yes; this is a reasonable assumption (I note that Paul didn't teach faith alone, and that phrase never appears in the Bible, either, except to be denied twice, in the book of James), but it doesn't prove that there was nothing else. That there was indeed more is an equally reasonable assumption to make, and is certainly not ruled out by the text. I would maintain that it is more likely than the contrary option, given the text of 2 Thessalonians.

The New Testament gives us a full-orbed Christian theology. Who can prove that anything essential is omitted?

An indisputable, explicit proof of sola Scriptura is omitted. And as Dr. MacArthur has told us, sola Scriptura is an essential, fundamental principle of Protestantism - the absence of which would cause the system to collapse.

On the contrary, we are assured that Scripture is sufficient for salvation and spiritual life (2 Timothy 3:15 - 17).

And that same Scripture teaches an authoritative tradition and Church.

Where does Scripture ever suggest that there are unwritten truths that are necessary for our spiritual well-being?

In the many passages I have detailed. I have shown that gospel and word of God and tradition are identical concepts in Paul's mind and that of the other Scripture writers. Dr. MacArthur surely would not deny that the gospel is "necessary for our spiritual well-being."

One thing is certain - the words in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 imply no such thing.

I'm content to let readers decide between my interpretation and his. That's the beauty and utility of dialogue (or critique, as the case may be).

2 Thessalonians 3:6: "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us." This is the only other verse in all the New Testament where Paul uses the words tradition or traditions to speak of apostolic truth that is to be obeyed.

That is true as far as the Greek word paradosis, yet the concept of tradition is also clearly present in these six passages: 1 Corinthians 11:23, 15:1-3, Galatians 1:9,12, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Timothy 1:13-14, and 2:2.

By now, Paul's use of this term should be well established. This cannot be a reference to truth passed down from generation to generation. Again, Paul is speaking of a "tradition" received firsthand from him.

So what? Elsewhere he clearly teaches the concept of a tradition he received, passed on or delivered to others, and which they should also "maintain" (1 Cor 11:2), "stand firm" in and "hold to" (2 Thess 2:15 - a mere eight verses before 3:6, in a New Testament originally without chapter or verse numbers); one that should be "followed" and "guarded" since it was "entrusted . . . by the Holy Spirit" (2 Tim 1:13-14), and "entrusted to faithful men" in order to "teach others also" (2 Tim 2:2). What more does one need? Protestants are the ones always stressing comparison of Scripture with Scripture and the necessity of checking context for proper hermeneutics and exegesis. I have done all that. But Dr. MacArthur seems to not even know that these other relevant passages exist. He is ignoring all this evidence and special pleading.

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 15 September 2003. Added to blog on 21 November 2006.

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