Category Archives: Five Solas

Sola Scriptura?: Bible not available to individual Christians until 15th century


Let us recall that, until lately in the modern age, books were expensive possessions, and literacy, uncommon. Many will accuse the Church of burning heretics and their heretical books. Actually, it was the State which viewed heresy as treasonous, and burned heretics at the stake along with witches, et al. The Church was forbidden from shedding blood. The rack and the pear do not shed blood, necessarily.

This seems like a logical and reasonable practice to me if your goal is to preserve the intellectual integrity of knowledge amongst a grossly uneducated/undereducated populace. Seems reasonable. Of course, you can see how much unity and peace we have in the modern age from widely available varieties of texts, mass distribution and availability of ideas, the humility to learn, and general literacy and education, even if heretical. Right? (sic) While you may not approve of their methods, you cannot accuse their premise of being incorrect. You cannot; too much proof. Too much.

-by Joel Peters

“Essential to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is the idea that the Holy Spirit will enlighten each believer as to the correct interpretation for a given Bible passage. This idea presupposes that each believer possesses a Bible or at least has access to a Bible. The difficulty with such a presumption is that the Bible was not able to be mass-produced and readily available to individual believers until the advent of the printing press in the 15th century. (34) Even then, it would have taken quite some time for large numbers of Bibles to be printed and disseminated to the general population.

The predicament caused by this state of affairs is that millions upon millions of Christians who lived prior to the 15th century would have been left without a final authority, left to flounder spiritually, unless by chance they had access to a hand-copied Bible. Even a mere human understanding of such circumstances would make God out to be quite cruel, as He would have revealed the fullness of His Word to humanity in Christ, knowing that the means by which such information could be made readily available would not exist for another 15 centuries.

On the other hand, we know that God is not cruel at all, but in fact has infinite love for us. It is for this reason that He did not leave us in darkness. He sent us His Son to teach us the way we should believe and act, and this Son established a Church to promote those teachings through preaching to both the learned and the illiterate. “Faith then cometh by hearing; and hearing by the Word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17). Christ also gave to His Church His guarantee that He would always be with it, never allowing it to fall into error. God, therefore, did not abandon His people and make them rely upon the invention of the printing press to be the means whereby they would come to a saving knowledge of His Son. Instead, He gave us a divinely established, infallible teacher, the Catholic Church, to provide us with the means to be informed of the Good News of the Gospel – and to be informed correctly.”


34. It should be noted that the inventor of the printing press – Johannes Gutenberg – was Catholic, and that the first book he printed was the Bible (circa 1455). It should also be noted that the first printed Bible contained 73 books, the exact same number as today’s Catholic Bible. Protestants deleted 7 books from the Old Testament after the Bible had already begun being printed.

Sola Scriptura?: Hundreds of Bible versions


-by Joel Peters

“As mentioned in the prior post, there are thousands and thousands of variations in the Biblical manuscripts. This problem is compounded by the fact that history has known hundreds of Bible versions, which vary in translation as well as textual sources. The question which begs to be asked is, “Which version is the correct one?” or “Which version is closest to the original manuscripts?” One possible answer will depend on which side of the Catholic/Protestant issue you situate yourself. Another possible answer will depend upon which Bible scholars you consider to be trustworthy and reputable.

The simple fact is that some versions are clearly inferior to others. Progress in the field of Biblical research made possible by archaeological discoveries (e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls) has vastly improved our knowledge of the ancient Biblical languages and settings. We know more today about the variables impacting upon Biblical studies than our counterparts of 100, 200, or 1,000 years ago. From this point of view, modern Bible versions may have a certain superiority to older Bible versions. On the other hand, Bibles based on the Latin Vulgate of Saint Jerome (4th century) – in English, this is the Douay-Rheims – are based on original texts which have since perished, and thus these traditional versions bypass 16 centuries of possible textual corruption.

This fact causes a considerable problem for the Protestant, because it means that modern Protestants may have in some respects a “better” or more accurate Bible than their forbears, while in other respects they may have a “poorer” or less accurate Bible – which in turn means that modern Protestants have either a “more authoritative” final authority or a “less authoritative” final authority than their predecessors. But the existence of degrees of authoritativeness begins to undermine Sola Scirptura, because it would mean that one Bible is not as authentic a final authority as another one. And if it is not as authentic, then the possibility of transmitting erroneous doctrine increases, and the particular Bible version then fails to function as the final authority, since it is not actually final.

Another point to consider is that Bible translators, as human beings, are not completely objective and impartial. Some may be likely to render a given passage in a manner which corresponds more closely with one belief system rather than with another. An example of this tendency can be seen in Protestant Bibles where the Greek word paradoseis occurs. Since Protestants deny the existence of Sacred Tradition, some Protestant translations of the Bible render this word as “teachings” or “customs” rather than “tradition,” as the latter would tend to give more weight to the Catholic position.

Yet another consideration is the reality that some versions of the Bible are outright perversions of the Biblical texts, as in the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation. Here the “translators” render key passages in a manner which suits their erroneous doctrines. (32) Now unless there is an authority outside of the Bible to declare such translations unreliable and dangerous, by what authority could someone call them unsuited for use in teaching doctrine? If the Protestant responds by saying that this issue can be determined on the basis of Biblical scholarship, then he is ignorant of the fact that the Jehovah’s Witnesses also cite sources of Biblical scholarship in support of their translation of these passages! The issue then devolves into a game of pitting one source of scholarship against another – one human authority against another.

Ultimately, the problem can only be resolved through the intervention of an infallible teaching authority which speaks on behalf of Christ. The Catholic knows that that authority is the Roman Catholic Church and its Magisterium or teaching authority. In an exercise of this authority, Catholic Bishops grant an imprimatur (meaning “Let it be printed”) to be included on the opening pages of certain Bible versions and other spiritual literature to alert the reader that the book contains nothing contrary to the teachings of Christ and the Apostles.” (33)


(32) Of the numerous examples which could be cited, space considerations confine us to just a few to illustrate the point. In John 1:1, the NWT reads, “… and the Word was a god” rather than “and the Word was God,” because Witnesses deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. In Colossians 1:15-20, the NWT inserts the word “other” into the text four times because Witnesses believe that Jesus Christ Himself was created. In Matthew 26:26 the NWT reads “… this means my body…” instead of “This is my body,” because Witnesses deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

(33) Moreover, the old Latin Vulgate version of the Bible received a very particular approval by the Church at the Council of Trent among all the Latin editions of the Scriptures then in circulation. The Council of Trent declared: “Moreover, the same Holy Council [of Trent]… ordains and declares that the old Latin Vulgate Edition, which, in use for so many hundred years, has been approved by the Church, be in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions held as authentic, and that no one dare or presume under any pretext whatsoever to reject it.” (Fourth Session, April 8, 1546). Hence, as Pope Pius XII stated in his 1943 encyclical letter Divino Afflante Spiritu (“On the Promotion of Biblical Studies”), the Vulgate, “when interpreted in the sense in which the Church has always understood it,” is “free from any error whatsoever in matters of faith and morals.

In 1907 Pope Saint Pius X (1903-1914) initiated a revision of the Vulgate to achieve even greater textual accuracy. After his death, this huge project was carried on by others. In 1979 Pope John Paul II promulgated a “New Vulgate” as “Editio typica” or “normative edition’.”

Sola Scriptura?: Biblical manuscripts contain thousands of variations

-Hipster, The Teacher???

-by Joel Peters

“It has just been noted that there are thousands of Biblical manuscripts in existence; these manuscripts contain thousands of variations in the text; one writer estimates that there are over 200,000 variations. (25) Whereas the majority of these deal with minor concerns – such as spelling, word order and the like – there are also variations of a more important nature: a) the manuscript evidence shows that scribes sometimes modified the Biblical texts to harmonize passages, to accommodate them to historical fact, and to establish a doctrinal correctness; (26) and b) there are portions of verses (i.e., more than just a single word in question) for which there are several different manuscript readings, such as John 7:39, Acts 6:8, Colossians 2:2 and 1 Thessalonians 3:2. (27) These facts leave the Protestant in the position of not knowing if he possesses what the Biblical authors originally wrote. And if this is the case, then how can a Protestant profess to base his beliefs solely on the Bible when he cannot determine with certainty the textual authenticity of the Bible? (28)

More importantly, there are several more major textual variations among New Testament manuscripts. The following two examples will illustrate the point:

First, according to the manuscripts that we have, there are four possible endings for Mark’s Gospel: the short ending, which includes verses 1-8 of chapter 16; the longer ending, which includes verses 1-8 plus verses 9-20; the intermediate ending, which includes 2 to 3 lines of text between verse 8 and the longer ending; and the longer ending in expanded form, which includes several verses after verse 14 of the longer ending. (29) The best that can be said about these different endings is that we simply do not know for certain, from the Bible itself, where St. Mark’s Gospel concluded, and, depending on which ending(s) is/are included in a Protestant’s Bible, the publisher runs the risk of either adding verses to or omitting verses from the original text – thus violating the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, which requires “the Bible alone and in its entirety” as the basis of faith. Even if a Protestant’s Bible includes all four endings with explanatory comments and/or footnotes, he still cannot be certain which of the four endings is genuine.

Second, there is manuscript evidence for alternate readings in some pivotal verses of the Bible, such as John 1:18, where there are two possible wordings. (30) Some (such as the King James Version) read along the lines of the Douay-Rheims: “No man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Son Who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Either wording is substantiated by manuscript evidence, and you will therefore find Biblical scholars relying on their best educated judgment as to which one is “correct.” A similar situation occurs at Acts 20:28, where the manuscript evidence shows that Saint Paul could be referring to either the “church of the Lord” (Greek kuriou) or the “church of God” (Greek theou). (31)

Now this point may seem trivial at first, but suppose you are trying to evangelize a cult member who denies the divinity of Jesus Christ. While John 1:18 and Acts 20:28 are clearly not the only passages to use in defense of Our Lord’s divinity, you still may be unable to utilize these verses with that person, depending on which manuscript tradition your Bible follows. That would leave you marginally less able to defend a major Biblical doctrine, and the very nature of this fact become quite problematic from the perspective of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.”


(25) Raymond F. Collins, Introduction to the New Testament (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1983), p. 77.

(26) Ibid., pp. 100-102.

(27) Bruce M. Metzger (Protestant author), The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 221-225, 234-242.

(28) It has been maintained by Protestants that in all the variations in Biblical manuscripts, not one touches upon a major doctrine. Even though this assertion is untrue, it does not alter the fact that the Protestant is here admitting, at least obliquely, that it is permissible to accept something which is less than or different from the “real” Bible. And if this is true, then the Protestant himself has begun to undermine Sola Scriptura.

(29) Metzger, op. cit., pp. 226-228.

(30) Collins, op. cit., p. 102.

(31) Metzger, op. cit., p. 234.

Sola Scriptura?: None of the original manuscripts exist


-by Joel Peters

“A sobering consideration – and one which is fatal to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura – is that we do not possess a single original manuscript of any book of the Bible. Now it is true that there are thousands of manuscripts extant which are copies of the originals – and more likely than not they are copies of copies – but this fact does not help the Sola Scriptura position for the simple reason that without original manuscripts, one cannot know with certainty if he actually possesses the real Bible, whole and entire. (23) The original autographs were inspired, while copies of them are not.

The Protestant may want to assert that not having original Biblical manuscripts is immaterial, as God preserved the Bible by safeguarding its duplication down through the centuries. (24) However, there are two problems with this line of reasoning. The first is that by maintaining God’s providence with regard to copying, a person claims something which is not written in Scripture, and therefore, by the very definition of Sola Scriptura, cannot serve as a rule of faith. In other words, if one cannot find passages in the Bible which patently state that God will protect the transmission of manuscripts, then the belief is not to be held. The fact of the matter is that the Bible makes no such claim.

The second problem is that if you can maintain that God safeguarded the written transmission of His Word, then you can also rightly maintain that He safeguarded its oral transmission as well (recall 2 Thessalonians 2:14 [15] and the twofold form of God’s one revelation). After all, the preaching of the Gospel began as an oral tradition (cf. Luke 1:1-4 and Rom. 10:17). It was not until later on that some of the oral tradition was committed to writing – becoming Sacred Scripture – and it was later still that these writings were declared to be inspired and authoritative. Once you can maintain that God safeguarded the oral transmission of His teaching, you have demonstrated the basis for Sacred Tradition and have already begun supporting the Catholic position.”


(23) The earliest copies of the Bible, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, both date from the 4th century A.D., and neither one contains the entire Bible, as parts of the manuscripts have been lost or destroyed. The vast majority of the manuscripts that exist are only portions of the Bible.

(24) The irony here is that it was due to the tireless efforts of Catholic monks working laboriously in their monasteries that the written Word of God survived down through the centuries. The claim that the Catholic Church did everything in its power to suppress the Bible is a most pernicious falsehood, and it can readily be refuted by even the most cursory examination of and research into Church history. Quite the contrary, the Catholic Church, in its unique role as guardian of the Deposit of Faith, protected the Bible’s integrity from spurious and faulty translations, and it was these spurious and faulty copies of the Bible which it burned or destroyed to prevent false gospels from being circulated.

Sola Scriptura?: Bible not “self-authenticating”


-by Joel Peters

“Lacking a satisfactory answer to the question of how the canon of the Bible was determined, Protestants often resort to the notion that Scripture is “self-authenticating,” that is, the books of the Bible witness to themselves that they are inspired of God. The major problem with such an assertion is simply that even a cursory examination of ecclesial history will demonstrate it to be utterly untrue.

For example, several books from the New Testament – James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation – were disputed in terms of their canonical status for some time. In certain places they were accepted, while simultaneously in other s they were rejected. Even spiritual giants like St. Athanasius (297-373), St. Jerome (c. 342-420) and St. Augustine (354-430) had drawn up lists of New Testament books which witnessed to what was generally acknowledged as inspired in their times and places, but none of these lists corresponds exactly to the New Testament canon that was eventually identified by the Catholic Church at the end of the 4th century and which is identical to the canon that Catholics have today. (22)

If Scripture were actually “self-authenticating,” why was there so much disagreement and uncertainty over these various books? Why was there any disagreement at all? Why was the canon of the Bible not identified much earlier if the books were allegedly so readily discernible? The answer that one is compelled to accept in this regard is simply that the Bible is not self-authenticating at all.

Even more interesting is the fact that some books in the Bible do not identify their authors. The idea of self-authentication – if it were true – might be more plausible if each and every Biblical author identified himself, as we could more easily examine that author’s credentials, so to speak, or at least determine who it was that claimed to be speaking for God. But in this regard the Bible leaves us ignorant in a few instances.

Take St. Matthew’s Gospel as one example; nowhere does the text indicate that it was Matthew, one of the twelve Apostles, who authored it. We are therefore left with only two possibilities for determining its authorship: 1) what Tradition has to say, 2) Biblical scholarship. In either case, the source of determination is an extra-Biblical source and would therefore fall under condemnation by the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

Now the Protestant may be saying at this point that it is unnecessary to know whether or not Matthew actually wrote this Gospel, as one’s salvation does not depend on knowing whether it was Matthew or someone else. But such a view presents quite a difficulty. What the Protestant is effectively saying is that while an authentic Gospel is God’s Word and is the means by which a person comes to a saving knowledge of Christ, the person has no way of knowing for certain in the case of Matthew’s Gospel whether it is Apostolic in origin and consequently has no way of knowing it if its genuine (i.e., God’s Word) or not. And if this Gospel’s authenticity is questionable, then why include it in the Bible? If its authenticity is certain, then how is this known in the absence of self-identification by Matthew? One can only conclude that the Bible is not self-authenticating.

The Protestant may wish to fall back on the Bible’s own assertion that it is inspired, citing a passage like 2 Timothy 3:16 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable…” However, a claim to inspiration is not in and of itself a guarantee of inspiration. Consider the fact that the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science sect, claim to be inspired. The writings of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon sect, claim to be inspired. These are but two of many possible examples which demonstrate the that any particular writing can claim just about anything. Obviously, in order for us to know with certainty whether or not a writing is genuinely inspired, we need more than a mere claim by that writing that it is inspired. The guarantee of inspiration must come from outside that writing. In the case of the Bible, the guarantee must come from a non-Biblical source. But outside authentication is excluded by the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, and, necessarily void the concept of “self-authentication”.”


(22) Henry G. Graham, Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1911; Rockford, IL: TAN, 1977, 17th printing), pp. 31

Sola Scriptura?: Extra-biblical authority identified canon


-by Joel Peters

“Since the Bible did not come with an inspired table of contents, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura creates yet another dilemma: How can one know with certainty which books belong in the Bible – specifically, in the New Testament? The unadulterated fact is that one cannot know unless there is an authority outside the Bible which can tell him. Moreover, this authority must, by necessity, be infallible, since the possibility of error in identifying the canon of the Bible (20) would mean that all believers run the risk of having the wrong books in their Bibles, a situation which would vitiate Sola Scriptura. But if there is such an infallible authority, then the doctrine of Sola Scriptura crumbles; either way.

Another historical fact very difficult to reconcile with the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is that it was none other than the Catholic Church which eventually identified and ratified the canon of the Bible. The three councils mentioned in the immediate prior post were all councils of this Church. The Catholic Church gave its final, definitive, infallible definition of the Biblical canon at the Council of Trent in 1546 – naming the very same list of 73 books that had been included in the 4th century. If the Catholic Church is able, then, to render an authoritative and infallible decision concerning such an important matter as which books belong in the Bible, then upon what basis would a person question its authority on other matters of faith and morals?

Protestants should at least concede a point which Martin Luther, their religion’s founder, also conceded, namely, that the Catholic Church safeguarded and identified the Bible: “We are obliged to yield many things to the Catholics – (for example), that they possess the Word of God, which we received from them; otherwise, we should have known nothing at all about it.” (21)


(20) The reader must note that the Catholic Church does not claim that by identifying the books of the Bible it rendered them canonical. God alone is the author of canonicity. The Catholic Church instead claims that it and it alone has the authority and responsibility of infallibly pointing out which books comprise the Biblical canon already authored by God.

(21) Commentary on John, chapter 16, as cited in Paul Stenhouse’s Catholic Answers to “Bible” Christians (Kensington: Chevalier Press, 1993), p. 31.

Sola Scriptura?: Canon of the Bible not established by the Catholic Church until 4th century


-by Joel Peters

“One historical fact which proves extremely convenient for the Protestant is the fact that the canon of the Bible – the authoritative list of exactly which books are part of inspired Scripture – was not settled and fixed until the end of the 4th century. Until that time, there was much disagreement over which Biblical writings were considered inspired and Apostolic in origin. The Biblical canon varied from place to place: some lists contained books that were later defined as non-canonical, while other lists failed to include books which were later defined as canonical. For example, there were Early Christian writings which were considered by some to be inspired and Apostolic and which were actually read in Christian public worship, but which were later omitted from the New Testament canon. These include The Shepherd of Hermas, The Epistle of Barnabas, and The Didache, among others. (18)

It was not until the Synod of Rome (382 AD) and the Councils of Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 AD) that we find a definitive list of canonical books being drawn up, and each of these Councils acknowledged the very same list of books. (19) From this point on, there is in practice no dispute about the canon of the Bible, the only exception being the so-called Protestant Reformers, who entered upon the scene in 1517, an unbelievable 11 centuries later.

Once again, there are two fundamental questions for which one cannot provide answers that are consonant with Sola Scriptura: A) Who or what served as the final Christian authority up to the time that the New Testament’s canon was identified? B) And if there was a final authority that the Protestant recognizes before the establishment of the canon, on what basis did that authority cease being final once the Bible’s canon was established?”


(18) Henry G. Graham, Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1911; Rockford, IL: TAN, 1977, 17th printing), pp. 34-35.

(19) This list is the same as the list given in the Church’s final, definitive, explicit, infallible declaration as to which books are to be included in the Bible, which was made by the Council of Trent, Session IV, in 1546. Earlier lists of canonical books were the list in the “Decretal of Gelasius,” which was issued by authority of Pope Damasus in 382, and the canon of Pope Saint Innocent I, which was sent to a Frankish bishop in 405. Neither document was intended to be an infallible statement binding the whole Church, but both documents include the same 73 books as the list of Trent some 11 centuries later. (The Catholic Encyclopedia [New York: The Encyclopedia Press, 1913], Vol. 3, p. 272).

Sola Scriptura?: Heretics apart from Tradition, Magisterium


-by Joel Peters

“If you look at the history of the early Church, you will see that it continually struggled against heresies and those who promoted them. We also see the Church responding to those threats again and again by convening Councils (15) and turning to Rome to settle disputes in matters of doctrine and discipline. For example, Pope Clement intervened in a controversy in the Church at Corinth at the end of the 1st century and put an end to a schism there. In the 2nd century, Pope Victor threatened to excommunicate a large portion of the Church in the East because of a dispute about when Easter should be celebrated. In the earlier part of the 3rd century, Pope Callistus pronounced the condemnation of the Sabellian heresy.

In the case of these heresies and/or conflicts in discipline that would arise, the people involved would defend their erroneous beliefs by their respective interpretations of Scripture, apart from the Sacred Tradition and the teaching Magisterium of the Church. A good illustration of this point is the case of Arius, the 4th-century priest who declared that the Son of God was a creature and was not co-equal with the Father.

Arius and those who followed him quoted verses from the Bible to “prove” their claims. (16) The disputes and controversies which arose over his teachings became so great that the first Ecumenical Council was convened in Nicaea in 325 A.D. to settle them. The Council, under the authority of the Pope, declared Arius’ teachings to be heretical and made some decisive declarations about the Person of Christ, and it did so based on what Sacred Tradition had to say regarding the Scripture verses in question.

Here we see the teaching authority of the Church being used as the final say in an extremely important doctrinal matter. If there had been no teaching authority to appeal to, then Arius’ error could have overtaken the Church. As it is, a majority of the bishops at the time fell for the Arian heresy. (17) Even though Arius had based his arguments on the Bible and probably “compared Scripture with Scripture,” the fact is that he arrived at an heretical conclusion. It was the teaching authority of the Church – hierarchically constituted – which stepped in and declared he was wrong.

The application is obvious. If you ask a Protestant whether or not Arius was correct in his belief that the Son was created, he will, of course, respond in the negative. Emphasize, then, that even though Arius presumably “compared Scripture with Scripture,” he nonetheless arrived at an erroneous conclusion. If this were true for Arius, what guarantee does the Protestant have that it is not also true for his interpretation of a given Bible passage? The very fact that the Protestant knows Arius’ interpretations were heretical implies that an objectively true or “right” interpretation exists for the Biblical passages he used. The issue, then, becomes a question of how we can know what that true interpretation is. The only possible answer is that there must be, out of necessity, an infallible authority to tell us. That infallible authority, the Catholic Church, declared Arius heretical. Had the Catholic Church not been both infallible and authoritative in its declaration, then believers would have had no reason whatsoever to reject Arius’ teachings, and the whole of Christianity today might have been comprised of modern-day Arians.

It is evident, then, that using the Bible alone is not a guarantee of arriving at doctrinal truth. The above-described result is what happens when the erroneous doctrine of Sola Scriptura is used as a guiding principle, and the history of the Church and the numerous heresies it has had to address are undeniable testimony to this fact.”


(15) Bear in mind that the decrees of an Ecumenical Council had no binding force unless they were ratified by the Pope.

(16) Two favorite verses for Arians of all ages to cite in support of their beliefs are Proverbs 8:22 and John 14:28.

(17) See John Henry Newman, The Arians of the Fourth Century.

Sola Scriptura?: Bible vs Tradition foreign to 1st Christians


-by Joel Peters

“If you look at the writings of the Early Church Fathers, you will see references to the Apostolic Succession, (10) to the bishops as guardians of the Deposit of Faith, (11) and to the primacy and the authority of Rome. (12) The collective weight of these references makes clear the fact that the early Church understood itself has having a hierarchy which was central to maintaining the integrity of the Faith. Nowhere do we see any indication that the early followers of Christ disregarded those positions of authority and considered them invalid as a rule of faith. Quite the contrary, we see in those passages that the Church, from its very inception, saw its power to teach grounded in an inseparable combination of Scripture and Apostolic Tradition – with both being authoritatively taught and interpreted by the teaching Magisterium of the Church, with the Bishop of Rome at its head.

To say that the early Church believed in the notion of “the Bible alone” would be analogous to saying that men and women today could entertain the thought that our civil laws could function without Congress to legislate them, without courts to interpret them and without police to enforce them. All we would need is a sufficient supply of legal volumes in every household so that each citizen could determine for himself how to understand and apply any given law. Such an assertion is absurd, of course, as no one could possibly expect civil laws to function in this manner. The consequence of such a state of affairs would undoubtedly be total anarchy.

How much more absurd, then, is it to contend that the Bible could function on its own and apart from the Church which wrote it? It is precisely that Church – and not just any Christian – who alone possesses the divinely given authority to interpret it correctly, as well as to legislate matters involving the conduct of its members. Were this not the case, the situation on any level – local, regional or global – would quickly devolve into spiritual anarchy, wherein each and every Christian could formulate a theological system and develop a moral code based simply upon his own private interpretation of Scripture.

Has not history actually seen precisely this result since the 16th century, when the so-called Reformation (Revolution) occurred? In fact, an examination of the state of affairs in Europe immediately following the genesis of the Reformation – particularly in Germany – will demonstrate that the direct result of Reformation (Revolution) teaching was both spiritual and social disorder. (13) Luther himself bemoaned the fact that, “Unfortunately, it is our daily experience that now under the Gospel [his] the people entertain greater and bitterer hatred and envy and are worse with their avarice and money-grabbing than before under the Papacy.” (14)


(10) See, for instance: Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 3; Tertullian’s Prescription against Heretics, Chapter 32; and Origen’s First Principles, Book 1, Preface.

(11) See, for instance: Ignatius’ Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Chapters 8-9; Ignatius’ Letter to the Philadelphians, Introduction and Chapters 1-4; and Ignatius’ Letter to the Magnesians, Chapter 7.

(12) See, for instance: 1 Clement, Chapters 2, 56, 58, 59; Ignatius’ Letter to the Romans, introduction and Chapter 3; Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 3, no. 2; Tertullian’s Prescriptions against Heretics, Chapter 22; and Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Chapter 24, no. 9.

(13) See Msgr. Patrick F. O’Hare, LL.D., The Facts about Martin Luther (Cincinnati: Pustet, 1916; Rockrord, IL: TAN, 1987), pp. 215-255.

(14) Walch, XIII, 2195, as quoted in The Facts About Luther (Cincinnati: Pustet, 1916; Rockford, IL: TAN, 1987), pp. 215-255.

Sola Scriptura? Church produced Bible, not vice-versa


-by Joel Peters

“The doctrine of Sola Scriptura overlooks – or at least grossly underemphasizes – the fact that the Church came before the Bible, and not the other way around. It was the Church, in effect, which wrote the Bible under the inspiration of Almighty God: the Israelites as the Old Testament Church (or “pre-Catholics”) and the early Catholics as the New Testament Church.  (Ed.  Hold onto your Bible, Martin.  It’s a Catholic book!)

In the pages of the New Testament we note that Our Lord gives a certain primacy to the teaching authority of His Church and its proclamation in His name. For instance, in Matthew 28:20 we see Our Lord commissioning the Apostles to go and teach in His name, making disciples of all nations. In Mark 16:15 we note that the Apostles are commanded to go and preach to all the world. And in Luke 10:16 we see that whoever hears the seventy-two hears Our Lord. These facts are most telling, as nowhere do we see Our Lord commissioning His Apostles to evangelize the world by writing in His name. The emphasis is always on preaching the Gospel, not on printing and distributing it.  (Ed. most everyone could hear, only 60-70% could read, at peak, most likely far less.)

Thus it follows that the leadership and teaching authority of the Church are indispensable elements in the means whereby the Gospel message is to reach the ends of the earth. Since the Church produced the scriptures, it is quite biblical, logical and reasonable to say that the Church alone has the authority to interpret properly and apply them. And if this is so, then by reason of its origin and nature, the Bible cannot serve as the only rule of faith for Christian believers. In other words, by producing the Scriptures, the Church does not eliminate the need for itself as teacher and interpreter of those Scriptures.

Moreover, is it not unreasonable to say that simply by putting Apostolic teaching into writing, the Church somehow made that written teaching superior to her oral teaching? Like the teaching organization Our Lord established, His Word is authoritative, but because the word is one form rather than another does not mean one form is to be subjugated to the other. Since God’s one Revelation is twofold in form, to deny the authority of one form would be to deny the authority of the other form as well. The forms of God’s Word are complementary, not competitive. Thus, if there is a need for the Scriptures, there is also a need for the teaching authority which produced them.”