Roman Catholicism & Sola Scriptura




I am not ignorant of what Roman Catholics believe as I have spent hours studying what they have written in literature as well as on the internet.  I am not motivated by the prejudice that comes from the influence of the Protestant movement since I am not Protestant.  I am not deluded by the “false teaching” of non-Catholics for I practice an objective approach to Scripture when considering what others say is the “truth of God” (2 Tim. 2:15).    

The reason I can not be a Roman Catholic is because there is a divide that separates us.  This divide involves several critical issues that no amount of dialog can ever bridge.  It is the design of this study today and over the weeks that follow to discuss these dividing issues as objectively as possible,  drawing conclusions that will be in alignment with God’s truth.  Please understand my goal is not to attack Roman Catholics.  In fact I have several Roman Catholic friends who I consider good friends. 

As a pastor for over 30 years, I have found that not only are many non-Catholics confused regarding the teachings of the Catholic Church but many Catholics are confused as well.  Lets see if we can clarify a few of these.  The first issue that divides is “Sola Scriptura.”

I. The Issue Addressed:  “Sola Scriptura” is the Latin term for “Scriptures only or Scriptures alone” and refers to the teaching that the 66 books of the Bible are the supreme authority in the realms of faith, doctrine, and practice.   In other words, if any practice or doctrine held by the church is in contradiction to that of the teaching of the Bible, it is heresy and should be forsaken.  The Catholics declare this doctrine as heresy because many of their doctrines and practices are not found in the Bible and some even contradict biblical teaching.  Therefore they must turn to 3 additional sources of “revelation”: the Writings of the Church Fathers, the Decrees of the Church and Pope, and the Apocryphal books of the Bible added by the Catholic Church in 1545.   This is clearly presented in the following sources.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, “The [first] objective [or formal] principle proclaims the canonical Scriptures, especially the New Testament, to be the only infallible source and rule of faith and practice, and asserts the right of private interpretation of the same, in distinction from the Roman Catholic view, which declares the Bible and tradition to be co-ordinate sources and rule of faith, and makes tradition, especially the decrees of popes and councils, the only legitimate and infallible interpreter of the Bible.

Wikpedia on Sola_Scriptura, “the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Churches teach that the Scriptures are not the only infallible source of Christian doctrine. For them Scripture is but one of three equal authorities; the other two being Sacred Tradition and the episcopacy These churches also believe that the Church has authority to establish or restrict interpretation of Scriptures because, in part,it implicitly selected which books were to be in the biblical canon through its traditions, whereas Protestants believe the Church passively recognized and received the books that were already widely considered canonical.”

Catholic Answers Web Site gives the following advice to Catholics confronted by “Protestant Missionaries:”  “So before you turn to the verses he brings up, and thus to the topic he brings up, demand that he demonstrate a few things.  First, ask him to prove from the Bible that the Bible is the only rule of faith (if he’s an Evangelical or fundamentalist Protestant he holds to the Reformation theory of sola scriptura—the Bible alone).  Second, have him tell you how he knows which books belong in the Bible in the first place.   And third, require that he prove to you both that he has the authority to interpret the Bible for you (remember that his doctrines will almost always be drawn from interpretations of the sacred text rather than the words themselves). . . .

"If you recognize Scripture for what it is, you’ll see it wasn’t intended to be an instructional tool for converts. In fact, not one book of the Bible was written for non-believers. The Old Testament books were written for Jews, the New Testament books for people who already were Christians. "The Bible is not a catechism or a full-scale theological treatise. Just look at the 27 books of the New Testament. You won’t find one that spells out the elements of the faith the way catechisms do or even the way the ancient creeds did. Those 27 books were written for the most part (excepting, for example, the Gospels and the general epistles such as James and, 1 and 2 Peter) as provisional documents addressed to particular audiences for particular purposes.”

Let me at this point clarify the two keys issues that divide the Catholics and the non-Catholics.

a) The realm of revelation.  The Catholics hold that the Bible is only a partial revelation from God and it is therefore lacking in conveying many important doctrines for the Church.  The non-Catholics hold the Bible is the completed revelation of God for the Church age and all that is needed for the spiritual life of the Church and Saint can be found there in.

b) The authority to interpret.  The Catholics hold the Bible must be interpreted by those who are qualified and authorized to interpret the Scriptures.  Only those who make up the clergy or the leadership of the Church as a whole have the authority and the training to properly interpret the Scriptures.  Therefore in Catholic thinking the lay person is not capable of properly interpreting the Scriptures on his own.  The non-Catholics on the other hand believe that all believers are a part of the priesthood of Christ, possess the Holy Spirit who will lead them to all truth, and are encouraged to study the Bible for themselves. 

We can conclude for Roman Catholicism the doctrine of “Scripture only” is a huge threat to the current practices and doctrines of the Catholic Church.  Let me give just a few as examples of what I mean. 

a) The Priesthood of the Clergy.  There is no mention of a clerical priest over the local church nor is there any mention of a hierarchy of priests leading up to a Pope who rules over all the Churches.  Rather it is the pastor, who is normally married and the lay leaders of the church who are to govern the church and each church is to govern itself. 

b) Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  Many of the doctrines surrounding the Catholic view of Mary are found outside of the Bible.  If the Bible is the sole authority regarding Mary than the immaculate conception of Mary, the ascension of Mary into heaven, the intercessory work of Mary in heaven, the praying of the rosary to Mary, the miraculous manifestations of Mary must all be discarded

c) Infant Baptism.  There is no record in the Scriptures of infants being baptized and more importantly no command to do so.  In the New Testament, only those who have put their faith in Christ are to be baptized.

d) Purgatory.  According to Roman Doctrine, Purgatory is a place similar to hell with one exception.  Hell is forever and purgatory is temporary.  It is a place where believers at death find themselves if they have any venial sins not covered by the mass or last rites.  In Purgatory, they suffer greatly in order to atone for those sins before they can be released to go into heaven.  The living can shorten the time their loved ones suffer in purgatory through prayer, indulgences and other acts of meritorious grace.  No where in the Bible is Purgatory mentioned nor is the concept even implied.  The Bible clearly states all of humanity falls into one of two categories at death.  Those who are believers go to heaven and those who are unbelievers go straight to hell.  It is the fact that Purgatory is not mentioned in the Bible that played a role in the Catholic Church accepting the Old Testament Apocrypha in 1546 as one of these books makes an allusion to it.

II. The Issue Addressed:  The issue of Sola Scriptura which divides Catholics from non Catholics has now been clearly defined and illustrated.  The question we must now explore is who is right on this matter?  Are the Catholics correct when they insist that other revelation must be included and the believer needs the Church to interpret the Bible?  Are the non-Catholics right when they hold that the Scriptures are the only source of divine authority and that all believers have the ability to correctly understand it?  The Bible gives us the answer to these questions.

a) First of all, the Apostles doctrine can not be ignored.  The Apostles were a specially called group of men who were trained by the Lord Himself and given the authority by God that they might lay the foundation of the Church (1 Cor. 3:11).  These men in their writings gave orders to the churches to not accept any doctrine that contradicts what they had previously taught to the Church.  This being true, one must submit all doctrine teaching and practices to the authority of the Apostles as recorded in the 27 books of the New Testament. Consider the following verses.

Rom 16:17-19, “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.”

2 Corinthians 11:3-4, “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.  For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted — you may well put up with it!” NKJV

Philippians 4:8-9, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.  The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. NKJV    

2 Thessalonians 2:2-3, “not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ* had come.” NKJV
2 Thess 3:6-9, “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.”   NKJV

2 Thes 2:15, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.”  NKJV

2 Thes 3:14-15, “And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.”

Gal 1:6-9, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”  NKJV

2 Peter 3:15-16, “and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation — as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” NKJV

2 John 9-11, “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds

b) Secondly, the study and interpretation of the Scriptures was given to all believers

i) Peter declares that all believers are priests (1 Pet 2:4-5).  It is the view of the Catholic Church that the laity is not equipped to interpret the Scriptures.  This is instead reserved for the priesthood.  Now if the clergy are the only Priests in the Church than they would possibly have a valid argument.  It is this view that led the Catholic church to forbid the Bible to all laity and placed it in the index of forbidden books at the Council of Velencia in 1229.  However, Peter declares that all believers, laity and clergy, are the priesthood of Christ.  This makes the Scriptures assessable to all believers.

II) Paul commends the believers at Berea for studying the Scriptures.   Having heard the preaching of the Apostle Paul, the Bereans went home and studied the Scriptures out for themselves to make sure that Paul was speaking the truth (Acts 17:10-12).  It is for this reason I encourage my congregation to search out the scriptures after every one of my messages to be sure I am conveying the truth. 

 III) Jesus declared that all believers would have God’s help to properly understand the Scriptures.  Jesus said that the Holy Spirit who indwells all believers (1 Cor. 12:12-14) would guide them into all truth (John 16:13).

c) Thirdly, the 66 books of the Scripture were not compiled by the Roman Catholic Church in 397.  Actually, the canonization of the Scriptures began even before the NT was finished.  Peter in 2 Pet. 3:15-16 indicated that the writings of Paul were at that time considered to be on the same level as the Scriptures of the Old Testament.  During the centuries that followed, the Holy Spirit guided His Saints to select the 66 books that we have in the Bible today.  The date of 397 is in conflict with several other dates and counsels of the same time period.  It should be noted that the Church Father St. Augustine who presided over a couple of these councils considered the canon of Scripture as being closed with the 66 books.  In other words there would be no additional revelation added to the Bible.  Evidently the Roman Catholic Church did not share his views as they added the Apocryphal books to the Roman Catholic Canon at the Council of Trent in 1546 AD.  The Roman Catholics claim that they were the Church of the 4th Century however a close examination of the church of that century indicates that the Church was more representative of the Church of the New Testament then the Roman Church.

To sum this up we can draw some conclusions regarding the validity of the doctrine of Scripture Only or that the Bible is the only supreme authority in matters of faith, practice and doctrine.

#1: This was the teaching of both our Lord and His Apostles

#2: God not only made the Scriptures accessible to every believer but also gave them the assistance of the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth

#3: It is God’s intention that the local church pattern itself after the New Testament Church and not the pattern adopted and added too by the Roman Catholic Church since the Fourth Century. 

For this reason I can never be a Roman Catholic.  There are too many practices and teachings which can not stand against the supreme authority of the 66 Books of the Bible.  I feel for these people for many of them have been kept in the dark by their own Church lest they discover the truth and be set free.