The Noble Cath of Ninety-Six & Ten has penned a robust answer to my post on sola scriptura. It would be hard to address all of her points in the com-box so I proffer this post instead.

She is quite wrong in supposing that I am attacking the authority of Scripture. I hold all of Scripture each and every part to be the inspired word of God free from all error in precisely the sense that the inspired author intended when he wrote it down. It is only the sufficiency of Scripture as a norm of doctrine that I (and the scriptures themselves) deny.

I am fully determined to hold fast to “the once-for-all deposit of divine truth in the world” but I deny that all of this deposit is contained in Scripture. Scripture itself states 2 Thess 2:15 “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” Protestants may hold that everything passed on by word of mouth was subsequently written down but that is merely their claim, Scripture does not say so. John says that the world itself could not contain the books needed to record all that the Lord did. Protestants cannot use the claim that the “only place where apostolic teaching is known to exist subsequent to the apostles themselves is in the inspired Scriptures” as a premise because that is their desired conclusion. Catholics know that the fullness of Apostolic teaching subsists in the Catholic Church, in the faith of those baptised persons in communion with the successors of Peter and the Apostles.

Cath says “There is never the least hint that believers should turn to any resource outside the Scriptures in order to determine questions of doctrine or duty: the Scriptures themselves are, and claim to be, that very resource.” As we have seen they make no such claim but they do point us to a resource outside themselves in order to determine questions of doctrine or duty, the authority of the Apostles and their successors: Mtt 16:17-19; 18:15-18; Lk 22:28-32; Jn 21:15-17; Acts 1:20; 2 Tim 2:2.

That the scriptures render one complete (2 Tim 3:17) would only constitute a claim to their sufficiency if it were the scriptures with which one began. If on the other hand one begins with the word proclaimed by the living voice of the Apostles and their successors then the completeness given by the scriptures is achieved when they are added to the oral tradition of the Apostles and the authority of the Church not as an alternative to these. The very fact that Paul tells Timothy that Scripture is ‘profitable’ implies the use of Scripture is something supplemental to the basic activity of proclamation.

Cath’s citations do indeed show that the necessary revealed content to form the basis of a saving act of faith exists within Scripture (and many of its parts taken separately) but they do not show that the fullness of revealed truth and all the means morally necessary to persevere in God’s grace are contained in Scripture. Nor does John say that his gospel is “enough to warrant anyone to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”. He says that he wrote it to teach us that Jesus is the Son of God but not that his text is self-authenticating. The content of many parts of Scripture is enough to form the content of an act of justifying faith but they are not enough to demonstrate that it is God Who speaks therein. Scripture assuredly often says that it is God Who speaks therein but so do many false revelations. For us to be certain that it is God Who speaks we would need to know that He had provided for the context and the interpretation of the text as well as the text itself. This is what the Catholic Church teaches He has provided through Tradition and the Magisterium. This is the Tradition to which Paul told the Thessalonians to hold fast and the authority established by Christ in Peter and the Twelve. For He does not fail in His purposes He would not provide us with an inadequate medium of transmission such as an isolated text would be. Even under the old law He did not leave the Scriptures without an authoritative interpreter as the Lord says in Mtt 23:2-3 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.”

Not only does the sufficiency of the content of many parts of Scripture for the act of faith not demonstrate the formal sufficiency of Scripture but it does not demonstrate either that all that is necessary for the believer to persevere is contained in Scripture. I appreciate that Cath may think that only an act of faith is necessary to be saved but I cannot see how this would not force her to declare most of Scripture superfluous. She herself has admitted that John’s Gospel alone suffices to form the matter of an act of faith. Why then did God give us the other seventy-two books (or however many there are in the Protestant canon)?

Which books and which parts of those books are inspired cannot be gauged from Scripture itself. The fact that many passages in Scripture assert that they are authoritative does not help to establish the canon. The Protestant canon of the OT did not exist in Our Lord’s time. The LXX and the canon of the Essenes are more extensive and the Sadducees only accepted the Pentateuch. The Protestant canon of the OT is the canon of the Pharisees adopted after the destruction of the temple. But as we have seen the Pharisees supplemented this with a vast body of oral tradition. The Protestant canon of the NT has been fluid from the beginning. Luther rejected four books of the NT and whether or not Cath owns Luther she cannot deny that it would be rather odd to claim the canon is self-authenticating when the first person to clearly state the doctrine of sola scriptura arbitrarily jettisoned many books of both Testaments. Today of course most communities claiming descent from the Reformation reject the inspiration and Apostolic authorship of Scripture in any meaningful sense.

As I mentioned I do not deny the inspired and inerrant authority of Scripture just its sufficiency. When I deny its sufficiency I mean it does not contain all that Christ revealed or all that is morally necessary to persevere in God’s grace or all that is logically necessary to verify its own contents. One cannot cite the use of the Apostles’ teaching as the rule of right belief as an argument in favour of sola scriptura because that assumes that only Scripture contains the Apostles’ teaching and that Scripture is self-verifying as Apostolic, which is precisely the point at issue.

At the Last Supper Christ prayed “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” Jn 17:20-21. When He raised Lazerus He said “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.” Jn 11:41-42. In a secondary sense Christ’s prayer refers to those baptised persons who fall outside the heirachical boundaries of His Church. But in the primary sense Christ’s prayer for the unity of those who believe through the words of the Apostles is simply answered as all His prayers are answered. It is not answered in the trivial sense that all those who truly believe whoever they may be and wherever they are scattered are in agreement with one another. It is answered in such a manner that “the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” The unity of Christ’s followers is visible and clear, it is a mark of distinction between those who follow the word of the Apostles and those who do not. It is not to be found among the adherents of the false doctrine of sola scriptura but rather it subsists in the One Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church.

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