Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Here are the verses from the RSV:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Here is the argument that Protestants make, as I understand it:

The verses above say that Scriptures provide us the wisdom for salvation, and that Scripture is inspired by God. This is a place where Paul would’ve/could’ve, had he wanted to clarify, told us that something OTHER than Scripture existed on an equal plane to provide us with the wisdom of salvation. He doesn’t go on to mention Tradition, nor does he even say Tradition is inspired of God, let alone say it’s useful to us for salvation. We therefore assume that Scripture is the only thing that is inspired by God that he gives us and the only infallible rule of faith for followers of Christ. Anything else that would be added to the mix must be shown to be inspired of God and that without it, Christians cannot be equipped to undertake all these tasks.

Here is my response:

First, let me frame the argument like this. The above argument affirms that the Scriptures teach that they are the sole infallible rule of faith for Christians. Here’s what’s lacking—evidence to back up the claim AND proof that every other claim is false. For if Scripture is the SOLE rule, and these verses teach this, they should also EXCLUDE any other possible rule of faith.

Second, let’s make clear that this argument Protestants make is an argument from silence. In other words, since no other possible rule of faith is listed in these verses, they don’t exist. Protestants draw the conclusion that since no other possible rule of faith is mentioned here, that no such alternative exists that would qualify as a rule of faith. Here’s the problem with that: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-15 and 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (here are the verses)

And we also thank God constantly for this, that 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, which is at work in you believers. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus which are in Judea; for you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all men by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they may be saved -- so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God's wrath has come upon them at last!

Here, St. Paul identifies something other than written Scripture as the Word of God—his own oral testimony. St. Paul’s gospel and teachings did not become inspired only once he wrote them down. On the contrary, they were binding when he said them, when he communicated them orally to his followers and no later. If Paul says ‘Baptism is required for salvation.’, those words become binding when he says them, not when he writes them down 2 years, 2 months, or even 2 minutes later. The teaching of the Apostles, in fact, was the rule of faith before Scripture even existed. Think of it this way—Thomas the Apostle created a Christian community in India that exists to this day even though he didn’t write a word of Scripture. How can this be? Because his WORDS, spoken from his own mouth, were the rule of faith on which the Indian Church was built.

But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.

In the context of these verses, we see the gospel being mentioned. Surely the gospel was necessary for salvation, right? Standing firm in the gospel is how one is saved. What is that gospel made up of? Paul tells us it’s made up of the traditions he passed onto them, by word of mouth (spoken) or by letter (epistle). If we do not stand firm in these traditions, which make up the gospel Paul preached, we cannot be saved. Paul does not segregate, in any order of importance, written versus oral teaching but puts them on par with each other. No ‘expiration date’ for oral Tradition or its binding effect is given in Scripture so the potential argument that oral Tradition was only useful until the Bible was compiled and defined is wishful thinking at best.

But now, let’s look at the proof text from 2 Timothy since this is the single best possible verse to hang sola scriptura on…

First, let’s address the overriding idea that this verse somehow proves ‘Scripture is all you need.’ I appeal to an honest and truthful reading of the text—does it really say ‘Scripture ALONE’? Paul includes ALL Scripture in his statement but does not explicitly limit his statement to Scripture ALONE. In fact, had Paul wanted to convey that Scripture, and ONLY Scripture is sufficient or all that is needed, he could’ve said this, using words that plainly existed in Greek to leave no doubt—words like ‘arketos’ (translated as ‘sufficient’ in 3 separate places in Scripture). Instead, he uses ‘ophelimos’ which translates to ‘profitable’ or ‘useful’. Honesty demands that we acknowledge the difference between ‘sufficient’ and ‘profitable’ or ‘useful’. As one scholar puts it: A hammer is profitable or useful for driving nails, but that does not mean that nails can be driven ONLY by hammers. Nail guns and other objects do the job as well, no?

Second, let’s address the second part of the verse, ‘the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.’ The Greek word used for ‘complete’ is ‘artios’. The Greek word used here for ‘equipped’ is ‘exartizo’. From these words, Protestants have interpreted the word ‘sufficient’, in effect, changing the meaning of the words to fit their preconceived idea that they wish to convey. Here are the problems with this:

1. Even the King James Version, along with all the published Protestant Bible versions, states that ‘sufficient’ is NOT the correct translation of even ONE of the two terms.

2. The result of using this principle of exegesis consistently—that is, throughout Scripture—creates some absurdities. The principle Protestants use to exegete this passage is: ‘If X makes you complete then you don’t need anything other than X.’ If we apply this principle to James 1:4, for example, which states, ‘And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.’, we would have to say that we do not need anything other than steadfastness to be complete. Granted, the Greek word used here ‘teleios’ and ‘holokleros’ are different but, alas, they’re STRONGER words than the ones used in Paul’s epistle!

3. The two terms in the verse modify the man of God, not Scripture. It says that Scripture helps make the man of God complete and equipped, not that Scripture itself is complete and equipped. In the New Testament, the ‘man of God’ is a clergyman (not a lay man)—one appointed, prepared, and approved by apostolic authority. The text presupposes a knowledge that the man of God already has before he even approaches Scripture.

4. Let’s assume I am going to build a home. I purchase every single material and tool I’ll require to build that home, thereby making myself fully equipped and complete in everything I’ll need to build that home. I then lay every tool and material on the piece of land I’m going to build on. I may be fully equipped but don’t know how the materials fit together to make a house. Those materials I’ve bought, then, are not ‘sufficient’ to complete the work of building my home. Applied to Scripture, we see that it is MATERIALLY SUFFICIENT but not FORMALLY SUFFICIENT for Christians. Every material is present in Scripture for our salvation but nowhere did God reveal that we alone, apart from a teaching authority, can put those materials into a complete salvation. Just take a look at the 30,000 Protestant divisions and their diametrically opposed appeals to Scripture for their traditions.

Third, in the Protestant vain, let’s compare the verse with others like it in Scripture. In 2 Corinthians 9:8, we see:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

‘Every good work’ is the same one used in 2 Timothy but here it’s combined with the phrase ‘all that you need’—i.e., ‘sufficient’. The Greek word here is ‘autarkeia’. It’s defined as a ‘perfect state, where no help or support is needed’. To make a case for Scripture ALONE, we should see this kind of language describing Scripture. Yet we see that the only thing that is ‘all sufficient’ is God’s grace.

In 2 Timothy 2:21, we see:

If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use and prepared unto every good work.

Here Paul is talking about the things we have to purge ourselves of which are unworthy. He says if we do this, we are prepared to every good work. Does that mean that ALL we have to do is purge ourselves of these things? Of course that’s not what Paul is saying. We’re told by Paul not just to avoid sin but to have a faith working in love.

In Titus 3:1, we see:

Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready for every good work.

Using the exegetical principle set forth by Protestants in 2 Timothy 3:14-17, mere subjection to principalities and powers is all we need in order to perform every good work. Clearly this is not reasonable or supported by the whole of Scripture. The only place we see something mentioned as ‘all sufficient’ to equip us unto every good work is when Paul names God’s grace—nothing more and nothing less.

The word ‘ophelimos’ is used by St. Paul 3 times—1 Tim 4:8, Titus 3:8, and 2 Tim 3:14-17. Each time it is used, we see St. Paul saying that what he mentions is profitable in various respects. What we do NOT see is St. Paul laying down a hard and fast rule that invokes ‘all sufficiency’ or ‘to the exclusion of everything else’.

In reading and re-reading 2 Timothy 3:4-17, I find the real meaning of the passage a few verses back:

Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, my sufferings, what befell me at Antioch, at Ico'nium, and at Lystra, what persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it (v 10-14)

Paul is preparing a ‘man of God’ in Timothy. He’s doing this by helping him understand how to not be deceived or deceive. Paul says that Timothy can trust in the gospel because of who he learned it from. Timothy learned the gospel from the mouth of Paul (oral Tradition) and from the written Scripture—namely the Old Testament which he knew from his infancy. Paul, then, is telling Timothy that the Old Testament—ALL of it—is inspired by God, considering that the New Testament did not exist yet.

In summary, sola scriptura or ‘the Bible ALONE’ teaches that Scripture is clear enough to understand 2 Timothy 3:14-17 as a proof of sola scriptura. The preceding arguments, along with the 30,000 differing Protestant interpretations of Scripture, should be sufficient (pun intended) to call this idea into doubt. Approaching this verse without preconceptions should render implausible the tradition that the Bible alone is/should be our sole rule of faith. The only way to fit the square peg of this verse into the round hole of ‘Bible Alone’ is to go beyond the written word and the reasonable intention of the text and its writer.


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