An Outline of the Catholic Case against Sola Scriptura

originally posted 06-06-96 on James White's Sola Scriptura mailing list

DEFINITION of SS given by Greg Krehbiel that I will use:

"Scripture is the only infallible rule for faith and practice" -- hence, all "churches" and any "traditions" (today) are fallible.

COROLLARY (and necessary implication) of SS :

The only interpretation of Scripture that is binding on the Christian conscience is that of the individual exegete (assuming normal adult intelligence) since all "churches" and any "traditions" are fallible.


(1) there is no direct teaching of SS in Scripture (OT or NT)

(a) although possibly implied by 2 Tim 3:15-17; 1 Cor 4:6; etc)

(b) denied by 1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 2:15; 2 Tim 1:13-14; 2:2; etc)

(2) there is no statement that apostolic oral revelation would cease to be a rule of faith (was argued it has in fact "passed away")

(3) or at least SS is "non-biblical" since the NT is silent about the "passing away" of the apostolic oral revelation (cf. Matt 24:35; Acts 2:42; 1 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:25; 2 Pet 3:2; etc)


(1) the early Church (1st century) functioned without the NT -- this is granted -- all special revelation was oral from Christ to His apostles to the early Christians -- no written besides OT

(2) even after NT was written the Church functioned without complete NT canon (various books were questioned or not known or not included in some canon lists in the early centuries)

(3) the Church Fathers denied SS -- this is challenged by such Protestant apologists as James White and William Webster

(4) the Church councils and early Creeds do not mention SS -- ("I [We] believe in one holy catholic apostolic Church" rather than "I believe in the one holy Scripture alone")

(5) Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox (all "ancient" Churches that trace back through apostolic succession) deny SS today

III. SS is ILLOGICAL (or incoherent)

(1) Scripture alone does not teach "Scripture alone" (see I. above)

(2) Scripture alone can't tell us what "Scripture" is (NT canon)

(a) to argue from "fallible knowledge" and historical testimony directly to inspired Scripture is not possible by reason -- Protestants must simply accept this "by faith alone"

(b) to argue from "fallible knowledge" and historical testimony to an infallible Church founded by Christ and protected from error by the Holy Spirit according to Christ's promises -- which same Church ultimately decided the canon -- THEN to inspired Scripture is reasonable (Catholic solution)

(c) or Scripture is "a fallible collection of infallible books" (R.C. Sproul's "solution" to incoherency problem -- but how does he know these books are inspired if "fallible" canon?)

(3) Scripture alone can't resolve the differences in OT canon

(4) Scripture alone -- being an inanimate object -- can't make any infallible and binding decisions concerning either canon or any (mis)interpretation -- Scripture is simply assumed by definition to be "self-interpreting" and "self-authenticating" without need of any infallible Church -- this begs two important questions

(a) How do I know the Bible *IS* the Word of God?

(b) How do I know *MY* interpretation of Scripture is correct?

(5) Scripture alone can't function as the sole rule of faith for a Christian populace that was entirely illiterate and Bibles were inaccessible before the age of printing (ante 1450 AD)


(1) the Church recognized the NT canon through "tradition" alone and every Protestant today is the beneficiary of that tradition

(2) to argue the "infallibility of God's special providence" (Eric Svendsen) allowed the Church to recognize the NT canon can't be limited to just the canon -- i.e. the same providence of God should protect the Church in general from officially teaching error since she is guided by the "Spirit of truth" (Jn 16:13)

(3) everyone has a "tradition" (although Protestants insist it is fallible) when interpreting Scripture so the question is which tradition should one use and why?

(4) also inconsistent to attack the beliefs of that very Catholic Church that gave us the Bible -- I would argue of course that the Catholic Church of 400 AD is the same Church of 1996 AD

V. SS is IMPROBABLE -- follows directly from II. 3) to 5) above

VI. SS is UNWORKABLE (and impractical)

(1) the fact of over 20,000 Protestant denominations and sects in contrast to the unity of faith (Eph 4:5) in the Catholic Church

(2) Scripture alone is not perspicuous enough (cf. 2 Peter 3:16) to resolve major doctrinal disputes or moral teachings

(3) how can the individual Christian know today who is right?

(4) SS implies nobody is bound to any interpretation but their own since all "churches" and any "traditions" are fallible

(5) each individual Christian is fallible but the historic Christian and Catholic solution is the Magisterium that teaches God's Word infallibly (e.g. in Ecumenical Councils) -- does it really work?

Much more could be said but this is simply a brief statement outlining the Catholic (or Orthodox) case.

All of these points are fully explored and documented in the massive book by Robert Sungenis, Not By Scripture Alone : A Catholic Critique of the Protestant Doctrine of Sola Scriptura(Queenship Publishing, 1997).