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Why I'm Catholic, Sola Scriptura isn't Logical III
Apologia ^ | 06/28/2015 | Ken Hensley

Posted on 06/29/2015 7:52:55 AM PDT by Mercat



Even though I've been writing for thirteen weeks now about an obscure Latin phrase (sola scriptura) and using some terms that are so out of vogue in our modern "what I feel is all that's real" world (for instance, "logical") I can't stress enough that I'm talking about something I experienced to the depths of my being. Something existential.

It was like the Northridge Earthquake. But this time it wasn't the foundation of my house moving and shifting and beginning to crumble; it was the foundation of my worldview. I was an evangelical Protestant minister and I was coming to the realization that Bible-only Christianity didn't make sense.

1. It didn't make scriptural sense.

The heart and soul of Sola scriptura was the conviction that when it comes to "revealed truths" -- truths that could only be known if God chose to reveal them -- I should accept only what I could see taught in the Bible. And yet sola scriptura itself did not seem to be taught in the Bible.

2. It didn't make historical sense.

On the question of how a believer knows what the true teachings of the faith are, my answer as an evangelical Protestant would have been: "The Bible -- nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else -- is all that is necessary for faith and practice." Read the Bible. Study the Bible.

But then I read the writings of the early Church and found the Fathers of Christianity quite simply speaking a different language. They spoke of the authority of Scripture. But then they also spoke of the apostolic teaching as something preserved in the Church through apostolic succession and that functioned as a lens through which the light of Scripture comes into focus and is correctly understood. The teaching of the Church [Origen of Alexandria wrote in 220-230 A.D.] has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the Apostles, and remains in the Churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition. Finally, the Fathers spoke of the authority of the Church to deal with controversies and formally decide and define matters of faith and practice.

I read what the great St Athanasius, the leader in the battle against the Arians in the 4th century, said about the first Ecumenical Council of the Church held in Nicea in 325 AD. But the word of the Lord which came though the ecumenical Synod at Nicea, abides forever.... Are they not then committing a crime in their very thought to gainsay so great and ecumenical a Council. What? "The word of the Lord which came through the ecumenical Synod at Nicea"? I was immediately reminded of Acts 15:28, where the decision of the Council of Jerusalem is described as being the decision of the Holy Spirit. "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..."

Whether I was looking at the New Testament or the early Church, the pattern was the same: Scripture, tradition, and a Church with the authority to define Christian teaching.

This is what Christianity believed and taught in its early centuries. It did not teach that the Bible is to be treated as the sole and sufficient infallible rule of faith and practice and that each believer has the right to decide for himself what it is teaching. This is not historical Christianity.

But there there more problems with sola scriptura.

3. It didn't make practical sense.

From the moment it became the rule of faith and practice for the Protestant movement, the result was theological chaos and division. "There are more beliefs than there are heads!" Luther complained.

And that was at the beginning. Now, after 498 years of sola scriptura, there are more Protestant sects, denominations, independent churches and fellowships than Luther ever dreamed would exist. It's frightening to imagine how many there would be if sola scriptura had been the belief and practice of the Church for the 1500 years previous to the Reformation.

The question was inescapable: Would the Lord Jesus really choose to build his one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church on this sort of foundation?

4. Finally, it didn't make logical sense

There was a contradiction at the heart of it.

How so? Well, in Protestantism only Scripture has binding authority and yet Scripture doesn't tell us which books are inspired and belong to Scripture. It follows that on the basis of "Scripture alone," we can't know which books are inspired and belong to Scripture.

Put another way, since only what is taught in Scripture is binding, this should mean the decision the Church came to on the canon of Scripture isn't "binding."

I realized that the exact New Testament I had in my Bible was based on decisions made by the Church's leadership, primarily at the Councils of Hippo and Carthage in 393 and 397 A.D. -- councils I would not as a Protestant have considered to be authoritative. I certainly would never have said I trusted the Holy Spirit to lead those councils to infallibly true conclusions.

So why did I treat the issue of the canon as though it has been infallibly decided?

How could I treat the issue of the canon as infallibly decided and at the same time reject the means by which it was decided as merely human and fallible?

And then the even more distressing implication began to creep its way into my mind: If the decision of the Church was fallible, why aren't Christians free to examine the tradition, explore the historical evidences and decide for themselves which books to include in their Bibles?

Well, from long experience as an Evangelical, I can tell you with a fair degree of conviction: The pastors of Protestant churches would go berserk if individual believers started researching the historical pedigree of the various Old and New Testament books, weighing the evidences, making their own decisions and creating their own Bibles. Or -- even worse! -- praying for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as to which books to keep and which ones to throw in the trash!

But is there any good reason for not allowing the right of private judgment with respect to the canon of Scripture once we've insisted on that right with respect to the meaning of Scripture?

I can think of a profoundly good practical reason: The chaos would be impossible to contain!

What I can't think of are reasons that cohere with the principle of sola scriptura. No. Protestants need to act as though the decisions of those councils were infallible even though they don't believe in the infallible decisions of councils. It's either that or skepticism.


Some Protestant apologists have responded,

OK, we admit that as Protestants we can’t say that we know for sure. The best we can say is that on the basis of history and tradition – the evidences – odds are strong that we have the right books in our Bibles. We’re not going to agree with you Catholics that the Holy Spirit led the Church to an infallible decision. But that’s OK. All we claim is to have a “fallible collection of infallible books.”

With all due respect and affection, when you say your "collection" is fallible, isn't that the same thing as saying you don't know for sure that each book in the collection is the inspired Word of God?

Why not just be honest and say, “We don’t know for sure if all the books we have in our Bible are inspired and from God"? And when the Protestant minister stands in his pulpit to preach on Sunday morning, why not just be honest and say, “Thus saith the Lord... I hope"?

As Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft explains in his book Ecumenical Jihad, A fallible cause cannot produce an infallible effect. But the Church is the efficient cause of Scripture. She wrote it. She is also its formal cause: she defined its canon. Thus, if the Church is only fallible, her canon of Scripture is only fallible, and we do not know infallibly which books are Scripture, that is [which books are] infallible…. Thus sola scriptura undermines the authority of the very Scripture it exalts. Toward Catholicism

Of course this whole issue of the canon presents no problem for the Catholic worldview. After all, Catholics believe that God leads his Church into the recognition of the truth. Authority in Catholicism is rooted in Scripture, Tradition and the leading of the Holy Spirit through the Church -- especially through the Church's ordained leadership when it meets in council to formally define Christian teaching

But I think it's a massive and unanswerable problem for Protestantism.

More and more it seemed to me that I had a choice to make. Either Jesus established an authoritative Church on earth, or Christianity is reduced to billions of believers reading their Bibles and doing their best without really knowing for sure whether they're reading the right books, without really knowing whether the doctrines they hold are the same as those the apostles taught and first Christians believed.

Mulling these ideas over, my good friend Bill Galvan, who is also a fellow convert and Catholic apologist, once described the Protestant predicament: Isn’t it just, “the best you can do’? Aren’t Protestantism’s doctrinal formulations simply the ultimately doubtable result of doing the best you can do? Isn’t the landscape of Protestantism, with its countless denominations, simply the result of other people realizing the arbitrary nature of Protestant doctrinal formulations and going on to claim that they can do better than the best you could do?” It made sense to me that the kind of Church we see functioning in the New Testament -- an authoritative Church, a Church that can speak in his name -- is the kind of Church Christ would want.

It also happened to be the kind of Church the Catholic Church has always claimed to me.

3 Comments Yakobus6/29/2015 Ken, thanks for posting these. They are refreshingly thorough. A more recent defense of Sola Scriptura that I've encountered is Protestant theologians (Reformed mainly) Attempting a compromise by saying that "Sola Scriptura" is not just "me and my Bible" but rather requires that person to submit to a local church authority. They label "me and my Bible alone" as "Solo Scriptura" which they reject. Others are suggesting an "authority in many years of tradition" idea as well. So they admit a sort of Church Traditional authority but suggest it took longer than Catholics believe. I have my own defenses about these ideas but I would like to read your treatment of them whether in reply or even a new post. Reply Yakobus6/29/2015 Also, I've encountered some who readily admit that the councils decided the canon and weighed it by apostolic tradition as a measure. Ravi Zacharias (a brilliant apologist) being one of them. For them this doesn't present a problem. But for me it's simple math. For them, (-) + (-) = (+): Council (-) + Tradition (-) = Scripture (+). It's simply not possible. For Catholics/Orthodox/Oriental, (+) + (+) = (+): Council (+) + Tradition (+) = Scripture (+). Reply Decaon George Sartor6/29/2015 Ken, I am thoroughly enjoying your posts! I had the pleasure to meet you in Massachusetts at the Catholic Apologetics Academy and I'd like to thank you again for your teaching. I recently listened to a debate on Sola Scriptura between James White and a well known Catholic apologist. Mr. White's entire argument for Sola Scriptura seemed to rest on only one scriptural passage, 2 Timothy 3: 16-17. He kept emphasizing that since the Greek text is translated that all scripture is 'God-breathed' and that this statement means that scripture is the highest authority and fully sufficient as a rule of faith. The Catholic Apologist, whom you know very well, did well to refute it. My question is how prevalent is that passage from Timothy for Protestants for use as a defense of Sola Scriptura and are there any others that they try to use as a defense for this doctrine? Thanks and God bless!

TOPICS: Apologetics; History; Religion & Culture; Religion & Politics
KEYWORDS: hensley; popery; romancatholic; romanism; solascriptura
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This is the third of three blogs from Mr. Hensley. I posted the first two on Free Republic several weeks ago. If you want to read the first two you can see them on his blog. Enjoy.
1 posted on 06/29/2015 7:52:55 AM PDT by Mercat
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To: Mercat

Catholics need to show that from the early Church Fathers, up until the present that any interpretation of scripture has remained 100% identical and no teaching on scripture has changed at all.

2 posted on 06/29/2015 7:56:25 AM PDT by LukeL
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To: Mercat

Yet another ex-Protestant who never understood the meaning of “Sola Scriptura” and now argues against it. What exactly can one hope to prove with such sources?

3 posted on 06/29/2015 7:59:25 AM PDT by Boogieman
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To: Mercat

I believe what Jesus says about the Word of God.

4 posted on 06/29/2015 8:00:31 AM PDT by fishtank (The denial of original sin is the root of liberalism.)
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To: Boogieman

What hope? With all the power of God, is Our Hope!!!

“What exactly can one hope to prove with such sources?”

When the adversary says “Hath God said?”

We reply with God’s WORD.

5 posted on 06/29/2015 8:01:59 AM PDT by fishtank (The denial of original sin is the root of liberalism.)
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To: LukeL

My good buddy who has been Evangelical for a long time now says that he is the best interpreter of what Scripture says. Period! Maybe that is why it is called Sola.

6 posted on 06/29/2015 8:02:39 AM PDT by pleasenotcalifornia
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To: Mercat
The teaching of the Church [Origen of Alexandria wrote in 220-230 A.D.] has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the Apostles, and remains in the Churches even to the present time.

Okay. But what about the ensuing +/-1,900 years?

I sincerely doubt that Origen of Alexandria, had he been alive to witness events during those years, would be willing to repeat that statement today.

7 posted on 06/29/2015 8:09:54 AM PDT by WayneS (Yeah, it's probably sarcasm...)
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To: Mercat

Ooh. I love these fight threads. Jew ping!

8 posted on 06/29/2015 8:11:20 AM PDT by Phinneous (Viva Napoli!)
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To: Mercat

Yeah, that’s exactly what’s wrong with America today: too many folks look to Scripture for guidance.

9 posted on 06/29/2015 8:13:59 AM PDT by Mr. Lucky
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To: pleasenotcalifornia

Did he turn into the person of the Trinity?

10 posted on 06/29/2015 8:15:24 AM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation

No, he leaving that last step to Obama.

11 posted on 06/29/2015 8:18:37 AM PDT by pleasenotcalifornia
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To: pleasenotcalifornia

Well then your good buddy is following scripture:

Philippians 2:12 (KJV)
Therefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

Remember that on judgement day, each individual will answer for their own sins and what they have done for salvation. Neither the Pope, priest, parent, nor partner will be able to answer for the individual. Only the individual themselves. Therefore, because it is their soul/salvation that is on the line, they are the best judge as they are the one who will pay the price for any errors in interpretation.

12 posted on 06/29/2015 8:23:39 AM PDT by taxcontrol
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To: Mercat

Yeah, we should listen to the leftist freah with the funny hat.

13 posted on 06/29/2015 8:25:29 AM PDT by freedomfiter2 (Lex rex)
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To: taxcontrol

Well, I like your explanation in regards to personal responsibility but isn’t there a danger that pride or a total reliance in one self will lead a person astray. Do you only find Truth in your own opinion? Is Sola Scriptura the reason for so many Protestant denominations?

14 posted on 06/29/2015 8:32:47 AM PDT by pleasenotcalifornia
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To: Mercat
. . something I experienced to the depths of my being.

Wo-o-o feelings
Wo-o-o feelings

15 posted on 06/29/2015 8:46:20 AM PDT by aimhigh
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To: Boogieman; Mercat
Yet another ex-Protestant who never understood the meaning of “Sola Scriptura” and now argues against it. What exactly can one hope to prove with such sources?

I'd have to ask P.T. Barnum what that proves!

16 posted on 06/29/2015 8:58:29 AM PDT by Alex Murphy ("the defacto Leader of the FR Calvinist Protestant Brigades")
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To: Mercat

Mark 7:5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?

6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.

9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

10 For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death:

11 But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free.

12 And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother;

13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

17 posted on 06/29/2015 9:02:12 AM PDT by DungeonMaster (Of those born of women there is not risen one greater than John The Baptist.)
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To: pleasenotcalifornia

There is always a danger of incorrect interpretation for any number of reasons. That applies equally to Pope, Pastor and Priest as well. Follow yourself or follow another but if you are not following Jesus, you risk your salvation.

I am also of the opinion that the Holy Spirit will guide those who are seeking to what they need to see, hear, and understand. The revelations come as the individual is ready. Some who are still caught up in their sins, may not be at the point in their walk that they can yet give up that sin. Gently, the Holy Spirit applies pressure and when the sinner yields that part of their self to the will of God, they become more Christ like which we are called to do.

Traditions are a construct of man, for man AND HAVE CHANGED OVER TIME. For example, indulgences. Scripture is unchanging. The 27 books of the New Testament have been agreed upon by the whole of Christendom since mid 300’s AD. And the Dead Sea Scrolls show that the Old Testament remains doctrinally identical, and even textually nearly identical (spelling and punctuation changes). These scripts are from the time before Christ but are consistent with the Hebrew Cannon recognized today.

18 posted on 06/29/2015 9:02:22 AM PDT by taxcontrol
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To: Mercat

Simple question...

When Jesus was on the Earth..

he was a Jew..

what was his position on his following the scriptures...the word..and the will of the father?


The men that claimed to be the leaders of the Jewish faith


it was the men that set themselves up as leaders of his faith that persecuted him, charged him with heresy and blasphemy, and demanded he be crucified

19 posted on 06/29/2015 9:07:51 AM PDT by tophat9000 (SCOTUS=Newspeak)
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To: tophat9000

I don’t get your point. Paul was a Jew. Peter and all the Apostles were Jews or probably the better term is Hebrews since Judaism evolved after the destruction of Jerusalem.

20 posted on 06/29/2015 9:30:32 AM PDT by Mercat (Donate to Stop the HildeKraken PAC)
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