2 Thessalonians 2:15- “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”
According to Protestants, the Bible teaches that Scripture (the written word of God) is the only rule of faith for a Christian. Along with justification by faith alone (sola fide), Scripture alone (sola scriptura) was one of the central tenets of the Protestant “reformation.”
However, the truth is that the Bible does not teach that Scripture is the only rule of faith for a Christian. We will see that the Bible teaches that both Scripture and apostolic tradition are sources of Christ’s revelation, and that one must accept both of them along with the Church. That’s why the Catholic Church has always taught that there are two sources of divine revelation (Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition); and that the Church instituted by Jesus Christ was given authority to determine the authentic meaning of Scripture and Tradition.
JESUS SAYS THAT ONE MUST HEAR THE CHURCH, WHICH HE NEVER WOULD HAVE SAID IF THE BIBLE TAUGHT SCRIPTURE ALONE
If the Bible is the only rule of faith for a Christian, then logically the Church would not be a rule of faith for a Christian. However, the Bible clearly teaches that one must hear the Church.
Matthew 18:17- “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”
Luke 10:16- “He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.”
This teaching of Jesus, that one must hear the Church under pain of being considered a heathen, refutes the entire idea of Scripture alone.
John 15:20- “… if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.”
Hebrews 13:17- “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls...”
THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT THE CHURCH, NOT THE BIBLE, IS THE PILLAR AND FOUNDATION OF THE TRUTH
1 Timothy 3:15- “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
As one former Protestant minister (who eventually saw the falsity of Protestantism) put it: “If I were writing that verse [1 Tim. 3:15] as a Protestant, I would have said that the Bible, not the Church, is the pillar and ground of the truth. But St. Paul says it’s the Church. This means that the Church must be every bit as infallible as the Bible, and that it must present something unique by way of presenting the truth of Jesus Christ.”
The unique role of the Church is that it sets forth the true meaning of Scripture and Tradition in precise terms and dogmas, something the Bible was not intended to do in all of its passages. Moreover, if the Church is infallible and the pillar of truth, there must obviously be a way of recognizing its infallible teaching by means of a continued succession of authority which would safeguard the truth and exercise its authority.
THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT THE SPOKEN WORD IS “THE WORD OF GOD,” IN ADDITION TO THE WRITTEN WORD
A common misconception among Protestants is that the “word of God” refers exclusively to the Bible. The truth is that the Bible repeatedly calls the oral (spoken) tradition “the word of God.” (Jesus Christ Himself is also called the “Word of God” in John 1 and Hebrews 11:3.) By describing the oral tradition as “the word of God,” the Bible is indicating that the apostolic oral tradition is infallible; and that it represents, along with Scripture, one of the sources of Jesus Christ’s revelation which must be accepted.
1 Thessalonians 2:13- “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”
St. Paul is clearly referring to the oral (spoken) tradition.
Colossians 1:5-6- “For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel. Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth.”
The spoken word is described as “the word of truth” and the Gospel. The reference to the “word” having come into the whole world confirms that this passage is referring to the spoken word and not the Bible; for this could not have been said of the Bible at the time.
John 17:20- “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.”
Jesus prays for those who will believe through the “word” of His apostles. But only a few of His Apostles wrote words in the Bible. Most of them did not. “Their word,” through which people will believe, must therefore be their preaching and the communication of oral tradition, not their writing.
Luke 8:11-13- “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.”
This clearly describes the spoken word as “the word of God.”
Luke 4:44-5:1- “And he [Jesus] preached in the synagogues of Galilee. And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret.”
Luke 3:2- “Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.”
This refers to a revelation given to St. John the Baptist.
Acts 4:31- “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”
THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT ORAL TRADITION MUST BE ACCEPTED ALONG WITH SCRIPTURE
The following passages completely refute the idea of Scripture alone. They show that the Bible teaches that apostolic tradition must also be accepted. This apostolic tradition was given by Jesus to the Apostles, but not every part of it was necessarily written explicitly in the Bible. As an example, in Jude 1:9 we read:
"But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you.'"
This dispute between the Devil and Michael the Archangel is not described in any detail in the Bible. The writer is drawing on a tradition. The following passages from the New Testament confirm Catholic teaching on the necessity to accept both Scripture and Tradition.
2 Thessalonians 3:6- “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.”
2 Thessalonians 2:15- “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”
This clearly shows that the Bible itself teaches that not everything that must be believed is written down, but some of it is delivered by the oral tradition.
2 Timothy 2:1-2- “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
1 Corinthians 11:16- “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.”
1 Corinthians 11:23- “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you…”
1 Corinthians 15:2-3- “By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received…”
As these passages prove, Jesus’ condemnation of the “tradition of men” (Matthew 15:9, Mark 7:8, etc.) had nothing to do with the true apostolic tradition, which the Bible says we must accept. Jesus was condemning the man-made practices of the Pharisees.
THE CHURCH EXISTED FOR DECADES BEFORE THE BIBLE WAS EVEN FINISHED
According to scholars, the last book of the Bible (the Book of Revelation) was written in approximately 68 A.D. at the earliest, and approximately 95 A.D. at the latest. Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven in approximately 33 A.D. Therefore, no matter what view one takes on the date of the Book of Revelation, there is no doubt that the Church of Christ existed and operated for decades (30 to 60 years) before the Bible was even finished. So, who guided the Christians during that period? How did they know exactly what they had to believe and do to be saved? It was the Church which taught them.
It was the Church which, from the earliest days, served as the rule of faith for the Christian. Doctrinal questions and decisions were being decided for an entire generation before the Bible was even finished. It is thus a fact that the Bible was not and could not have been the sole rule of faith. Indeed it would not be for another 300 years that the Church would officially determine exactly which books make up the Bible.
IT WASN’T UNTIL THE 4TH CENTURY THAT THE CANON OF THE BIBLE WAS FINALLY DETERMINED
This is a crucial point. In the first three centuries after Christ, there were disputes about the precise makeup of the Bible. The official list of biblical books (called the Canon) was not the same everywhere. Some books which were considered to be part of the Bible in some localities were suspected or rejected in others.
For example, the Didache, The Epistle of Barnabas, First Clement, and The Shepherd of Hermas were, in some cases, considered inspired Scripture and used in public worship. Although these were very important ancient works which in many ways expressed true Christian tradition, the Church would declare that these writings were not actually part of the Bible. The matter wasn’t settled and clarified universally until the authority of the Catholic Church pronounced upon the list of books. This occurred at the Councils of Rome (382), Hippo (393) and Carthage (397).
Before the Church had made its decision, there were also many doubts about 2 Peter, the epistle of Jude, Hebrews, 2 and 3 John, and the Book of Revelation – all of which were eventually included in the Bible. In fact, “the oldest surviving list of Christian books is the Muratorian Canon, from about 150. This fragment includes all the books of the New Testament except Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter, and counts as canonical [part of Scripture] the Apocalypse of Peter and The Shepherd of Hermas, both of which were eventually excluded from the Church’s definitive canon.” 
There were also spurious gospels floating around, such as the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas and others. These were rejected by the Church and not included in Scripture.
Since Protestants reject the authority of the Catholic Church, they have absolutely no way of determining with certainty (i.e. infallibly) which books make up the Bible. The Bible doesn’t come with a Table of Contents. That has been added by the one who published your version of the Bible. The Bible doesn’t tell us which books are inspired or how many books are in it. Moreover, even if one book did mention other books as being inspired, by what criteria could one determine that that particular book is inspired? In order to arrive at an infallible list of books, there must be an infallible authority outside of the Bible. That is the Church. Therefore, if one rejects the infallible authority of the Church and holds to Scripture alone, he remains unable to determine if he has the true books.
Faced with this problem, well-known Protestant scholar R.C. Sproul was forced to assert that the Bible is a “fallible collection of infallible books.” If you carefully think about it, a fallible collection of infallible books is a contradiction. It logically leaves you with a fallible Bible. This demonstrates that Protestants cannot logically maintain that their Bible is infallible; for they cannot know with certainty if they even have the correct books.
As a case in point, after separating from the Catholic Church, Martin Luther and his fellow Protestants removed seven complete books from the Bible. They removed the books of Tobias (Tobit), Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Baruch, First and Second Machabees, as well as parts of Esther and Daniel. As a result, Protestant bibles (to this day) have 66 books, while Catholic bibles have 73. Martin Luther and the Protestants made the radical decision to remove these seven books from the Bible, even though they had been almost universally acknowledged as part of the Bible for over a millennium.
Additionally, the seven books which the Protestants removed are found in the Septuagint. The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Old Testament which was completed a few centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ. Some might ask: what’s so important about the Septuagint? Well, as mentioned in the section on Purgatory, the New Testament quotes from the Old Testament about 350 times – and about 300 of those quotes are from the Septuagint version. That means that the authors of the New Testament accepted the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, and thus the seven books which the Protestants rejected.
It should also be noted that it was not the Bible, but Tradition and the Church, which determined the authorship of the biblical books. The Gospel of Matthew, for example, does not indicate who wrote it. It is from Tradition and the Church that we know it was written by Matthew. Since Scripture is silent on who wrote Matthew, Protestant logic would require one to conclude that it’s an open question.
Furthermore, pure Scripture scholarship, without the guidance of the Church, would not have led anyone to the correct biblical canon. The Book of Philemon, for example, does not have the features of the other books of the New Testament. Philemon does not contain a salvation message. It is simply a communication and a request about a runaway slave. The fact that it claims to have Paul for its author would not be sufficient to prove that it’s part of Scripture, for any document could make that claim and not all of Paul’s letters were included in the Bible.
FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE CHURCH, HERETICS HAVE QUOTED AND MISUSED SCRIPTURE TO CREATE SECTS AND SPREAD HERESIES
In the 4th century the Church battled Arianism. The entire Church was almost overrun by this heresy. Arianism denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. It held that the Son of God did not exist from eternity, but was created at a certain point in time by the Father. The expression of this heresy was often subtle and clever, and the Arians appealed to numerous passages in the Bible to attempt to prove their claim that Jesus is not truly God.
“… it soon became clear that the real difficulty would be to set forth a statement of Christian belief that would absolutely and unequivocally exclude Arianism. The Arian scholars had their own interpretation for every Scriptural passage bearing on the divinity of Christ. Each one brought up before the council elicited from them a veritable wave of whispers, winks, nods, and gesticulations conveying in dumb-show that they could safely accept it as part of a conciliar creed, since they had an Arian explanation of it. A term had to be found which they could not evade.” (Warren H. Carroll, A History of Christendom, Vol. 2, Front Royal, VA: Christendom College Press, 1987, p. 11.)
Understanding the Scriptures in the light of the Apostolic Tradition, in 325 A.D. the Catholic Church at the Council of Nicea was able to denounce the Arian heresy and correctly explain the Scriptural passages the Arians misused. It declared that Jesus was true God equal with the Father, and it used a term not found in Scripture to do so in a manner that would exclude any Arian equivocation. It declared that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is homoousios (consubstantial or “one in being”) with the Father. This conveyed the true meaning of Scripture’s teaching on the persons of the Trinity and destroyed the Arian heresy, which attempted to conform every passage of Scripture to its heretical idea.
THE BIBLE COULD NOT BE MASS-DISTRIBUTED UNTIL THE 15TH CENTURY
Prior to the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, it was a laborious and painstaking task to reproduce the Bible. It had to be done by hand. This difficulty, combined with common illiteracy, meant that few had a Bible for the first 15 centuries of the Church. Would God have left His Church without the means to mass-produce the sole rule of faith for the first 1500 years of the Church’s existence? Obviously not. The notion is ridiculous and self-refuting. In the first millennium, the rule of faith for the Christians was the Church. It remains so today. The Church is the proximate rule of faith, which provides the true understanding of Scripture and Tradition, which are the dual sources of Jesus Christ’s revelation.
THE ORIGINAL BIBLICAL MANUSCRIPTS ARE NO LONGER ACCESSIBLE
The original manuscripts of the Bible no longer exist. We possess copies of the originals, but not the original Scriptures. So, where does the Bible teach that copies of the originals will be protected from error and serve as the sole rule of faith for the Christian? The Bible doesn’t even teach that the Bible is the sole rule of faith for the Christian; and certainly Protestants cannot prove that it says that copies will be protected from error; for it doesn’t say that anywhere. (Moreover, it was Catholics, especially monks, who preserved the Bible by copying it.) If a Protestant argues that God made sure the word was protected in the process of copying, then the Protestant is moving outside the Bible-alone framework. He is admitting that God transmitted the protection of His teaching and His word to authorities and to people outside the Bible (e.g., the Church). If this can apply to the written word, it can also apply to His oral teaching (Tradition).
THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT THERE WERE COUNTLESS THINGS JESUS SAID AND DID WHICH WERE NOT WRITTEN IN THE BIBLE
John 20:30- “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.”
John 21:25- “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.”
Not all of what Jesus said and taught the Apostles was written in the Bible. That’s clear.
JESUS COMMANDED HIS APOSTLES TO PREACH THE GOSPEL, NOT TO WRITE
With the exception of the command given to St. John to write the Book of Revelation, Jesus didn’t command anyone to write anything. Rather, He commanded them to preach His Gospel and baptize.
Mark 16:15-16- “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
Matthew 28:19-20- “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
If the written word of the Bible is the only rule of faith, as Protestants claim, then Jesus would have commanded them to write and establish Bible-reading clubs. But He doesn’t do anything of the sort. Jesus commanded them to teach all nations all of His truth through the spoken word, through preaching. These simple considerations show that the Protestant position of sola scriptura (i.e., Scripture alone) is completely false.
THE BIBLE DOES NOT TEACH THAT PRIVATE SCRIPTURE INTERPRETATION WAS INTENDED BY JESUS
Acts 8:30-31- “And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Isaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.”
So much for the Protestant idea that whoever reads the Scriptures will be enlightened by God automatically. We can see that such is not the teaching of the Bible.
Nehemiah 8:8- “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.”
2 Peter 1:20- “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.”
PAUL CONSULTED THE CHURCH, NOT THE BIBLE, WHEN FACED WITH HIS DOCTRINAL DILEMMA IN ACTS 15
Acts 15:1-2- “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.”
When faced with a doctrinal dilemma in Acts 15, Paul does not consult the Bible but goes to the leadership of the Church.
Here are a few other examples in the Bible where the teachings or instructions were learned by oral communication and tradition, not by reading the Bible.
1 Corinthians 11:34- “… And the rest will I set in order when I come.”
2 John 1:12- “Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.”
OBJECTION: PROTESTANTS SAY 2 TIMOTHY 3:15-17 TEACHES SCRIPTURE ALONE
2 Timothy 3:15-17- “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
This passage does not teach Scripture alone. It teaches that all Scripture is inspired. It teaches that all Scripture is profitable. It teaches that Scripture furnishes a man for good works. But Protestants point to the part which says that it enables a man of God to be furnished unto all good works. They claim those words teach a self-sufficiency of Scripture: that nothing else is needed. This is refuted by a number of points.
It is refuted, first of all, by consulting verses with similar wording. In fact, we only need to go back a few verses in the preceding chapter to find an example which proves the point.
2 Timothy 2:21- “If a man therefore purge himself from these [bad works], he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work.”
The Bible says that if a man purges himself from certain bad works, he will be prepared for “every good work.” This is the same phrase as 2 Timothy 3:17. Certainly this doesn’t mean that purging oneself from those bad works is sufficient, in itself, for every good work. Even Protestants would say that the man would still have to accept Jesus, heed the authority of Scripture, and refrain from other things. Thus, this is a prime example of how Protestants are misusing and misunderstanding the phrase in 2 Timothy 3:17. What both of them are saying presupposes (takes for granted) a fidelity to the other Christian ideals and the Christian foundation.
In other words, if a man is a Christian and accepts the authority established by Christ, and if he purges himself from these things, he will be prepared for all good works. Likewise, if a man is a Christian and accepts the Church, the Tradition, etc., then knowing the Scriptures will furnish him for all good works. 2 Timothy 3:17 doesn’t teach Scripture alone. Here’s another proof of this:
James 1:3-4- “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
Does this mean that if we are patient we don’t need anything else, including Scripture or the Church or anything? Obviously not. It presupposes a Christian life, and an acceptance of the entire Christian institution (the Bible, Tradition, the Church, etc.).
THE BIBLE SPECIFICALLY WARNS AGAINST MISUSING THE SCRIPTURES TO CREATE FALSE DOCTRINES WHICH LEAD TO DESTRUCTION
2 Peter 3:15-16- “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”
It’s interesting that this admonition about twisting the Scriptures unto damnation comes in the epistle of St. Peter, the one who was chosen to be the first pope. It is St. Peter who warns against misusing the writings of St. Paul. It is Paul’s writings which are most frequently misused and misunderstood by Protestants to invent false doctrines, such as justification by faith alone and Scripture alone.
SCRIPTURE ALONE (SOLA SCRIPTURA) WAS AN IDEA THAT ONLY BECAME POPULAR IN THE 16TH CENTURY
The idea of Scripture alone was unknown in the early Church. All the ancient local churches recognized the hierarchical structure of the Church and the role of Tradition and the Church’s authority in understanding the Scriptures. Here are just four quotes from famous fathers of the Church to demonstrate the point.
St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Second Thessalonians, 4, 2, 398 A.D.- “‘Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter [2 Thess. 2:15].’ From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there was much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief.” (Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 2:1213)
St. Basil the Great, The Holy Spirit, 27,66, 375 A.D.- “Of the dogmas and kerygmas preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the tradition of the Apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in matters ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals.” (Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 2:954)
St. Augustine, Letter to Januarius, 54,1, 400 A.D.- “But in regard to those observances which we carefully attend and which the whole world keeps, and which derive not from Scripture but from Tradition, we are given to understand that they are recommended and ordained to be kept, either by the Apostles themselves or by plenary councils, the authority of which is quite vital in the Church.” (Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3:1419)
St. Athanasius, Letter II, Easter 330 A.D.- “… he [Paul] immediately proceeded to say, ‘And as I have delivered to you traditions, hold them fast.’… But… with him [the Devil] are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down [i.e., Tradition], and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power. Therefore Paul justly praises the Corinthians, because their opinions were in accordance with his traditions.” (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 5, p. 511.)
 Henry G. Graham, Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church, Tan Books, 1977, Chap. 4; also see Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, chap. 20.
 Mike Aquilina, The Fathers of the Church, pp. 28-29.
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