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Sola Scriptura Revisited: Dealing from the Middle of the Deck

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About ten years ago I wrote an article on the topic of Sola Scriptura. It was a response to former Protestants Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s book Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism.[1] Since then, the article has made its way around the internet. It was never meant to be a comprehensive study of the subject. Since I had been raised Roman Catholic, I was responding to some of the arguments raised by the Hahns as to why they became Roman Catholic. In the final analysis, it all came down to what would be used to determine the basis of the Christian faith. It used to be that I could argue with a Roman Catholic based on the Bible. This is no longer the case. The new tactic reminds me of a story I heard about Allen Kennedy (1894–1961).[2] While dealing from the top and bottom of a card deck was common among magicians, “the center deal”—the holy grail of card tricks—was nearly impossible. It was the stuff of legend, and Kennedy could do it.

Debating with a Roman Catholic is like the center deal. When an appeal is made to what the Bible says, today’s Catholic apologists pull two cards from the center of the deck: the views of the early church fathers and church councils. No matter how compelling a biblical argument is formulated, it is always overridden by these two trump cards. This was my experience with a debate I had with a Catholic apologist on “TruthTalk Live,” hosted by Stu Epperson, Jr. Each time Stu and I would point to a series of biblical texts in support of a doctrine, we were told that this was just our opinion. The early church fathers taught something different. And if they weren’t enough authority for us, the church councils had spoken as well.

It’s almost impossible to win a debate if there are multiple sources of authority that make up one’s arsenal. Mormons not only use the Bible, but they can appeal to the Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants, and their own concept of Mormon Church councils. Jehovah’s Witnesses are a little easier to deal with since they believe the Bible, “as correctly translated.” I’ve used their New World Translation to show that their doctrines cannot be supported by their own translation.

Roman Catholics notoriously equivocate on the definition of “tradition” by reading into Scripture an already formulated Roman Catholic doctrine. When it is pointed out that Jesus rebuked “some Pharisees and Scribes” who accused Him of transgressing “the tradition of the elders” (Matt. 15:1–2), we’re told that Jesus was only “condemning the sectarian traditions of the Pharisees alone, which had no binding authority over the Jewish people as a whole.” How does a person know what’s sectarian and what’s authoritative tradition? For a Protestant, it’s quite simple: Sola Scriptura. But this isn’t the case for the Roman Catholic. He or she must wait to make a determination on these points.

Here’s one argument I found interesting. In Matthew 7:12, Jesus gives us the famous “Golden Rule”: “Therefore whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” The Roman Catholic apologist I debated explained the verse this way: “Here, the Lord is directly quoting, not Scripture, but an oral tradition of the famous Jewish rabbi Hillel, who also taught (a generation before Christ’s birth) that this maximum sums up the Law and the Prophets. Thus, Jesus is drawing from oral, rabbinical tradition, not from Scripture alone.” There are all kinds of things that Jesus said that aren’t found in Scripture. His words are Scripture. The truth of the Golden Rule resided in the mind of God long before it found its way into the Talmud. Jesus also quoted common expressions of the day (Matt. 16:2–3). They are Scripture because Jesus used them for His own purposes. This is true of all Scripture, even the words of Satan.

The biblical authors, as “moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21), used numerous “sources” to communicate God’s redemptive message. To equate what men moved by the Holy Spirit did to the opinions of the early church fathers and church councils is reading Roman Catholic doctrine into the Bible.

Endnotes:

[1] Gary DeMar, “Denying Sola Scriptura: The Attempt to Neutralize the Bible”
[2] Karl Johnson, The Magician and the Cardsharp: The Search for America’s Greatest Sleight-of-Hand Artist (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2005)

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