The Protestant Achilles' Heel

March 21, 2014 | 29 comments

According to ancient Greek legend, the great warrior, Achilles, was invulnerable against attack, except for one area of weakness—his heel. That weakness would be expoited near the end of the Trojan War by Paris. As the story goes, he shot Achilles in the heel with an arrow, killing his seemingly undefeatable foe. 

Okay, so referring to Sola Scriptura as the Protestant Achilles's Heel is not a perfect analogy. There are many weak spots in Protestant theology. But the use of the image of "Achilles's Heel" in prose today is employed not only to accentuate a singular weakness in an otherwise impenetrable person or institution, but a particularly acute weakness. It is in that sense that I think the analogy fits.

Sola Scriptura was the central doctrine and foundation for all I believed when I was Protestant. On a popular level, it simply meant, “If a teaching isn’t explicit in the Bible, then we don’t accept it as doctrine!” And it seemed so simple. Unassailable. And yet, I do not recall ever hearing a detailed teaching explicating it. It was always a given. Unchallenged. Diving deeper into its meaning, especially when I was challenged to defend my Protestant faith against Catholicism, I found there to be no book specifically on the topic and no uniform understanding of this teaching among Protestant pastors.

Once I got past the superficial, I had to try to answer real questions like, what role does tradition play? How explicit does a doctrine have to be in Scripture before it can be called doctrine? How many times does it have to be mentioned in Scripture before it would be dogmatic? Where does Scripture tell us what is absolutely essential for us to believe as Christians? How do we know what the canon of Scripture is using the principle of sola scriptura? Who is authorized to write Scripture in the first place? When was the canon closed? Or, the best question of all: where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible? These questions and more were left virtually unanswered or left to the varying opinions of various Bible teachers.

The Protestant Response

In answer to this last question, “Where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible?” most Protestants will immediately respond as I did, by simply citing II Tm. 3:16:

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.

“How can it get any plainer than that? Doesn’t that say the Bible is all we need?” Question answered.

The fact is: II Timothy 3—or any other text of Scripture—does not even hint at sola scriptura. It says Scripture is inspired and necessary to equip “the man of God,” but never does it say Scripture alone is all anyone needs. We’ll come back to this text in particular later. But in my experience as a Protestant, it was my attempt to defend this bedrock teaching of Protestantism that led me to conclude: sola scriptura is 1) unreasonable 2) unbiblical and 3) unworkable.

Sola Scriptura is Unreasonable

When defending sola scriptura, the Protestant will predictably appeal to his sole authority—Scripture. This is a textbook example of the logical fallacy of circular reasoning which betrays an essential problem with the doctrine itself. One cannot prove the inspiration of a text from the text itself. The Book of Mormon, the Hindu Vedas, writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the Koran, and other books claim inspiration. This does not make them inspired. One must prove the point outside of the text itself to avoid the fallacy of circular reasoning.

Thus, the question remains: how do we know the various books of the Bible are inspired and therefore canonical? And remember: the Protestant must use the principle of sola scriptura in the process.

II Tim. 3:16 is not a valid response to the question. The problems are manifold. Beyond the fact of circular reasoning, for example, I would point out the fact that this verse says all Scripture is inspired tells us nothing of what the canon consists. Just recently, I was speaking with a Protestant inquirer about this issue and he saw my point. He then said words to the effect of, “I believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth as Jesus said in Jn. 16:13. The Holy Spirit guided the early Christians and helped them to gather the canon of Scripture and declare it to be the inspired word of God. God would not leave us without his word to guide us.”

That answer is much more Catholic than Protestant! Yes, Jn. 16:13 does say the Spirit will lead the apostles—and by allusion, the Church—into all truth. But this verse has nothing to say about sola scriptura. Nor does it say a word about the nature or number of books in the canon. Catholics certainly agree that the Holy Spirit guided the early Christians to canonize the Scriptures because the Catholic Church teaches that there is an authoritative Church guided by the Holy Spirit. The obvious problem is my Protestant friend did not use sola scriptura as his guiding principle to arrive at his conclusion. How does, for example, Jn. 16:13 tell us that Hebrews was written by an apostolic writer and that it is inspired of God? We would ultimately have to rely on the infallibility of whoever “the Holy Spirit” is guiding to canonize the Bible so that they could not mishear what the Spirit was saying about which books of the Bible are truly inspired.

In order to put this argument of my friend into perspective, can you imagine if a Catholic made a similar claim to demonstrate, say, Mary to be the Mother of God? “We believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth and guided the early Christians to declare this truth.” I can almost hear the response. “Show me in the Bible where Mary is the Mother of God! I don’t want to hear about God guiding the Church!” Wouldn’t the same question remain for the Protestant concerning the canon? “Show me in the Bible where the canon of Scripture is, what the criterion for the canon is, who can and cannot write Scripture, etc.”

Will the Circle be Unbroken?

The Protestant response at this point is often an attempt to use the same argument against the Catholic. “How do you know the Scriptures are inspired? Your reasoning is just as circular because you say the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so and then say the Scriptures are inspired and infallible because the Church says so!”

The Catholic Church’s position on inspiration is not circular. We do not say “the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so, and the Scriptures are inspired because the infallible Church says so.” That would be a kind of circular reasoning. The Church was established historically and functioned as the infallible spokesperson for the Lord decades before the New Testament was written. The Church is infallible because Jesus said so.

Having said that, it is true that we know the Scriptures to be inspired because the Church has told us so. That is also an historical fact. However, this is not circular reasoning. When the Catholic approaches Scripture, he or she begins with the Bible as an historical document, not as inspired. As any reputable historian will tell you, the New Testament is the most accurate and verifiable historical document in all of ancient history. To deny the substance of the historical documents recorded therein would be absurd. However, one cannot deduce from this that they are inspired. There are many accurate historical documents that are not inspired. However, the Scriptures do give us accurate historical information whether one holds to their inspiration or not. Further, this testimony of the Bible is backed up by hundreds of works by early Christians and non-Christian writers like Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Josephus, and more. It is on this basis that we can say it is an historical fact that Jesus lived, died, and was reported to be resurrected from the dead by over 500 eyewitnesses. Many of these eyewitnesses went to their deaths testifying to the veracity of the Christ-event (see Lk. 1:1-4, Jn. 21:18-19, 24-25, Acts 1:1-11, I Cr. 15:1-8).

Now, what do we find when we examine the historical record? Jesus Christ—as a matter of history–established a Church, not a book, to be the foundation of the Christian Faith (see Mt. 16:15-18; 18:15-18. Cf. Eph. 2:20; 3:10,20-21; 4:11-15; I Tm. 3:15; Hb. 13:7,17, etc.). He said of his Church, “He who hears you hears me and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk. 10:16). The many books that comprise what we call the Bible never tell us crucial truths such as the fact that they are inspired, who can and cannot be the human authors of them, who authored them at all, or, as I said before, what the canon of Scripture is in the first place. And this is just to name a few examples. What is very clear historically is that Jesus established a kingdom with a hierarchy and authority to speak for him (see Lk. 20:29-32, Mt. 10:40, 28:18-20). It was members of this Kingdom—the Church—that would write the Scripture, preserve its many texts and eventually canonize it. The Scriptures cannot write or canonize themselves. To put it simply, reason clearly rejects sola scriptura as a self-refuting principle because one cannot determine what the “scriptura” is using the principle of sola scriptura.

Sola Scriptura is Unbiblical

Let us now consider the most common text used by Protestants to “prove” sola scriptura, II Tm. 3:16, which I quoted above:

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.

The problem with using this text as such is threefold: 1. Strictly speaking, it does not speak of the New Testament at all. 2. It does not claim Scripture to be the sole rule of faith for Christians. 3. The Bible teaches oral Tradition to be on a par with and just as necessary as the written Tradition, or Scripture.

1. What’s Old is Not New

Let us examine the context of the passage by reading the two preceding verses:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood (italics added) you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

In context, this passage does not refer to the New Testament at all. None of the New Testament books had been written when St. Timothy was a child! To claim this verse in order to authenticate a book, say, the book of Revelation, when it had most likely not even been written yet, is more than a stretch. That is going far beyond what the text actually claims.

2. The Trouble With Sola

As a Protestant, I was guilty of seeing more than one sola in Scripture that simply did not exist. The Bible clearly teaches justification by faith. And we Catholics believe it. However, we do not believe in justification by faith alone because, among many other reasons, the Bible says, we are “justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, emphasis added). Analogously, when the Bible says Scripture is inspired and profitable for “the man of God,” to be “equipped for every good work,” we Catholics believe it. However, the text of II Tim. 3:16 never says Scripture alone. There is no sola to be found here either! Even if we granted II Tm. 3:16 was talking about all of Scripture, it never claims Scripture to be the sole rule of faith. A rule of faith, to be sure! But not the sole rule of faith.

James 1:4 illustrates clearly the problem with Protestant exegesis of II Tim. 3:16:

And let steadfastness (patience) have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If we apply the same principle of exegesis to this text that the Protestant does to II Tm. 3:16 we would have to say that all we need is patience to be perfected. We don’t need faith, hope, charity, the Church, baptism, etc.

Of course, any Christian would immediately say this is absurd. And of course it is. But James’s emphasis on the central importance of patience is even stronger than St. Paul’s emphasis on Scripture. The key is to see that there is not a sola to be found in either text. Sola patientia would be just as much an error as is sola scriptura.

3. The Tradition of God is the Word of God

Not only is the Bible silent when it comes to sola scriptura, but Scripture is remarkably plain in teaching oral Tradition to be just as much the word of God as is Scripture. In what most scholars believe was the first book written in the New Testament, St. Paul said:

And we also thank God… 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… (I Thess. 2:13)

II Thess. 2:15 adds:

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions you have been taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.

According to St. Paul, the spoken word from the apostles was just as much the word of God as was the later written word.

Sola Scriptura is Unworkable

When it comes to the tradition of Protestantism—sola scriptura—the silence of the text of Scripture is deafening. When it comes to the true authority of Scripture and Tradition, the Scriptures are clear. And when it comes to the teaching and governing authority of the Church, the biblical text is equally as clear:

If your brother sins against you go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone … But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you … If he refuses to listen … tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Mt. 18:15-17)

According to Scripture, the Church—not the Bible alone—is the final court of appeal for the people of God in matters of faith and discipline. But isn’t it also telling that since the Reformation of just ca. 480 years ago—a reformation claiming sola scriptura as its formal principle—there are now over 33,000 denominations that have derived from it?

For 1,500 years, Christianity saw just a few enduring schisms (the Monophysites, Nestorians, the Orthodox, and a very few others). Now in just 480 years we have this? I hardly think that when Jesus prophesied there would be “one shepherd and one fold” in Jn. 10:16, this is what he had in mind. It seems quite clear to me that not only is sola scriptura unreasonable and unbiblical, but it is unworkable. The proof is in the puddin’!

If you liked this post and you would like to dive deeper into this topic and more, click here.


Tim Staples is Director of Apologetics and Evangelization here at Catholic Answers, but he was not always Catholic. Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian...

The Sword Of The Spirit
Are you ready to do battle against the forces of heresy and dissension that threaten to undermine the Catholic faith? Not sure about the strength of your own shield against such forces? Tim Staples is here to help. An established speaker in the area of defending the faith, he knows just what to say and how to say it when dealing with the slings and arrows of false teaching. In this set, he provides solid arguments for six of the most important teachings of the Catholic faith.

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Joel Lawwell - Avon Lake, Ohio

Excellent work Tim! This was a good article to study and my Bible has a lot more highlighting in it.

March 21, 2014 at 10:38 am PST
#2  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Thanks for your kind words, Joel!
I highlight my Bible, too. In fact, I like to highlight and underline all of my books. You can ask my wife! I have hundreds of highlighted and/or underlined books all over my house!

March 21, 2014 at 8:11 pm PST
#3  Nichole Shafer - Hastings, Nebraska

I like to color code my bible with different highlighting colors. Blue highlighting for baptism, Green-priesthood, pink-Mary, purple-anointing of the sick, reconciliation, orange-holy spirit, confirmation, purgatory, red-my favorite-the Eucharist. Yes, they actually have a red highlighter!! I was so excited when I found it!!

March 21, 2014 at 8:28 pm PST
#4  Edvard Klinovsky - Zilina, Zilinsky

Hi Tim, could you send me a private contact? Urgently needed, I would personally advise. My English is not very good, but I believe you'll understand me. God bless you

March 21, 2014 at 11:32 pm PST
#5  Emmanuel Cabahug - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

@ Tim Staples,

You mispelled Sola Scriptura as Sola Scritpura in the following sentence, "Sola Scritpura was the central doctrine and foundation for all I believed when I was Protestant."

March 22, 2014 at 9:54 am PST
#6  Gen hodgins - woodstock, Ontario

I never knew this, Thank`s, I find this site very educating:-]

March 22, 2014 at 11:29 am PST
#7  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Edward,
You can contact me through the web master at www.catholic.com

March 22, 2014 at 8:08 pm PST
#8  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Emmauel,

Good catch! I just changed it. Thanks!

March 22, 2014 at 8:10 pm PST
#9  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Hey Gen,

Stay tuned! We have much more good stuff to come. Glad you like the site!

March 22, 2014 at 8:11 pm PST
#10  obayi ifeanyi - Enugu, Enugu

Hi,i am new here from Nigeria,i want to say a huge thank u to catholic.com,resources i got from here(Also other catholic sources like www.instituteofcatholicculture.org) has really helped to deepen my faith,special thanks to u Tim for ur wonderful post,also many thanks to Mr karl keatin his book (catholicism vs fundamentalism)made alot of impart on me.
Solar scriptura is not only unreasonable,but also "uncommonsensical"i hav nevet heard of any self authenticating document in this word not even de US constitution.There is always an extenal authority that verifies and attest to authenticity every vital documents.such authority also is naturally vested with de resposibility of interpretation as wel.
This is what our blessed lord did when he preached his word and entrusted peter to lead his church attestin to his resurection and intereptin his word to world.

March 25, 2014 at 5:16 pm PST
#11  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Great to hear from you, Obayi. Stay in touch!

March 25, 2014 at 10:23 pm PST
#12  Lyle Miller - Livonia, New York

Well Tim scripture only can't be all so bad Jesus used it (the written word) against Satan in Matthew 4 during the temptation.

March 26, 2014 at 6:43 pm PST
#13  Tyler Rowley - Providence, Rhode Island

Can you explain the difference between Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriptura? I sometimes hear Protestants say, like my Presbyterian friend, that the Bible is the MAIN rule of faith, not the ONLY rule of faith. He says he does accept certain councils and church authority as authoritative, but the Bible is the MAIN (or first) authority. It's hard to remember which denominations have a strict BIBLE ONLY philosophy and which have the more relaxed view.

March 27, 2014 at 1:41 pm PST
#14  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Lyle,
Not only did I NOT say "Scripture is bad," but I explained that the Catholic Church teaches, "Scripture is inspired and profitable for 'the man of God,' to be 'equipped for every good work,'" in keeping with II Tim. 3:16.
The point is, believing Scripture "alone" to be the sole rule of faith for Christians is unreasonable, unbiblical, and workable.

March 27, 2014 at 8:02 pm PST
#15  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

"Solo Scriptura" verses "Sola Scriptura" is a controversy that has arisen among some Protestants. More traditional Protestants have no problem with talking about "tradition" and the importance thereof. For example, John Calvin acknowledged the essential orthodoxy of the early Ecumenical Councils like Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon. Though he and Luther ultimately claimed Scripture alone to be the final arbiter, they looked to tradition as well, though they would not place it on a par with Scripture.
The "Solo Scriptura" Protestants are those among Fundamentalist and some Evangelicals who have a radical view of the individual that says each individual Christian is autonomous and looks to nothing but Scripture.
Actually, "Sola Scriptura" leads to "Solo Scriptura" and the two are hardly distinguishable in the end, but there you have it.
I would say that your friend is off when he says the classical "Sola Scriptura" position is that the Bible is the "main authority." That is not true. Sola Scriptura means "Scriptura Alone" for a reason. Scripture is not the "main authority," it is the "regula fidei" or "the rule of faith" for Christians according to the reformers. Thus, the problem is perennial. You can try to say we "ought to" look to the fathers. You can say "tradition is important." But in the end, if you say Scripture is the sole rule of faith, you end up with the confusion you have today in Protestantism with new denominations popping up by the hundreds per year. In fact, if you consider "non-denominational" denominations, you have new ones popping up virtually daily.

March 27, 2014 at 8:22 pm PST
#16  Lyle Miller - Livonia, New York

Tim,
Sorry, I did not mean to insinuate that you said scripture was bad. I was just saying that sola scriptura or scripture only was not a bad thing and gave an example of Jesus using only scripture. I apologize. But doesn’t Augustine’s City of God book 11 Chapter3 claim that Jesus judged the scriptures sufficient? This was a thousand plus years before the reformation. Thanks Tim I've being listening to CA for 7 plus years now and have learned a lot. I appreciate this ministry.

March 28, 2014 at 7:27 pm PST
#17  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Lyle,
St. Augustine says Scripture "has supreme authority in the Church." And we agree, as Catholics. It is the word of God. But so is Tradition. It has supreme authority as well. The two are fonts of the same authoritative revelation of God. And the Church, most especially, the successors of St. Peter, are the authoritative interpreters of that Revelation. This does not make the Church superior to the word of God; rather, the Church is the infallible servant of the word of God (CCC 86). St. Augustine believed all of this to be true.

Sermon 131,10:

(On the matter of the Pelagians) two Councils have already been sent to the Apostolic See and from there rescripts too have come. The matter is at an end would that the error too might sometime be at an end.

The bottom line here is that St. Augustine understood the Pope to have the final say in matters of faith and morals in the Church. In his Letter of Augustine to Generosus (the Donatist), we see St. Augustine with an extremely developed notion of Papal authority. He claims that the Pope speaks for the entire body of Christ. In this sense, the Pope is not just the vicar of Christ, but he is also the “vicar” of the people of God. In chapter 2:

If the very order of episcopal succession is to be considered, How much more surely, truly and safely do we number them from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said; “Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer it.” Peter was succeeded by Linus,…(he lists Popes down to his time)….by Anastasius. In this order of succession not a Donatist Bishop is to be found.

In the next chapter of this letter, St.Augustine becomes the first to interpret Matt. 23:3 as applying to Papal Authority. You’ll recall our Lord says of those who God has placed in authority over the people of God:

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.

St. Augustine shows how this text applies to the Papacy and gives us the most developed understanding of the power of the Papacy not being dependent upon the holiness of the one sitting in the chair of Peter. In other words, the power of the papacy is not dependent upon the person of the Pope, but rather the power and promise of Jesus Christ, at times, in spite of what may be moral failings of a given Pope. In chapter 3 of that same letter to Generosus, St. Augustine goes on to say:

Even if in that succession of bishops (Popes) which comes down from Peter to Anastasius, now occupying the throne, there had happened to be a betrayer, there would still be no harm to the church and to innocent Christians, to whom the Lord, foreseeing it, said, of evil rulers: “Whatsoever they say to you… do, but according to their works, do ye not for they say and do not (Matt.23:3). Thus He made sure that a faithful hope, founded not on man but on the Lord, should never be scattered by the storm of sacrilegious schism, as those are scattered who read the names of churches in the holy books which the Apostles wrote, but they have not a single bishop in them. Roy J. Deferrari, The Fathers of the Church, vol.12, Saint Augustine Letters Vol I (1-82) p.247 [J P & t K p.180-181].

Sounds pretty Catholic, doesn't it?

March 29, 2014 at 6:11 pm PST
#18  Usulor Kenneth - Lagos, Lagos

No man of GODLY sound mind can ever accept sola scriptura, and of course Protestantism as a whole after hearing from the Catholic Church - the pillar and ground of the truth. This is because Protestantism is a set of doctrines from hell and a corruption of truth; although God sometimes uses it to bring "those who through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with sincere heart, and, moved by grace try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience" to salvation.

March 31, 2014 at 4:42 am PST
#19  Michael Pitre - Mandeville, Louisiana

Tim you are being kind when you say there are 33,000 denominations...that was in 2001. The most recent numbers indicate it is well into the 40k plus range if I have my info correct.

March 31, 2014 at 2:36 pm PST
#20  Michael Pitre - Mandeville, Louisiana

I like Steve Ray's comments on this also. When Jesus was preparing to leave earth....and setting up his church.... I have not read anything about him saying...don't forget to read the book...let that be your sole rule of faith!

March 31, 2014 at 2:38 pm PST
#21  Eric McCabe - Rosemount, Minnesota

"Show me in the Bible where the canon of Scripture is, what the criterion for the canon is, who can and cannot write Scripture, etc.”
Tim, bless your heart for mentioning this point. As a Lutheran my whole life, now attending RCIA :), the sola scriptura made our faith seem so clear. How appealing does that sound to so many people. It was not until I humbled my heart that I saw the truth of the Catholic Church. I could give this article to my Protestant friends and they won't accept the authority of Christ's Church because of their hardened hearts, so to speak, or maybe by invisible ignorance perhaps they are unwilling to want to learn. I very rarely witnessed Protestants expressing their faith through love (Gal. 5:6), however I commonly saw Protestants expressing their faith through doctrinal pride. I am blessed to not be apart of that intellectual faith I was given and finally started the venture of the faith that expresses itself through love, a faith that I can live by and not just "think" by.

April 17, 2014 at 8:59 am PST
#22  Stevie Davis - Queen Creek, Arizona

"The Church was established historically and functioned as the infallible spokesperson for the Lord decades before the New Testament was written. "

really? I read something about the infallibility of the CC somewhere today. I thought it said that the infallibility was put into being somewhere in the 300's at a Catholic council type meeting (like the Council of Trent). I'll have to really scratch my head to remember where I read that!

Do you ***** any Christian who doesn't follow the CC as Protestant?

April 21, 2014 at 8:52 pm PST
#23  LEONARD TANGUAY - LONG BEACH, California

Tim, just noticed a typo>

"II Thess. 2:15 adds:

So then, brethren, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions you have been taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter."

TWO 'BRETHEREN'

June 26, 2014 at 12:01 pm PST
#24  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Nice catch, Leonard! Changed it!

June 28, 2014 at 9:22 am PST
#25  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Stevie,

In response to your #22:

The Church was established as an infallible institution by Jesus Christ in AD 33. Whoever told you that it did not happen until AD 300 is sorely mistaken.

And no, I do not ***** any Christian who doesn't follow the Catholic Church as Protestant. There are over 200 million Orthodox Christians in the world who were around long before Protestantism came into existence.

June 28, 2014 at 9:29 am PST
#26  Seokwon Chung - Tempe, Arizona

Dr. Staples. I'm Catholic, and my non-denomination Christian friend tells me that since word of God is bible, and Word became flesh, it is therefore the bible = Jesus. I think there's a subtle difference between two words; (word of God) bible and Jesus(Word). Do you think my friend's equation "word of God=Jesus = Bible=God" is correct? I doubt it. Thanks.

July 21, 2014 at 9:28 pm PST
#27  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Seokwon,

Thanks for the Ph.D. (you referred to me as "Dr. Staples"), but unfortunately I have not earned the title. Mr. Staples will do. Or, better yet, just Tim.

Your non-denominational friend has fallen prey to the heresy of "bibliolatry," i.e., equating the Bible with Jesus. If that were true, we would have to worship the Bible, which would be absurd as well as idolatrous.

One way to simply explain the difference is to first acknowledge the obvious: the Bible (as well as Oral Tradition) is "the word of God." However, it is "the word of God" with a small "w." Jesus is "the Word of God" manifest in the flesh who was with the Father from all eternity as one of the three persons of the Blessed Trinity. That means he is "the Word of God" with a capital "W."

The key distinction between "the word" and "the Word" is the former is inspired by God (II Tim. 3:16), while the latter IS God (John 1:1-3). Sacred Scripture presents the word of God in an imperfect, or incomplete way, as I Cor. 12:9ff says, "For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away... For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood."

The Bible is the word of God inspired by God to equip us to live for God, but its "prophecy is imperfect" in the sense that it cannot give us the fullness of what we will behold in the beatific vision in heaven. When this life ends, there will be no more Bibles. The faithful who endure until the end will no longer have the faith that the Bible helps to engender, they will have the knowledge that only the possession of God in the beatific vision will provide.

In a nutshell, the "word of God" we understand by faith imperfectly will give way to "the Word of God" we will possess by knowledge and perfectly. The word of God written on paper is not God. The "Word of God" of Revelation 19:13 is God.

July 24, 2014 at 3:53 pm PST
#28  Seokwon Chung - Tempe, Arizona

Thank you so much for the answer above. When Jesus said "Call no one father excep God the father.", we catholics understand it as a figure of speech known as hyperbole as Jimmy Atkins says. So, even if you have not earned the title, it feels right to call you Doctor since I admire your works.

Can I ask an addiotional question? The same friend is always telling me that "Bible is the final authority." And I always think that Jesus is the final authority and the magisterium church as well. In Matthew 5, Jesus quoting the sciptures, but went beyond what is written in the Old with His authority as Son of God by saying "But I say unto you". But I could explain Jesus has a higher authority than the bible, but couldn't explain why the church has the final authority on the bible. Or, am I wrong about this issue? Can you explain Catholic position about the final authority? Thanks.

July 24, 2014 at 9:24 pm PST
#29  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Seokwan,

You've asked a very good question. In essence, "What is the relationship between the word of God (Scripture and Tradition), the Word of God (Jesus Christ), and the Church."

Of course, we worship Jesus Christ because he is God. We don't worship the Bible, nor do we worship the Church. These are not God as Christ is. So there is an infinite gulf between Christ on one hand and the Church and Scripture on the other.

But we also have to note that inasmuch as Scripture is "the word of God," there is no "higher authority" on earth because its authority rests entirely in God. Every word of Scripture, even the changeable parts of it, has the Holy Spirit as its principle author. So when we consider the Church's relationship with Scripture, we must be careful. The Church has been given authority by God to, among other things, speak definitively concerning the word of God, and that means to speak about what the word is (e.g., the canon of Scripture), as well as what it means. But that does not place the Church "above" the word of God. The Church is the servant of the word. When the Church speaks definitively, that is the Holy Spirit guiding the Church to serve the word infallibly. But she still serves the word of God as well as the Word of God (see CCC 85-86).
The Bible is very plain in Matt. 18:15-18 that the Church does have the final say in interpreting what the word of God means, but she does not have the authority to change the word of God. That is what the Church means when she says the Church is the "servant" of the word.

July 29, 2014 at 11:48 am PST

You are not logged in. Login or register to leave a comment.