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Two Failed Passages on Sola Scriptura

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How can the Catholic Church teach that we need Tradition as well as Scripture when the Bible says that Scripture is sufficient as a rule
of faith and for making a man “complete”? And how can the Catholic Church teach that Scripture is not our sole
infallible source for doctrine when the book of Acts praises the Bereans for using Scripture alone to determine the truth?


Cy Kellett:
Hello, and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I’m Cy Kellett, your host. Thanks for being with us. We have in studio with us the author of Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Belief, Karlo Broussard. Hello, Karlo.

Karlo Broussard:
Hey Cy.

CK:
One of the things that you do in that book or the thing, the primary thing that you do is you take a series of very reasonable challenges, challenges that require an answer from Protestant brothers and sisters-

KB:
Amen.

CK:
And then you give a Catholic response to that.

KB:
That is correct. Teach you ways in which we can meet these challenges.

CK:
Yeah. I feel like that’s been too easy, so we’re going to do two of them today.

KB:
All right.

CK:
Just one challenge per is not enough. We’re going to try-

KB:
All right. Let’s see what we can do, brother.

CK:
Okay. Both challenges have to do with Sola Scriptura basically and sacred tradition, okay?

KB:
Right. These are challenges to sacred tradition?

CK:
Right, challenges to sacred tradition. As you do in the book there, that you follow that pattern of how can you Catholics teach this when the Bible says this.

KB:
That is correct, yeah.

CK:
The first challenge is how can the Catholic church teach that Christians are bound to accept sacred tradition when Jesus teaches in Mark chapter 7, verses 8 through 13, that traditions must be measured by the Word of God, thus making the Bible the only binding authority for Christians?

KB:
Yes.

CK:
This is a common one. We hear this a lot.

KB:
It is a common challenge, and one way that we can meet it is to say just because Jesus measures a tradition of men, right-

CK:
Yes.

KB:
And we can emphasize that by sacred scripture, it doesn’t follow that there’s no tradition from God that Christians are bound to accept. All this passage shows, as we’re going to see, is that a tradition at least can’t contradict scripture. Even if it is a tradition of man, if you’re going to follow it, it at least can’t contradict scripture.

CK:
Okay.

KB:
But even a step further for our purposes is what Jesus is doing here in condemning a tradition of men and saying how it violates God’s Word, measuring that tradition of man by God’s Word.

CK:
Okay.

KB:
That doesn’t mean, that doesn’t entail that there is no sacred tradition, i.e. a tradition from God, that Christians are bound to follow them.

KB:
So, what’s going on here in Mark 7? Well, first of all, as I mentioned, we’re dealing with a tradition of men, and Jesus makes that explicit. At least that leaves open the possibility there is some kind of other tradition, like a sacred tradition, that we would be bound to follow, right?

CK:
Okay, yes.

KB:
Now in particular, this tradition of men that Jesus is condemning, as Jesus says in verse 13, makes void the Word of God, and he said before that in verse 9 rejects the commandment of God. The question is, well, which commandment is this particular tradition that Jesus is condemning rejects?

CK:
I know.

KB:
What is it?

CK:
Honor your father and mother.

KB:
That’s it, brother. You got it. Where in the Bible is that? Which verses?

CK:
That’s in the book of Deuteronomy chapter 10 and verse …

KB:
Yeah. Verses 9 through 10, Jesus makes that explicit. “You Have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ He who speaks evil of father and mother, let him surely die.” Right, one of the only commandments that has a consequence at the end there, right?

But what is the nature of this tradition that Jesus is condemning? Well, we get the answer to that question in verses 10 through 12. Jesus says, “If a man,” so he’s talking about … He’s talking to the religious leaders here and what they’re telling people. Basically, “You say if a man tells his father or his mother, what you have gained from me is corban,” that is given to God, that’s referring to an offering to God, “Well, then you’re no longer … Then you,” the religious leaders, “no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother.”

Basically what’s going on with this corban tradition is the religious leaders were saying the money that you have to care for your elderly parents, if you offer that money to the temple, make that an offering to God, you’re no longer bound to care for your elderly parents. And Jesus hammers them for that, because such action is thwarting or undermining, making void the fourth commandment to honor your father and your mother. This is the tradition that Jesus is referring to as the corban tradition, okay. Then in the book, I go into some of the etymology of the word and how that word came to be used for this tradition, but the bottom line is that this is a tradition that is rejecting the fourth commandment, and consequently Jesus hammers them for it.

All this proves is that if you’re going to follow a tradition, a tradition of man or even a tradition from God, right, you claim it to be from God, it at least cannot reject God’s commandments nor make void God’s Word. We agree 100% with that.

CK:
Yeah, right.

KB:
That’s not an issue of contention for us as Catholics. In fact, that’s why I wrote my book, Meeting the Protestant challenge, 50 challenges that assert that we are contradicting sacred scripture.

CK:
Right, yes.

KB:
I’m saying, no, we’re not.

CK:
No, we’re not. Yeah.

KB:
And here’s how we can reconcile that.

CK:
Right.

KB:
We accept that a tradition cannot make void God’s Word. That’s all this passage teaches. It does not entail the conclusion or the assertion that there is no tradition that we must hold fast to as Christians. That’s not what’s going on in this passage here. Now all we’ve done so far is we’ve diffused the challenge and show that the challenge in no way, or at least this particular biblical passage, in no way poses a threat to the Catholic belief concerning sacred tradition.

CK:
Okay, but is there anything positive? Are there any positive arguments for the Catholic position?

KB:
For a tradition, right.

CK:
Yeah. You would think, okay, fine Karlo, but what are the positive arguments for what-

KB:
Right, and that’s a legitimate question. Now this is where basically is the old challenge of where is that in the Bible, right?

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
Is there any evidence that there is a tradition from God or a sacred tradition that Christians are bound to follow and accept along with sacred scripture as an infallible rule of faith, and I think the answer is yes, and I’ll share a few examples. I do so in the book as well. In Second Thessalonians chapter 2, verse 15, that’s the classic example that Catholics always appealed to. There, Saint Paul says, “Stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us either by word of mouth or by letter.”

Now what’s interesting there is the context of verse 15. For example, in verse 13 Paul speaks of the Thessalonians being saved through belief in the truth, so it’s the context concerns belief in the truth and salvation based on that belief to which they were called through the gospel there in verse 14. So, the context is about believing in the truth, which the consequence of which is our salvation, and believing in the gospel it’s within that context that Saint Paul says, “Stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us either by word of mouth or by written epistle.” So, the word of mouth, the tradition transmitted by word of mouth pertains to the truth, pertains to the gospel, belief in which is a condition for our salvation.

Even further within the context, if you read prior to verse 15, starting from the beginning of that chapter, the context is all about Saint Paul warning the Thessalonians about the coming quote unquote antichrist, right? John refers to antichrist in his letters, but here Paul is referring to the man of lawlessness who’s going to come, and Paul talks about how there’s going to be a religious deception by this man of lawlessness. It’s in response to that, that Paul begins talking about, “Hey, believe in the truth, you will be saved. Believe in the gospel. Stand firm to the traditions that you’ve received.” The bottom line is that standing firm in the traditions that we’ve received through written letter from the apostles and their apostolic preaching, which we call sacred tradition, that’s necessary to be protected from this religious deception in order that we be saved.

The context bears out the idea that these traditions are not just like little T traditions, but these are traditions that we must hold fast to for the sake of our salvation, so they’re binding on us as Christians, rather than just traditions that can sort of come and go. The context gives us sort of the sacredness of those traditions.

Then of course you could argue because Paul parallels that, the traditions received by word of mouth, with the written epistle as these two equal means of transmitting divine revelation, so they have equal authority relative to us as Christians and what we’ve got to believe.

CK:
Yeah, okay.

KB:
Now, another clear passage, if I’ve got a little time here-

CK:
You do.

KB:
Is Second Thessalonians chapter 3, verse 6. That’s important, because check this out, Cy. Paul commands the Thessalonians in the name of Jesus. He invokes the very name of Jesus, invoking his apostolic authority, binding the Thessalonians to what he says. He says, “Now we command you brethren in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brothers, any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” In the name of Jesus, Paul commands the Thessalonians to stay away from an individual who is not living in accord with the tradition received.

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
What’s the implication of that? In the name of Jesus, you must live in accord-

CK:
In accord with the tradition.

KB:
With the tradition.

CK:
Right.

KB:
There is a sacred tradition in the first century that is binding on Christians in the name of Jesus, so that gives authority to the sacred tradition that we would say as Catholics is on an equal par, equal level with sacred scripture. So, rather than sacred scripture alone being the binding authority for Christians in the first century, you have sacred scripture and this tradition received-

CK:
Yes.

KB:
That’s binding on Christians as well, and we could infer from here that that tradition entails or involves a particular Christian way of living. That sacred tradition not only involves beliefs doctrinally speaking, but a particular way of life like morality and how we are to live our lives as Christians, which is binding for us for the sake of our salvation.

CK:
So Jesus uses the word tradition and then Paul, in Saint Mark’s gospel-

KB:
It’s the same Greek word. I’m glad you brought that up. Paradosis.

CK:
Yeah, that’s what I wanted to ask. Paradosis, but they’re not always translated the same in a Bible. You might get a Bible where Mark, where Jesus condemns tradition. There the word paradosis is translated as tradition, and then later they will translate the word in Paul to mean teaching or something.

KB:
As something. Teaching, yeah. No, that’s a good point. My memory is not serving me exactly which translations do not translate paradosis as tradition but maybe as teaching. I’d have to go back and check. But it is indeed the same word. Paradosis is in Mark 7:8 through 13, and I think it’s verse 8 in particular, and paradosis is used by Paul in Second Thessalonians 2:15, Second Thessalonians 3:6. He even talks about paradosis or traditions in First Corinthians chapter 11, verse 2.

The same word is used, and so that leaves open the question, okay, well which kind of paradosis is being spoken of here, right?

CK:
Right.

KB:
In Mark 7, the context makes clear it’s a paradosis of men first and foremost.

CK:
Right.

KB:
But it’s a paradosis of men that’s actually bad, because it’s contradicting the Word of God.

CK:
Right.

KB:
Within Paul’s letters, the context bears out that there is a sacred paradosis-

CK:
Yes.

KB:
That’s binding for Christians and that they must adhere to. So there, that establishes for us a biblical blueprint for the Catholic belief of sacred scripture and sacred tradition.

CK:
Now, see, this is the part where it’s normally we just have one challenge so that would be easy for you, but I don’t want to leave it there. Even though what you say is very convincing, I think it answers the challenge, let me give you the challenge in another way.

KB:
All right.

CK:
How can you Catholics, how can the Catholic Church reject the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura when Paul himself instructs in the first letter to the Corinthians chapter 4, verse 6 not to go beyond what is written?

KB:
Yes, and that is the key phrase there. Do not go beyond what is written. Our Protestant friends will infer from that, that Paul is giving instruction that we must remain only within the written Word of God in order to derive certainty about God’s revelation, thus excluding this Catholic idea of sacred tradition.

So, how can we meet this challenge? Well, we have to start off establishing the context here, Cy, and understanding what Paul is writing about and some of the problems that he’s trying to solve in the Corinthian church.

CK:
Okay.

KB:
The purpose of the appeal to not go beyond what is written is to cease factionous activity that’s going on in the Corinthian church. We get light of this in First Corinthians chapter 3, verse 4. Paul’s highlighting the fact that some are saying, “I belong to Paul.” Others are saying, “I belong to Apollos,” right?

CK:
Right.

KB:
This seems to be what’s motivating Paul to give his instruction to not go beyond what is written. Because he tells the Corinthians right after in First Corinthians chapter 4, verse 6, he says, “I have applied all this to myself and Apollos for your benefit, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.” His instruction, don’t go beyond what is written, whatever that may mean, we don’t know yet, but that instruction is in response to these Christians in Corinth being puffed up over and against another saying, “I belong to Paul. I belong to Apollos. Because Paul baptized me. Apollos baptized me. Well, I’m better than you and you’re inferior to me.” It’s all this factionous activity, and so Paul is trying to respond to that, right? Now, so that’s the purpose. That’s the context in which his instruction lies. That’s the first thing to draw out.

Now, another thing to keep in mind here is that Paul visited the Christians in Corinth a few years before he wrote his letter, his first letter to them, staying there for, he tells us, a year in six months. In Acts chapter 18, verse 11, we get wind of this teaching the Word of God among them. He was teaching them for a very long time. He was with them a year and six months, okay?

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
Now, surely not everything he taught the Corinthians during his visit ended up in his epistles written to them, okay?

CK:
He’s got to be talking about the gospels.

KB:
Well, he’s got to be talking about something else. Maybe the gospels, but not just his letter itself, right?

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
Not going beyond what is written, because Paul visited them, taught them a lot, so surely he wouldn’t be thinking that everything he taught is included in his writings, right? I’m establishing a basis-

CK:
Yeah, I gotcha.

KB:
How Paul’s interacting, right, with the Corinthians. Now this, we go back to what we talked about in a previous episode concerning Paul in his teaching about traditions, right? Because if we follow the logic of the challenge from First Corinthians 4:6, which says, “Don’t go beyond what is written,” means don’t go beyond the Bible, don’t go beyond the written Word of God, well then how do we make sense of Paul having favor for sacred traditions, right, where Paul clearly in his writings expresses or even commands the Christians to follow traditions?

For example, in First Corinthians 11:2, the very same church to whom he’s writing, “Don’t go beyond what is written,” in First Corinthians 11:2, he says, “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.”

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
Is he contradicting himself? Why would he be praising the Corinthians for holding fast to the traditions that he delivered to them, which would include everything that he taught them within the year and six months that he was with them-

CK:
For a year and a half, yeah.

KB:
And then in First Corinthians 4:6 be saying, “Oh hey, guys, by the way, don’t bother with all that stuff. Just stick to what is written. Don’t go beyond what I wrote to you-”

CK:
I gotcha, right.

KB:
Or don’t go even beyond the written Word of God? He would be contradicting himself. The logic embedded in the challenge from First Corinthians 4:6 actually contradicts and does not cohere with what Paul says elsewhere relative to the good of traditions and the instructions to hold fast to those traditions.

Of course, outside of the letter to the Corinthians, Paul expresses or gives instructions for holding fast to traditions in his letter to the Thessalonians. That is his second letter. In Second Thessalonians chapter 2, verse 15, “Brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us either by word of mouth or by letter.” Then Second Thessalonians 3:6 is another example.

The bottom line is that the logic embedded in the challenge demands that we say Paul is contradicting himself, right?

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
The logic embedded in the challenge leads us to the conclusion that Paul is going to say, “Don’t go beyond what is written here,” in First Corinthians 4:6, but say, “Yeah, it’s fine to go beyond what is written with the traditions,” in First Corinthians 11:2. Of course, I don’t think we want to say Paul is contradicting himself, so there must be some other meaning here to when he says, “Do not go beyond what is written.” He cannot be teaching Sola Scriptura here. That’s the first way in which we can meet the challenge.

CK:
Okay, so what does it mean then?

KB:
Yeah. Yeah.

CK:
I’m trying to think. What does he-

KB:
What would he be referring to?

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
Well, what’s interesting here, Cy, is that scholars don’t know.

CK:
Because you know what? As you were talking, it can’t be the gospels.

KB:
Well no, it can’t. That’s right.

CK:
Because the gospels aren’t written at that point.

KB:
They weren’t written yet, yeah. That’s right. We know that it can’t be he’s teaching Sola Scriptura for the reasons that I’ve already given.

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
But what does he mean, scholars differ. There’s such a variety of opinions on what he might mean here that is simply too ambiguous in order to have a proof text for Sola Scriptura. Protestant scholar Gordon Fee says, “This clause is particularly difficult to pin down, and that some see it as so obscure that they despair of finding its meaning.”

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
In my book, I give like at least six different interpretations of what Paul means by what is not written as found in multiple scholars, in the works of scholars. But I think there are two of the six that are most plausible.

Number one, it’s possible Paul is referring to Old Testament passages that he already quoted in First Corinthians 1:19, First Corinthians 2:16, First Corinthians 3:19 through 20, Old Testament passages that he could be appealing to and saying, “Don’t go beyond what is written here,” and what these passages entail relative to the factionous activity and the problems that he’s dealing with, right?

CK:
Yeah.

KB:
In other words, these Old Testament passages reveal to us certain ethical principles on how we are to behave as Christians, so don’t go beyond them, and you are going beyond them with your factionous activity, “I belong to Paul. I belong to Apollos. I’m puffed up over you,” type of thing. “I’m better than you.”

CK:
Right.

KB:
But another plausible explanation which I find convincing is that more generally speaking, everything that Paul wrote in the preceding chapters of the same epistle concerning Christian conduct. So it’s possible … We’re in First Corinthians 4:6.

CK:
Oh, I see. Yeah.

KB:
He’s responding to the problem of factionous activity saying, giving them instructions, don’t go beyond what is written. In other words, don’t go beyond what I have written already in the first three chapters of this epistle that I have spelled out for you.

CK:
Yeah. I told you what to do. Yeah.

KB:
And how to stop this factionous activity stuff.

CK:
Right, right.

KB:
I find that a very plausible explanation, but the bottom line is regardless of how you parse it out and what he means, it’s too ambiguous as to what he means by, “Don’t go beyond what is written,” to establish a proof text for Sola Scriptura. But in light of the reasons that I’ve given, we know it cannot mean Sola Scriptura, because that would demand that we say Paul is contradicting himself, which is absurd.

CK:
You did it, man. Two challenges in one episode of Focus. Thank you very much, Karlo.

KB:
Hey. Thanks, Cy, for having me. It was fun.

CK:
Karlo’s book is Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs. I’ll just mention this, too. We’re coming out of this lockdown I guess. Maybe you want to get Karlo as a speaker. You can do that just by going to catholicanswersspeakers.com.

Thanks very much for joining us here on Catholic Answers Focus. I know we’re starting to post these on YouTube. If you’re watching on YouTube, give us a like, and subscribe, and hit the little bell icon so you get notified when new episodes are available. If you would like to support us, and we’d be very grateful if you would, if you’d like to support us financially, you can just go to givecatholic.com. We’ll see you next time, God willing, right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

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