A Prominent Catholic Argument Against Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)

There is a powerful weapon which many Catholics wield in arguments against Protestants.  It is strong and intimidating, yet simple to use.  Some of them feel that the argument is so bullet proof, so watertight, that they will argue other points and wait until the end of a conversation to shatter the confidence of their unsuspecting Protestant discussion companion.  They will argue their views on Justification, Free Will, Papal Infallibility, etc, but they are certain they cannot lose an argument over Sola Scripture.

 

 

End Zone Dance 2Once the Protestant admits to believing that the Bible is the only infallible authority, the Catholic discussion companion starts his end zone dance and spikes the football.  But, when a Catholic football player spikes the ball before he actually reaches the end zone, the consequences are disastrous.  Often, the Protestant team will pick up the football and make it all the way across the field before the Catholic stops celebrating and realizes that his team is behind by 6 points when he expected to be ahead by 6 points.

 

I apologize for the baloney.

The Argument

Catholic:  You make the Bible your only infallible authority, but who gave you your Bible?  The Church, of course!  How do you even know what books are in your Bible?  The Church decided it early on.  Here’s my point (as I begin to Whip Nae Nae while my friends perform the Dirty Bird[1]), you can’t take the Bible to be your only authority because you need another infallible authority in order to tell you what the Bible is.

Dirty BirdProtestant:  What do you mean?

Catholic:  The only reason you know the 27 books of the NT are your infallible authority is because the church, another infallible authority, told you.  If you accept the infallible authority of the bible, you are accepting the infallible authority of the church who defined it.

Protestant:  So, you are arguing that in order for me to know that the 66 books of the Bible are an infallible authority, I have to affirm another infallible authority, namely the Catholic Church.

Catholic:  You are correct.

Alternative 1

It seems to me that the Protestant has many options in providing a simple but deadly refutation of the Catholic’s claim.End Zone Dance

Protestant:  How do you know that the Catholic Church is infallible in defining the Bible?

Catholic:  Two reasons, church history and the Bible indicates it.

Protestant:  Here you are stuck.  There are all kinds of conflicting view of history.  Who defines what counts as church history?

Catholic:  The Church of course, who else?

Protestant:  And you admit that the church defines Scripture?

Catholic:  That’s the point.  Yes.

Protestant:  If the church tells you what the Bible is and if it tells you what church history is, you obviously can’t use them to authenticate the church since you used the church to authenticate them.  You are engaging in circular reasoning.  How do you authenticate the Bible and church history?  The Church.  How do you authenticate the Church?  The Bible and church history.

Alternative 2

Pope FrancisThe protestant can also attack the general principle that some infallible source always has to authenticate an infallible authority.

Protestant:  Since you need an infallible church to authenticate the Bible, who authenticates the infallible church?  And who authenticates that new authenticator?  If you attempt to break out of the circle of reasoning, you have an infinite regress on your hands.

Catholic:  God authenticates the Church and the Bible.

Protestant:  How do you know?

Catholic:  The Bible, the Church, and Tradition proclaim it.

Protestant:  Now you’ve come full circle.

Positive Construction

Since the view of the above Catholic either leads to circular reasoning or to an infinite regress of infallible authorities, his assertion is incorrect.  However, hasn’t he still asked a valid question?  Yes.  He has asked how we know God’s Word.  Since it has been shown that we couldn’t know by some external authority such as an infallible church, it must be God Himself who authenticates His Word.  But, of course, it is part and parcel of classic Protestantism that the Holy Spirit is the one who causes us to believe the Word of God.  He is the one who guides us into the truth.  1 John 2:27 says “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.”

If God is in charge of conveying His Word to the individual, the church is biblically seen as a means by which God’s Word is impressed upon people’s hearts.  The church errs if it sets itself as an authority above it.

This post was meant to explain what the author believes to be an obvious error in the oft repeated Catholic assertion that one needs to affirm a second infallible authority (the church) in order to affirm an infallible Scripture.  This post is not meant to provide good answers to the following questions:

-How do we know what books are canonical?

-Since you said the Holy Spirit causes a person to believe, doesn’t your positive construction make our knowledge of God’s Word subjective?

-How could you even know whether or not the Spirit revealed something to you?

-And doesn’t this lead to all sorts of deviant interpretations of the Bible?

-Are you suggesting that the church has no biblical teaching role or no biblical authority?

Some of these questions are more difficult than others.  However, their difficulty does not compare to the blatant error of the assertion of the above Catholic.  All of these questions are important and profitable for study, and I would suggest some answers to them if it fit the context of this post.  But it doesn’t so I won’t.

Please provide comments below and send this to your catholic friends so I can get some feedback and adjust my perspective if needed.

 

 

[1] Please forgive my ridiculous references with the accompanying immaturity, and consider that no offense is meant to Atlanta or to Jamal Anderson.  More importantly, one might accuse me of using unfair tactics to make Catholics seems stupid.  While I think this post shows the bankruptcy of reasoning along the lines of the above Catholic, I do not intend the football satire to function as any part of the argument except to make it interesting and fun.  Perhaps someone will write a responding post where I am the one who prematurely spikes the football and you’ll see I won’t criticize him for it.

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  • Trey

    It seems with Roman Catholics a lot of these type arguments go back to them asserting Jesus gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom and apostolic succession. Setting aside the obvious Scripture interpretation errors, one problem with the Romanist is the historicity of apostolic succession and the link to Rome. I had found this article in regards to church history very informative. http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=313

    • I appreciate the thoughts and the link. I’m going to give that a read.

      It can be very difficult to have a conversation about church history with a Romanist because we appeal to different authorities on history. They appeal to the infallible church and we appeal to admittedly fallible historical records, so they think they have the high ground. It can quickly become an argument about authority and the subject of this post.

      • Trey

        That’s very true.