In conversations with Protestants, the topic of sola scriptura will almost always come up. According to those who are persuaded by this idea, the Bible—sixty-six, not seventy-three, books—is the sole infallible rule of faith and practice for the Church. Whatever is not specifically in the Bible, or may be logically inferred from it, is not binding upon Christians.
The idea is actually self-refuting when asked this simple question: “So where is sola scriptura in the Bible? If it is not to be found there, then the teaching is self-refuting: Whatever is not in the Bible is not binding on Christians >> Sola scriptura is not in the Bible >> ergo, sola scriptura is not binding on Christians.
Protestants do, however, have a handful of proof texts that they often use in order to give some basis to sola scriptura. Here are three of them, and why they do not in fact prove this teaching.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
“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 2 Timothy 3:16-17 as a proof text is that no Catholic denies that all scripture is inspired by God. That’s not the question. The question is whether only scripture is inspired by God. For a Protestant to cite this verse is, in fact, to beg the question.
“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
This verse is more difficult to answer. A Protestant will want to claim that the Scriptures are presented as the sole standard of proof in this text. There are two main problems, however.
First, the “scriptures” referred to are the Old Testament only, and if—as is likely—the Bereans were using the Septuagint, that canon included the Deuterocanonical books rejected by Protestants today.
Second, the “things” in question, which the Bereans sought evidence of in the scriptures, was the teaching of the apostles that Jesus was the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. Thus the Scriptures were directly relevant to the question that was being asked. Where else would they have looked except the Old Testament? This does not prove that there are no other rules of faith, only that this rule of faith was the only one relevant to the question at hand.
“You make the word of God of none effect through your tradition.”
Protestants interpret this verse as a blanket condemnation of all tradition, against “the word of God,” by which they mean the Bible alone.
These words, spoken by Jesus, come at the conclusion of his condemnation of the Corban rule. The Corban rule was a loophole that the Pharisees had discovered in the command to honor your father and mother by, among other things, taking care of them in their old age. By designating a portion of one’s income as Temple treasury, they could get around this obligation.
The important thing to note here is that Jesus does not condemn tradition as such, only a particular tradition that had developed specifically in order to avoid a commandment. The tradition contradicted Scripture.
But the Catholic teaching on tradition is not that it is contradictory to Scripture, but that it is in addition to Scripture. For Protestants to cite the Corban rule is to avoid the real nature of the dispute between sola scriptura and tradition.
If a tradition were to be found that contradicts Scripture, then Catholics would be right to do away with it. But if it is merely in addition to Scripture, Christ’s condemnation of the Corban rule has no bearing.