Sola Scriptura

As Presented by Jason Engwer

Jason Engwer presents a challenge to those who reject the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura. Mr. Engwer presents this challenge on his website. Since this is a public challenge, primarily directed toward Catholics, I will answer that webpage section by section.

Mr. Engwer begins with a quote from St. Peter, our first Pope:

"This is now, beloved, the second epistle that I write unto you; and in both of them I stir up your sincere mind by putting you in remembrance; that ye should remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and the commandments of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles" - 2 Peter 3:1-2

Shall we then remember the words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who said to the same Peter, "Thou art Peter (Rock), and upon this Rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven." (Matt. 16:18-19) Here, a man, not a book, is given ALL authority over the Church. Jesus doesn't grant Peter authority over just certain things, but over "whatsoever" he binds and "whatsoever" he looses.

Shall we also remember that similar authority is given to the rest of the Apostles by our Lord when he said to them: "Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven." (Matt. 18:18) Again, granting to the college of Apostles (our first bishops) a similar authority He earlier gave to St. Peter alone. Similar, but not identical, for there is no mention of "the keys" when He grants the Apostles the authority to bind and loose. "The keys" is something specially given to St. Peter.

Sola scriptura, as popularly defined by Protestants, including Mr. Engwer, is that the Bible alone is the sole infallible rule of faith for Christians. They claim there is no other infallible source, ONLY the Bible is to be our infallible guide. But nowhere in the Bible do we find this teaching! If this were such a foundational teaching for Christians, we would expect this to be a teaching boldly presented by Jesus and/or the Gospel and/or Epistle writers. On the contrary, as I have already documented above, Jesus has given infallible authority to first Peter alone, and then a bit later to the college of the Apostles (our first bishops). This authority is infallible because not only is "whatsoever" they bind bound on earth, but it is also bound in heaven. Error cannot be bound in heaven, therefore whatsoever they bind is infallibly bound.

Further, the Apostles hold an "office" and one that must be filled upon their passing, it is noted from Acts 1:20, 25-26: "For it is written in the book of Psalms: Let their habitation become desolate, and let there be none to dwell therein. And his bishopric let another take... To take the place of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas hath by transgression fallen, that he might go to his own place. And they gave them lot, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles." So this was a "ministry" and a "bishopric" (some translate "bishopric" to "office") an office which, according to the Psalms, had to be filled.

The office of "Apostle" or "bishop" is not limited to just those twelve, for later Saul, renamed to St. Paul, is ordained to the same office and counted as an Apostle:
Rom 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle,
Rom 11:13 For I say to you, Gentiles: As long indeed as I am the apostle of the Gentiles,
1Co 1:1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,
1Co 9:1 Am I not I free? Am not I an apostle?
1Co 9:2 And if unto others I be not an apostle, but yet to you I am. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
1Co 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
2Co 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,
Gal 1:1 Paul, an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead:
Eph 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God,
Col 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God,
1Ti 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
1Ti 2:7 Whereunto I am appointed a preacher and an apostle
2Ti 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God,
2Ti 1:11 Wherein I am appointed a preacher and an apostle and teacher of the Gentiles.
Tit 1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ

Others called Apostle:
Act 14:14 (14:13) Which, when the apostles Barnabas and Paul had heard...
Phi 2:25 But I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow labourer and fellow soldier, but your apostle: and he that hath ministered to my wants.
Timothy's authority is equated to Paul's by St. Paul himself:
1Co 4:17 For this cause have I sent to you Timothy, who is my dearest son and faithful in the Lord. Who will put you in mind of my ways, which are in Christ Jesus: as I teach every where in every church.
1Co 16:10 Now if Timothy come, see that he be with you without fear: for he worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do.
And Sylvanus is mentioned equally with Timothy and "us:"
2Co 1:19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, by me and Sylvanus and Timothy, was not: It is and It is not. But, It is, was in him.
1Th 1:1 Paul and Sylvanus and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians: in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ.
2Th 1:1 Paul and Sylvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians.
Phi 1:1 Paul and Timothy, the servants of Jesus Christ: to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.
1Th 3:2 And we sent Timothy, our brother and the minister of God in the gospel of Christ,

The "Office" Continues:
Rom 12:4 For as in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office:
2Co 9:12 Because the administration of this office doth not only supply the want of the saints, but aboundeth also by many thanksgivings in the Lord.
1Ti 3:1 A faithful saying: If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth good work.

So, it is established that there is an office of bishop, and that office originally held by the Apostles themselves continues in the Christian Church. It is likewise established that along with the office of the bishop comes authority of infallibility, either in the successor of St. Peter alone, or in the unity of the college of bishops. Nowhere in Scripture do we find that this authority is ended with the death of the first Apostles (as some Protestants contend). Timothy and Syvanus taught with the same authority as St. Paul, the Apostle. Epaphroditus is called an apostle. The true Christian Church is one that is in valid succession from and in valid unity with the Apostolic succession - and the one that claims and adheres to this other infallible rule of faith which is clearly established within the confines of the Scriptures themselves.

There's an argument that's often used by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and other groups that deny sola scriptura. It's an argument that can and should be refuted, but it usually isn't. What I'm referring to is this, that those who adhere to sola scriptura are criticized for the disagreements that exist among them. Supposedly, the fact that adherents of sola scriptura disagree with one another on some issues is evidence that scripture must be insufficient as a rule of faith. Opponents of sola scriptura often mention the existence of thousands of different organizations that all claim to be following sola scriptura, yet disagree with one another about what the Bible teaches. Many of those who reject sola scriptura say that this disunity is unacceptable. We need an infallible interpreter of scripture to tell us what the Bible actually means, they say.

While I would agree it is a bit unfair to compare differing groups of Protestants which claim adherence to sola scriptura, but define not only different parts of scripture differently, but also differ on the very definition of sola scriptura itself. However, it is a valid point that IF sola scriptura was enough to rule and guide the Christian Church, then the Scriptures - "interpretting themselves" (as some adherents contend) should present us with one, clear, undeniable truth - yet there are undeniable differences among Christians and even among those who claim adherence to sola scriptura. Whereas it is not real fair to paint with such a broad brush, it is a valid point to be raised and considered.

To make this a more fair comparison, let me ask Mr. Engwer this, since we obviously disagree on the interpretation of Matthew 16:18, what makes his interpretation more valid than mine? On what authority does Mr. Engwer base his interpretation? Mine is based in the Scripture itself and nearly 2000 years of Catholic sacred tradition. But, if we rely on "Scripture Alone" then, when the Scripture says that men can bind or loose things on earth and the same things are bound or loosed in heaven - since it is totally unfathomable for error to be bound in heaven, the Scripture itself is defining an infallible authority in men. This does not denegrate the infallibility of Scripture itself - but to deny the infallibility of the Apostles and the office they held and passed down is to deny the Scriptures. If the "Scriptures Alone" are to be our sole infallible rule of faith, then we have to deny the Apostles could and their successors can "bind or loose whatsoever," which, again, is a denial of the Scriptures themselves. Clearly, Mr. Engwer's position is destroyed on this point alone.

Often, this argument isn't even responded to. A lot of people who accept sola scriptura don't seem to be prepared to defend the concept. When advocates of sola scriptura do respond to the arguments raised against their rule of faith, however, they usually respond in a few ways.

First, they point out that the fact that some people misinterpret the Bible isn't a problem with the Bible itself. It's a problem with the fallible people who are interpreting the Bible.

Again, I assert, then WHO is authorized to interpret the Scriptures to provide us with infallible definitions? Certainly Mr. Engwer has a point that "fallible people interpretting the Bible" may misinterpret it - but if there is no other infallible authority then how can anyone be assured their "teachers" and "preachers" are providing them with an "infallible truth" - since by Mr. Engwer's own admission, NONE of these men are infallible?

They also point out that the groups that oppose sola scriptura have disagreements among themselves as to how to interpret their rule of faith. Within groups such as Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy, there are liberals and conservatives, as well as people in-between. If disagreements in interpreting a rule of faith prove that the rule of faith is insufficient, then there is no sufficient rule of faith. Every rule of faith that has been proposed can be, and has been, interpreted in different ways by different people. While it's true that all Catholics, for example, have organizational unity, that's because their rule of faith is inseparable from the organization they follow. Scripture, on the other hand, is not an organization. When opponents of sola scriptura point to the large number of separate organizations that advocate sola scriptura, then contrast that with the unity among the members of their organization, they're making an invalid comparison. What they're saying is, "Our organization has more organizational unity than your group of organizations has." Of course it does. One organization always has, by definition, more organizational unity than a group of organizations has. It couldn't be any other way. It doesn't prove much to say that Catholics, for example, have organizational unity with one another, whereas evangelicals don't. By definition, to be Catholic involves belonging to the Roman Catholic denomination. It would be impossible for Catholics not to have organizational unity with one another. Similarly, every member of a Baptist or Methodist denomination has organizational unity with every other member of that organization. But within any organization, including ones that reject sola scriptura, there can be all sorts of disagreements among liberals, moderates, and conservatives. It was spiritual rather than organizational unity that Jesus and the apostles commended (Luke 9:49-50, 1 Corinthians 11:18), and the organizations that deny sola scriptura have a lot of spiritual disunity within them, just as there's spiritual disunity among those who practice sola scriptura.

Mr. Engwer has built up a strawman here. The problem with sola scriptura is not that Catholics are more united than those who adhere to sola scriptura. The problem is, if sola scriptura is truly the sole infallible rule of faith then by its very nature it should produce unity among those that adhere to it.

The fact of the matter is, there IS more unity among the groups Mr. Engwer mentions (Anglicans, Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxy) in our central teachings, the Sacraments. It is through the Sacraments that we receive Grace, and we are not in disagreement on what we consider sacramental. Mr. Engwer cannot claim any such unity among Protestant denominations, especially when discussing the Sacrament of Baptism. Some "communities" believe that baptism is absolutely necessary, while others do not. Some demand that baptism must be by immersion, and/or immersion in running water - others say sprinkling is enough. Some (Protestant communities) believe that baptism removes Original Sin, while others believe it is only a symbol. Some (Protestant communities) believe it is okay to baptize infants, others demand that baptism is only valid if done with full consent of the person being baptized and after they've reached the age of reason. All these differences over just ONE of the Sacraments, yet the groups that Mr. Engwer named are completely in unity over their beliefs in baptism.

Anglicans, Catholics and Orthodox are also united in belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. They all consider marriage the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. They all participate in the Sacraments of Confession, Confirmation, Holy Orders and Extreme Unction. These are things which are central to our Faith, and we are not divided over them. So, even though Mr. Engwer tries to use this "they are as disunited as we are" argument, his argument is based in a false premise. Protestantism truly is disunited in not only these core beliefs of Christianity but also in what they consider to be essential beliefs of fellow Christians! As I pointed out earlier, even over the doctrine of sola scriptura there is not one definitive statement of what it is. Yes, if we only look at say "The Reformed Baptist" definition of sola scriptura, there is one definition.

Advocates of sola scriptura also point out that their opponents have to rely on their own fallible interpretations, even if they don't want to. In order to reach the conclusion that an organization such as the Roman Catholic Church has the authority to infallibly interpret the Bible for us, we must interpret for ourselves the evidence that leads to that conclusion, including what the Bible teaches. Does a Catholic want to claim that Matthew 16 and the teachings of the church fathers prove that the papacy is a true doctrine? How does he make such an argument without using his own judgment to interpret Matthew 16 and to decide which church father teachings are accurate and which aren't? Personal, fallible interpretation is impossible to avoid.

This part of Mr. Engwer's argumentation is merely a red herring. Mr. Engwer asserts that somehow everyone must privately interpret, but he doesn't give us any sort of concrete example. The fact is we need an infallible interpreter for any of the teachings we believe, even those from the Bible. We rely on such an interpreter, even if we do not realize it, even Mr. Engwer does. For example, we both believe that if we believe and are baptized, we shall be saved. That's straight from the Bible - but is our "personal, fallible interpretation" anymore valid than that of an atheist or a pagan? We believe this because it is written in the Bible, but we believe the Bible because it is certified by the Church. The Bible did not compile itself, it was compiled by the Church. Even the canon of the Bible was in a state of flux for the first 400 years of the New Testament Church - even longer if we are to accept the Protestant canon. The fact of the matter here is, the Church convened councils that determined the Canon of Sacred Scripture, several of them, in fact, but most notably the Councils of Carthage and Hippo at the end of the 4th century. Since the time of these councils, every single Catholic Bible has had the identical Canon of Sacred Scripture. When the Protestants removed several books from the Old Testament Canon, the Church responded - during the Council of Trent, making the Catholic Canon a matter of dogma - to end all further discussion among faithful Christians. Only those unfaithful to the Church that Jesus Christ founded would continue to reject this canon. But, I digress... The point here is that we all rely on the Church, even for the most fundamental of "interpretations" of the Scriptures. Those who accept a "different gospel" than the one taught by Christ and continued in His Church are to be rejected - and we must include the doctrine of sola scriptura as a "different gospel," since it is clearly not taught in Scripture itself nor is the terminology even heard of until about the time of the Protestant revolt.

While all of these arguments in defense of sola scriptura are valid, there's another approach that can be taken, which doesn't seem to be used much. It's true that groups such as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have disagreements among themselves, just as there are disagreements among those who adhere to sola scriptura. In that sense, we're all on equal footing.

"In that sense" we're not on an equal footing. As has already been demonstrated, on fundamental issues Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Anglicanism are quite united - but on the same fundamental issues "Evangelicalism" cannot make the same claim.

But there's another sense in which adherents of sola scriptura are actually at an advantage.

Evangelicals agree with one another about what their rule of faith is. They follow a 66-book canon of scripture. But what is the rule of faith among those who reject sola scriptura? Not only do they disagree in their interpretations of their rule of faith, as advocates of sola scriptura do, but they also disagree among themselves about what their rule of faith is to begin with. Catholics, for example, disagree among themselves about just which papal decrees, council rulings, etc. are infallible and which are not. A Catholic, an Eastern Orthodox, or an Anglican may refer to how he follows "the church" or "tradition", but he's unable to define just what that is. He can't cite something comparable to the evangelical's 66-book canon.

If this weren't such a serious matter, I'd have to laugh at the way Mr. Engwer has turned this into a competition. It doesn't matter, not one iota, if Mr. Engwer can make it appear that "Evangelicals" have an advantage. This is not a numbers game. What matters is what the Truth is. The Truth is the Bible is not the sole infallible rule of faith, for Jesus Himself gave the charism of infallibility to men, and these men held offices which were passed on to others.

Terms such as "the church" and "tradition" have been defined in all sorts of different ways by different people over the centuries. And the alleged authority of "the church" and "tradition" isn't as verifiable as the authority of scripture.

It isn't as verifiable? Hmmm, a bit of a Freudian slip here, perhaps?

With scripture, there's specific, compelling evidence of infallibility (prophecy, scientific foreknowledge, historical evidence of apostolicity, etc.).

And without the Church, the Canon of Sacred Scripture is not debated on for nearly 400 years, nor ever decided upon, for it take someone or something to make such a decision, and to make it final.

There is no such evidence for the infallibility of "the church" or "tradition", at least as those terms are often used by opponents of sola scriptura.

Oh, but there IS such evidence, and it has been provided in this article, for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

If they can't even define what their rule of faith is, and there's no specific, compelling evidence that their rule of faith is infallible, whatever it is, aren't they in an even worse situation than the evangelicals they criticize?

Again, this is not a competition nor a matter of which side appears to be the underdog. And again, our rule of faith is clear - "whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven..." leaves no doubt that once one of these men bind something, then it is bound in heaven, and unless Mr. Engwer is willing to say error can be bound in heaven, then he can't say there is no evidence.

(For anybody interested in an illustration of just how bad a situation these people are in, I recommend visiting the following web page: http://www.ntrmin.org/rcchallenge.htm.)

For anyone interested in how every single challenge raised by Svendsen is answered, please see: http://www.americancatholictruthsociety.com/svendsen/catholicchallenge.htm.

By the way, Eric, it's been since August 31, 2002 and we're still waiting for the check (but we're not holding our breath!).

I pose this question, then, to opponents of sola scriptura. What is your rule of faith, and how can you verify it and interpret it without facing the same difficulties that you criticize in association with sola scriptura?

First off, I do not accept Mr. Engwer's strawman argument. The chief criticism of sola scriptura is not the statements of unity, but the very fact that the doctrine of sola scriptura is not found within the Scriptures. You do not find a single passage of Scripture stating the Scriptures, alone, are the sole infallible rule of faith. The argument about unity is merely a distraction from the real issue at hand here.

Consider as well, the terminology of sola scriptura, which is Latin, is not even heard of until about the time of the Protestant revolution. Considering the fact that Latin was the primary language of nearly all the Early Church Fathers, especially those in the Western or Latin Rite of the Church, one would think the terminology of sola scriptura would not only be recorded by them, but would be prevailent in a majority the Early Church Father's writings - yet the Fathers are silent.

If one looks objectively at the fallacy, no, the lie of sola scriptura that has worked its way into and so firmly rooted itself into doctrine - then one must seriously question any further acceptance of any who continue to preach this other gospel. An objective look at this "doctrine" will force anyone with an ounce of integrity to look elsewhere for the Truth, for those who have been preaching sola scriptura whether they realize it or not, have been preaching a lie.


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