Presented here is a rebuttal of Sola Scriptura as presented by James White in his book, The Roman Catholic Controversy, (hereafter TRCC), specifically Chapter 5, "Sola Scriptura: God Speaks Clearly." In my past discussions with James he has accused me of not understanding the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, so in this undertaking I will be quoting him extensively.

I have color coded this page as follows:


White opens with a quote from St. Basil of Caesarea (c. 330-379), and he claims that this is what St. Basil used when encountered by opponents who claimed authority for their own custom and tradition:
If custom is to be taken in proof of what is right, then it is certainly
competent for me to put forward on my side the custom which
obtains here. If they reject this, we are clearly not bound to follow
them. Therefore, let God-inspired Scripture decide between us;
and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the
word of God, in favor of that side will be case the vote of truth.
(Letter CLXXXIX, as quoted in TRCC page 55).

Let us be clear on this point, " in harmony with" does not mean we must find it in Scripture, only that it cannot contradict Scripture. There is also nothing about the Scriptures "speaking clearly" in this text. White, however, goes on to say, "Basil was content to allow that divine document to stand as judge between him and his opponents." He also adds, "he referred to that which was binding on all Christians in all places at all times: the Scriptures." (ibid.). But, is St. Basil really saying all that White says? Let us look at another quote from St. Basil:

As for us, besides this open war of heretics, that, in addition, which
has been raised by those who have the appearance of being
orthodox, has reduced the churches to the last degree of
weakness. For which reason we stand in special need of
assistance from you (the bishops of the west), to the end that they
who profess the Apostolic Faith, having done away with the
schisms which they have invented, may henceforward be
subjected to the authority of the Church.
{T.iii.P.i.Ep.xcii. ad. Ital. et Gall. p. 266; quoted in: The Faith of Catholics, pg. 58).

Here we find St. Basil "clearly speaking" that the Apostolic Church is in authority, and he even turns to the bishops of the west to aid him in this show of solidarity against the heretics. So are we to be subject to the Scriptures or to the Apostolic Church? I submit that we are to be subject to the Church; we are subject also to the Scriptures, but only as they are interpreted by the Apostolic Authority that Jesus left us. "Clearly" if we look at more of the writings of St. Basil, he does not profess or teach the doctrine of Sola Scriptura that was invented by those who formed new churches and separated from the Apostolic Church in the 16th century.


Next White discloses that "Few Protestants today can define sola scriptura briefly, succinctly, or even accurately." (TRCC, p. 56) So, in essence he is saying that most Protestants do not even have a clue about this doctrine that is supposed to be one of the very foundations of the "Reformation." (I detest that word, it is a Protestant word to make them feel better about what they did, no from the Catholic perspective it was a Formation, and from here after it will be referred to as such). Many of the founders of the Formation claimed that if it could be shown that any of the doctrines of Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide or Sola Gratia, were false, they would come back to the Catholic Church, would White do the same? What if we can show the weakness of this doctrine of Sola Scriptura? White goes on to conclude this thought with, "I have obse rved that many of those who have moved into Roman Catholicism from evangelical churches have done so because they could not defend sola scriptura." (ibid.)


Next White proceeds to tell us:
"What Sola Scriptura Is Not."
His first statement is: "First and foremost, sola scriptura is not a claim that the Bible contains all knowledge." (ibid.). He goes into a little litany of what he means by this, but I believe we are in agreement here so I won’t belabor the issue.


Second, he says, "Sola scriptura is not a claim that the Bible is an exhaustive catalog of all religious knowledge." He then freely admits that the Bible itself asserts this fact in John 21:25. Again, we agree on this point, but he attacks the words of Karl Keating in this section. Since I am rebutting White's book, I will also defend Karl’s words here. He quotes Karl’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism, p. 136:

The Bible actually denies that it is the complete rule of faith.
John tells us that not everything concerning Christ’s work is in
Scripture (John 21:25), and Paul says that much Christian teaching
is to be found in the tradition that is handed down by word of mouth
(2 Timothy 2:2). (quoted on pg. 57 of TRCC).

White elucidates: "Keating equates John’s statement that the Bible does not record everything Jesus did with a denial that the Bible is the complete rule of faith." (ibid.). After repeating that this is a misconception of the teaching of sola scriptura, he starts getting a bit ridiculous saying: "Do we need to know the color of Bartholomew’s hair for the Bible to be sufficient source?" He also tries to make Keating’s words to mean that we need to know the daily menus or descriptions of clothing of the Apostles for the Bible to be a sufficient source. No, Karl merely cited the SAME verse that White cited regarding the fact that the Bible is not an exhaustive source. What White leaves out of this section of Keating’s book is a bit more condemning of sola scriptura, continuing where White left off:

He (Paul) instructs us to ‘stand fast, and hold to the traditions which
you have learned, whether by word or by our epistle’ (2 Th 2:15).
We are told that the first Christians ‘were preserving the doctrine of
the apostles’ (Acts 2:42), which was the oral teaching that was given
long before the New Testament was written and centuries before the
canon of the New Testament was settled.

White did not deal with either 2 Thessalonians 2:15 or Acts 2:42, which Keating cites in the same paragraph that James is attacking. Anyone who reads the context that James cites from Catholicism and Fundamentalism can clearly see that Keating is vindicated by his own words.


Let us now go on to White's third commentary on what sola scriptura is not.

Sola scriptura is not a denial of the authority of the Church to teach
God’s truth. Quite often a dichotomy is presented: one has either the
Bible or the Church, but not both. Many Protestants, reacting against
what they see as an overemphasis on the Roman Catholic theology,
end up going too far in the other direction, and downplay the vital
(and biblical) role the Church is given by the Lord Jesus Christ in the Scriptures.

Wow! I was impressed to read this from White! Actually admitting that the Church has authority, given her by Christ! I’ll say it again, wow! Now we must ask White, where did this "true church" go for nearly 1500 years while anyone who claimed to be a Christian was a Roman Catholic? The dawning of the "Formation" wasn’t until, at the earliest, in the 1400’s to 1500’s, so where was the Church all this time?


Well, after he admits the Church has authority, he switches the subject a bit and quotes 1 Timothy 3:15, saying that some Protestants are troubled by the description of the Church as the "pillar and support of the truth." Here again, he states that this description of the Church is "thoroughly biblical and proper." But he qualifies this with, "There is, of course, a vast difference between recognizing and confessing the Church as the pillar and bulwark of truth, and confessing the Church to be the final arbiter of truth itself." (TRCC, p.58). So who then is "the final arbiter?" White argues that the Church "upholds the truth, but is subservient to it. The Church remains the bride of Christ, and as such, she listens obediently and intently to the words of her Lord Jesus Christ, and those words are found in Scripture itself." (ibid.). Again, we can go back to Karl Keating’s point, and ask, "Are all Christ’s words to be found in Scripture?" If all can be found in Scripture, then what are the oral traditions that the Scriptures themselves refer to?


Again, who is the final arbiter of the Scriptures? One cannot say that the words speak for themselves. If this were true, then there could only be one way to interpret the Scriptures, and if this were true then we would by default have only one church. However, left to the devises of men, the scriptures have been interpreted in many different ways. Subsequently, we are left with thousands upon thousands of Protestant denominations (the last figure I heard was 28,000!) each one claiming to have the true interpretation. I am a bit confused by White's next explanation: [my comments in brackets]

While Rome has gone far beyond the biblical parameters regarding
the roles and functions of the Church, [no citations of this!], many
Protestants have not gone nearly far enough in recognizing the
divine order laid out in the New Testament. The Apostles
established local churches
[we call these parishes].
They chose elders and deacons, [we call them priests and deacons]
and entrusted to these the task of teaching and preaching the Gospel
of Jesus Christ. Those chosen
of God to minister the Word to the congregation are worthy of
double honor (1 Timothy 5:17). There is no warrant for the ‘Lone Ranger
Christian Syndrome’ so popular in Protestant circles these days.
(TRCC, p. 58)

So, what does this make White himself, if not one trapped in "Lone Ranger Christian Syndrome?" White has given a very good argument for why it is necessary to have One Church as the final arbiter and interpreter of the Scripture. I would concur, the Bride of Christ is still subservient to the Word, but not the Word as interpreted by James White, nor any other individual interpretation and especially not the interpretation that comes from a schismatic and/or heretical group.


White's final two proclamations of what sola scriptura is not we agree with, so I will close this section with his summary on page 59:

Sola scriptura is not a

    1. claim that the Bible contains all knowledge; (we agree)
    2. claim that the Bible is an exhaustive catalog of all religious knowledge; (we agree)
    3. denial of the Church’s authority to teach God’s truth; (we agree)
    4. denial that God’s Word has, at times, been spoken; (this summary alone defies the doctrine!)
    5. rejection of every kind or use of tradition; (we agree)
    6. denial of the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding the Church. (Amen and amen!)


What Sola Scriptura Is

  1. The doctrine of sola scriptura, simply stated, is that the Scriptures alone are sufficient
  2. to function as the regula fidei, the infallible rule of faith for the Church. The emphasis here
    is on the nature of Scripture. The Scriptures are, as God-breathed revelation, sufficient to
    provide the "rule of faith" necessary for the Church’s mission in this world. Further, the
    Scriptures provide an infallible rule of faith, one that cannot err, one not affected by personal
    whims, social trends, or any other outside force. While the Church faces a myriad of
    challenging situations over time, the Scriptures themselves do not change and therefore
    provide the Church with a firm foundation.

    Well, again we agree on this! Yes, the Scriptures are indeed sufficient to provide a, if not the, regula fidei. The problem is that nowhere within the Scriptures can we find that they are to be the sola regula fedei! Again I must ask, even if the Scriptures were the sole rule of faith, who interprets? Who is the final arbiter?


  3. All that one must believe to be a Christian is found in the Scripture, and no other source.
  4. Now, if this were one of the rules for a Christian, and sola scriptura is the sola regula fidei, would not one expect to find this rule within the confines of the Sacred Scriptures? If there is to be "no other source" then why do the Scriptures themselves refer to an oral tradition? (2 Thes. 2:15).


  5. That which is not found in Scripture either directly or by necessary implication is not binding upon the Christian. [Says who!?] To be more specific, I provide the definition I used when I first defended this doctrine in a public debate:
  6. The Bible claims to be the sole and sufficient infallible
    rule of faith for the Christian Church.
    [Where does it
    claim to be the sole rule of faith?]
    The Scriptures are not in
    need of any supplement; their authority comes from their
    nature as God-breathed revelation; their authority is not
    dependent upon man, church or council. The Scriptures
    are self-consistent, self-interpreting, and self-authenticating.
    The Christian Church looks to the Scriptures as the only
    infallible and sufficient rule of faith, and the Church is always
    subject to the Word, and is constantly reformed thereby.

    The next thing White quotes is the Westminster Confession of Faith, which I will not deal with since it is clearly extra-scriptura and thus is self refuting for White's purpose (to prove SOLA scriptura). I must challenge though, his words above. "The Scriptures are self-consistent, self-interpreting, and self-authenticating." How is this possible? Again, IF this were true, we would not have the tens of thousands of Protestant denominations which differ, some greatly, on their interpretation of Scriptures. If the Bible were self-interpreting, there could then only be one logical truth.


    If the Bible were self-authenticating, then why did it take nearly 400 years before there was a final canon of Scriptures? And, why would there be a discussion at all about the deutero-canonicals of the Old Testament? The Catholic Canon of Scriptures includes these books, and always has. This is based on the fact that Jesus and the Apostles, when they quote from the Old Testament, quoted from the LXX, or Septuagint, which also includes these books. The Protestants reject these seven books based on the Jewish canon, that does the same. Now, as a Christian, would it not make more sense to accept the books that came from the same edition that Christ Himself and His Apostles used as opposed to the edition that was accepted by those who rejected Christ!


  7. Scripture reveals those things necessary for salvation.
  8. Again, we can concur on this point. Then Jesus also demanded in the Bible that the Apostles:

    Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing
    them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy
    Spirit, teaching the to observe ALL that I have commanded you;
    and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
    (Matthew 28:19-20, NAS).

    As I said, we concur on this point and we also concur that there are more things that Jesus said and taught than are contained in the Bible, at least White said earlier that he accepted this fact. So, if we are to be taught ALL that Jesus commanded, and not ALL these things were found in the Bible, not to mention the Bible would not be written for decades after He said this, nor compiled into one official canon of Scripture for centuries! What did all these Early Christians do prior to the Bible being written? How did they know which books were authentic prior to the Councils of Hippo and Carthage in the late 4th century? Back to the point of self-authenticating, why did it take so long for the Bible to self-authenticate itself, and if this had already been done, why did these councils have to declare the canon (which differed from earlier declarations of canon by individuals)?


  9. All traditions are subject to the higher authority of Scripture.

White jumps to page 68 for his explanation of this one. He quotes Matthew 15:1-9, which deals with the Jewish "tradition of the elders" and relates this to the Catholic Traditions, which we received from Christ and the Apostles. White argues though that "no matter what its alleged pedigree, (the tradition) is to be tested by the known standard, the Holy Scriptures" (TRCC, p. 69). This is all well and good, but how do we interpret this standard? Even the scriptures themselves warn us against private interpretation. "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation" (2 Pet. 1:20).

We need an infallible interpreter to guide us on these matters. Sure, we can test Traditions with the Scriptures, but who validates the test? To say the Scriptures validate themselves is a circular argument. We need the Church, as guided by the Holy Spirit, to be final arbiter in these, and all, matters.


Again, we’ll use White summaries to conclude this section:

To summarize sola scriptura:

    1. Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith. (Self-refuting, this is not found in Scripture!)
    2. No other revelation is needed for the Church. (Scriptures refer to an oral tradition, 2 Thes. 2:15).
    3. There is no other infallible rule of faith outside of Scripture. (Repeat of #1).
    4. Scripture reveals those things necessary for salvation. (Scriptures say we must be taught "all things" yet they also refer to this oral tradition, so by necessity and even according to Scriptures, there is this oral tradition that is outside the Scriptures).
    5. All traditions are subject to the higher authority of Scripture. (The Church consists of the Written Tradition and the Oral Tradition. They are inseparable and the ultimate arbiter of both is and has been the Church. The Church settled on the Canon of Scriptures in the late 4th century and has made rulings on Traditions throughout her history).

On pages 62 through 67 White presents "The Biblical Basis of Sola Scriptura." Well, try as he might, there is no biblical basis. White cites 2 Timothy 3:14-17, but these verses deal with sufficiency, not exclusivity, or "sola." It is also interesting to note that White admits that Paul is referring to the Old Testament here, since Timothy would not have had any of the New Testament writings at that time. Which again brings us back to the point of what did those first Christians do without a New Testament? They relied, almost exclusively, on the oral traditions.

Still on the verse from Timothy, White compares the ability to equip the man of God sufficiently for every good work to a store owner that can " fully equip " a hiker to hike the Grand Canyon, (and the avid cyclist that White is/was, he has also used the bike store owner to equip the rider scenario). White states:

If I am a store owner who can "fully equip" a hiker to hike
the Grand Canyon--if I have the resources and abilities
to provide everything he needs in the way of supplies,
hiking gear, shoes, maps, food, etc.--does it not follow
that I am a sufficient source of supply to the hiker?
If that hiker has to go next door to another shop for a few
more things, and to a third shop for some things that
neither mine nor the other shop had, then none of us are
sufficient to equip the hiker. But if that hiker can come to
my shop alone and get everything he needs to accomplish
his task, then I can rightly call myself a sufficient equipper of
a hiker of the Grand Canyon.
In the exact same way the Scriptures are able to fully equip the
man of God so that he is able to do every good work.
OK, what if you are able to fully equip this hiker, but so is your competitor down the road? The analogy is rather weak, and even breaks down on that point. Your shop may be able to fully equip the hiker, but what if my shop can fully equip him with better equipment? You may get the hiker in and out of the Canyon, but my shop will do it with style!

Comments from a reader of this article, sent to me on November 11, 2002:

I am a freshman in college at Texas A&M and have recently had my first protestant vs catholic discussion. I love the article and wanted to throw in one simple statement to go along with the store and biker scenario. Yes, the store equips the biker with all that he needs, but if this person has never biked the grand canyon, or never hiked the grand canyon, how can he ever make it through. He can be equipped with all the tools in the world, but if he doesnt know how to use the tools, or what they are used for, how can he ever make it to the top of his hike, to the end of his cycling trip. Thats where the church steps in; the infallible authority to help us use the tools correctly, and know what they are there for. This helps us see further that if we try to figure out on OUR OWN what the different tools and objects are used for, and try to figure our how to use them ourselves, we will never make it...and this is clearly seen in all the 20,000+ protestant denominations trying to interperet in their OWN way how to use GODS tools. That is why the infallible church is give us Gods instructions, throw the Holy Spirit working through the church. I know you've probably gone over that already, but, just a thought into White's analogy proving his own way wrong, and incomplete. Thanks for your time,


The final section we will deal with is subtitled: "The Lord Jesus on the Authority of Scripture"

White uses the Lord's debate with the Sadducees in Matthew 22 as an example to prove that Our Lord was willing to base an argument on the words of Scripture. This is all well and good, but what about the time when Jesus says:

You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye,
and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, do not resist him
who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him
the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39)

So we see here Jesus taking that which was written in the Old Testament, and then saying "But I say..." So, clearly Jesus didn't believe in sola scriptura, or that the Scriptures were to be the sola regula fidei, and added His own (then) oral tradition.

In conclusion, I don't think I could have been any fairer in presenting the Protestant view of sola scriptura, at least the way James White teaches it. I have used extensive quotes from his own book, and yet we still find there is no true foundation for this "doctrine." White subtitles this chapter, "Sola Scriptura: God Speaks Clearly," well my friends, if God is speaking this so "clearly" and we are to accept this as THE regula fidei, wouldn't one expect to find this doctrine "clearly stated" in the Holy Scriptures?! Since the Scriptures themselves bear witness to the authority of an oral tradition that equally must be adhered to (2 Thes. 2:15). Bearing these in mind, White fails, as all other Protestant apologists have done so, in proving this doctrine. If this doctrine is not explicitly found in the Scriptures, and the Scriptures themselves refer to the oral traditions, then we must conclude that THIS is one of the man-made traditions that Jesus warns us of in Matthew 15:1-9!
Copyright © 1998, American Catholic Truth Society, Scott Windsor