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SOLA SCRIPTURA: The Sufficiency of Scripture

By Dr. Rowland Ward

Part 1

From The Presbyterian Banner: July, 1996.

The following are notes by Dr. Ward for his debate with
Roman Catholic apologist, Mr Patrick Madrid in June, 1996.

 

(A) THE QUESTION: AUTHORITY

Our subject is a large one and we can hardly give adequate coverage in the time allowed, but hopefully the main points can be addressed. For the purpose of this debate the question is not ‘Does Scripture contain in one form or another all that is necessary to salvation? [material sufficiency], for on this I understand Mr Madrid and I are agreed, but ‘Is Scripture a sufficient and final court of appeal in matters of faith or morals?’ [formal sufficiency]. Fundamentally, therefore, we are dealing with the question of authority in regard to the Christian faith.
Roman Catholic position

The Roman Catholic position is that the Church is the custodian of revelation whether in the form of oral teaching or written Scripture and that the Church has an infallible teaching authority or magisterium which is essential in order for us to know both what writings are Scripture and the correct interpretation of their content.
Thus, in the words of Vatican II document Dei Verbum (1965):

“Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. Sacred Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching. Thus it comes about that the Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scripture alone. Hence both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal feelings of devotion and reverence… Sacred tradition and sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit, which is entrusted to the Church… But the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone…Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it…. It is clear, therefore, that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others…'[1]”
Although this is not an infallible declaration it reflects much of what was said by the Council of Trent in 1546, which is regarded as infallible. Today also, in current exegetical work by Roman Catholics, it is abundantly clear that dogma as defined in Sacred Tradition is what binds and not Scripture in its simplicity.

 

The Protestant position

The historic Protestant position does not say that right reason and the historical witness of the believing community are irrelevant to identifying what books are Scripture, any more than it teaches that grammatical knowledge and background information from archaeology or history or the believing community are of no value in assisting in interpreting Scripture correctly. But it affirms that:

1. the Word God spoke through apostles and prophets and intended for the direction of his church is now found only in sacred Scripture,

2. the teaching of Scripture is sufficiently clear on the main things so as to be able to make ordinary people wise for salvation and to equip for every good work,

3. ultimate certainty as to the authority of the Word of God written comes from the witness of the Spirit of God in the believer’s heart, and

4. Scripture is a sufficient and final court of appeal in matters of faith and morals.

 

 

 

Read the entire article here.

Does The Bible Teach Sola Scriptura?

James White vs. Patrick Madrid
September 28, 1993
Bayview Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Chula Vista, California

Format: 20-minute opening statement (each)
10-minute rebuttal presentation (JW)
10-minute return rebuttal (PM)
cross-examination period (4 total questions)
– 30-second question
– 2-minute response
– 1-minute rebuttal
– 1-minute return rebuttal
12-minute closing statement (each)

JW: OPENING STATEMENT (20 minutes). Good evening, it’s good to be with you. I’m very thankful to the church for allowing us to be here. I need to thank all of you San Diegans. I understand there’s a big push on to make this a very friendly city. And I think it’s very friendly of you to bring in Phoenix weather, just for me, while I’m here. Very kind of you. Except in Phoenix all of our buildings have air conditioners. And you need to, sort of, put those two things together and that will make things a whole lot easier.

There have always been those who have refused to give the Scriptures their proper place. There have always been those who wished to add to Scripture their own authority and the unique teachings that set them apart. Indeed, Basil of Caesarea ran into some of the same problems long ago in replying to his opponents who appealed to their customs and traditions as relevant and authoritative. He said, “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 cast the vote of truth.”

And so we gather this evening to debate the same question. Is the Bible the sole and infallible rule of faith for the Church? Or must we have other revelation from God? Do we need the Book of Mormon, or the writings of the Watchtower, or Mary Baker Eddy, or the so-called Apostolic unwritten traditions of Rome? Does the Bible teach its own sufficiency to function as the sole rule of faith for the Church?

Well, we must begin by defining the doctrine under discussion this evening. And let me begin by defining what the doctrine of sola scriptura does not say.

First of all, it is not a claim that the Bible contains all knowledge. The Bible is not exhaustive in every detail. John 21:25 speaks to the fact that there are many things that Jesus said and did that are not recorded in John, or in fact in any book in the world because the whole books of the world could not contain it. But the Bible does not have to be exhaustive to function as the sole rule of faith for the Church. We do not need to know the color of Thomas’ eyes. We do not need to know the menu of each meal of the Apostolic band for the Scriptures to function as the sole rule of faith for the Church.

Secondly, it is not a denial of the Church’s authority to teach God’s truth. I Timothy 3:15 describes the Church as “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” The truth is in Jesus Christ and in His Word. The Church teaches truth and calls men to Christ and, in so doing, functions as the pillar and foundation thereof. The Church does not add revelation or rule over Scripture. The Church being the bride of Christ, listens to the Word of Christ, which is found in God-breathed Scripture.

Thirdly, it is not a denial that God’s Word has been spoken. Apostolic preaching was authoritative in and of itself. Yet, the Apostles proved their message from Scripture, as we see in Acts 17:2, and 18:28, and John commended those in Ephesus for testing those who claimed to be Apostles, Revelation 2:2. The Apostles were not afraid to demonstrate the consistency between their teaching and the Old Testament.

And, finally, sola scriptura is not a denial of the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding and enlightening the Church.

What then is sola scriptura?

The doctrine of sola scriptura, simply stated, is that the Scriptures and the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regula fide, the “rule of faith” for the Church. All that one must believe to be a Christian is found in Scripture and in no other source. That which is not found in Scripture is not binding upon the Christian conscience. To be more specific, I provide the following definition:

The Bible claims to be the sole and sufficient rule of faith for the Christian Church. 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 at the Scriptures as the only and sufficient rule of faith and the Church is always subject to the Word, and is constantly reformed thereby.

Now, given this, I would like to explain how I plan on winning my debate this evening with Mr. Madrid. Sola scriptura is both a positive and a negative statement.

Positively, the doctrine teaches that the Bible is sufficient to function as the sole, infallible rule of faith for the Church. Negatively, it denies the existence of any other rule of faith as being necessary for the man of God. Hence, logically, I must do the following things:

First, I must demonstrate that the Bible teaches that it is A rule of faith for the Church.

Secondly, I must demonstrate that the Bible is sufficient to function as the sole rule of faith for the Church, that is, I must demonstrate its sufficiency, or in the language used in the New Testament itself, that the Bible is artios.

And, thirdly, I must demonstrate that the Bible as a sufficient rule of faith does not refer us to any other rule of faith.

Absent the demonstration on Mr. Madrid’s part of some other rule of faith, the preceding is sufficient to establish the fact that the Bible teaches the doctrine of sola scriptura.

Now, some opponents of sola scriptura have engaged in what can only be called cheap debating tricks in attempting to force the defender of Scriptural sufficiency to prove a “universal negative.” That is, the less honest debater might attempt to force me to prove the non-existence of another rule of faith. Since I am saying that Scripture is unique in its function as the rule of faith for the Church, some might challenge me to demonstrate that no other rule of faith could possibly exist. To illustrate this, I call your attention to my pen. Yes, to my pen!

If our debate this evening was that I was going to stand here and say that this is the only pen of its kind in all the universe, how would I go about proving it? Well, the only way I could prove the statement “there is no other pen like this in all the universe,” is if I looked in all of your purses, and all of your shirt pockets, and in all the stores in the world that carry pens, and look through all the houses, and all over the planet Earth, and the Moon, and the planets in the Solar System, and in the entire universe, looking for another pen like this. And, of course, I could not do that. But it would be very easy for Mr. Madrid to win that debate. All he needs to do is go out, get a Cross Medallist pen, walk up here, hold it right next to mine, and say, “See! Another pen, just like yours!” and he’s won the debate.

In light of this, I would assert that Mr. Madrid must either recognize this reality, and not attempt to win this debate by doing nothing more than depending upon an illogical demand; or, he must demonstrate the existence of “the other pen.” That is, he must prove to us what the Council of Trent said was true. I quote, “It also clearly perceives that these truths and rules are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions, which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down to us, transmitted as it were, from hand to hand.”

Hence, I shall demonstrate that the Bible teaches its sufficiency to function as the sole rule of faith for the Church and, if Mr. Madrid wishes to attempt to show us some other rule of faith, I will gladly respond to such an attempt.

Now, the doctrine of sola scriptura is based upon the inspiration of Scripture. Our primary passage this evening, I hope you have your Bibles with you, will be found in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. The gentlemen from Catholic Answers have made it a practice for years to assert that Protestants cannot provide a single verse that teaches sola scriptura. Yet, they are quite mistaken in this, though they have been corrected a number of times in the past, and let us examine the passage to see if this is the case. II Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction, for training in righteousness, in order that the man of God might be complete, fully equipped for every good work.”

We begin by noting that Scripture is theopneustos, “God-breathed.” The term is very strong. I refer anyone who wishes a full discussion of this term to B.B. Warfield’s excellent treatment of it. That which is theopneustos has ultimate authority, for there can be no higher authority than God’s very speaking. “All Scripture is God-breathed.”

It is common for Roman Catholic apologists to follow an error made by John Henry Cardinal Newman, with reference to this passage. Indeed, Karl Keating, Patrick’s associate at Catholic Answers, makes the same mistake in his book, Catholicism and Fundamentalism. And he repeated it again only recently during a debate on this subject in Denver during the papal visit. Newman said that if this verse proves the sufficiency of Scripture, it proves too much, for Paul is talking here only of the Old Testament, which would leave the New Testament as an unnecessary addition. But such is not Paul’s point at all. Scripture, Paul’s point is, if it is Scripture at all, is God-breathed. Paul is not speaking about the extent of the canon but the nature of Scripture itself as originating in God. All Scripture then, including the New Testament, is God-breathed.

Because Scripture is God-breathed, and hence represents God’s very voice speaking, it is profitable for the work of the ministry in the Church of Jesus Christ. We are told that the work of teaching, and rebuking, and correcting, and training in righteousness, can be undertaken due to the nature of Scripture as God-breathed. What is Paul’s point?

The Church is not left without the voice of God. For when the Church listens to Scripture, she is hearing her Lord speaking to her. The authority of the Church then, in teaching, and rebuking, and instructing, is derived, despite Roman Catholic claims to the contrary, from Scripture itself.

Now, Mr. Madrid will certainly disagree for, in addressing this very passage less than fifty days ago in a debate on this topic, he said, speaking specifically of verse 16, “I defy you to show me where it says ‘sufficient,’ in your remarks you said, when you cited II Timothy 3:16, you said, ‘sufficient,’ but that is not what the Bible teaches.” Of course, no one asserts that the term, “profitable,” in verse 16, equates to “sufficiency.” When his opponents referred him to verse 17, Mr. Madrid said, “Well, 17 doesn’t say ‘sufficient’ either! 17 says, ‘that, so the one that belongs to God may be competent and equipped for every good work.’ That does not teach sufficiency. Where does the Bible teach that it is sufficient?” Is Mr. Madrid correct here? Well, let’s see.

Verse 17 continues the thought of verse 16. The fact that the Church has God’s voice always present with her in God-breathed Scripture, means the man of God, specifically here, of course, Timothy, but I doubt anyone would disagree that these comments refer to all those who belong to Christ and who are a part of His body, the Church, might be complete, fully equipped for every good work.

The first term to examine, is the adjective translated, “complete,” the Greek term, a[rtios” (artios). We note that it is related in its root to the second term we will examine, the verb which is translated, “fully equipped,” that being the verb, ejxartivzw (exartizo). Paul is here providing us with a play on words–the verb compounding and emphasizing the meaning present in the adjective.

Now, the term, a[rtios”, Vine tells us means, “fitted, complete.” Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker tell us the term means, “complete, capable, proficient.” That is, as they say, “able to meet all demands,” giving the specific citation of II Timothy 3:17 as the reference. One of the newest lexical resources, Louw and Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon Based on Semantic Domains, uses the term, “qualified” as well. The great Greek scholar, Richard Trench, in his Synonyms of the New Testament, said with reference to this term, “If we ask ourselves under what special aspects ‘completeness’ is contemplated in artios, it would be safe to answer that it is not as the presence only of all the parts which are necessary for that ‘completeness’, but involves, further, the adaptation and aptitude of these parts for the ends which they were designed to serve. The man of God, St. Paul would say, should be furnished and accomplished with all which is necessary for the carrying out of the work to which he is appointed.”

I pause only long enough to note that Paul here asserts that the man of God can be complete, capable, proficient, and qualified because he has available to him, always, God’s inspired Scriptures. Surely, here Paul would have to direct us to any and all other rules of faith that we would need to be complete but, he does not.

But, Paul was not satisfied to merely state that the man of God may be a[rtios”, “complete,” but, he goes on to define what he means. “Fully equipped for every good work.” The term is ejxartivzw, here in the perfect-passive-participial form, the prefix, ex, having, as Robertson noted, the perfective force. Vine tells us that here in II Timothy, it means “to fit out, that is, to furnish completely.” Bauer, Arndt Gingrich and Danker expressed this with the term, “equip.” Hendrickson makes reference to a related term, katartizw (katartizo), and it’s use at Luke 6:40, where it is translated, “fully trained.” We see here, then, that Paul teaches that the man of God is thoroughly or completely equipped for every good work. Now, what does it mean to say that one “is fully equipped,” if not to say that one is sufficient for a task?

I have recently taken up long-distance bicycle riding, and I’ve found a lovely little bike shack, a bike store where they are able to give me everything that I need, the clothes and the gloves and the helmet and the bike and the tires and the tubes, which you need a lot–they are able to fully equip me for the task of riding a bike. Does that not mean then, that they are sufficient as equippers for their task? Most definitely it does!

We further see, the Scriptures can equip the man of God for every good work. Now, Mr. Madrid, do you not believe that it is a good work to pray to Mary? Yet, the Scriptures nowhere teach this. Do you not believe that it is good to believe and teach that Mary was bodily assumed into Heaven? Yet, the Bible does not teach this. Do you not believe that the man of God should teach, in the Church, that the pope, in Rome, is infallible in his teaching office? Yet, the Scriptures know nothing of such a concept.

We see then, that the Roman position is contradicted by that of the Apostle. For he knew of no other rule of faith that was necessary so that the man of God could be equipped for every good work. No other rule of faith, that is, than the Scriptures.

But, finally, we remember Mr. Madrid’s challenge to show him a verse that teaches sufficiency. Mr. Madrid, I would like to direct you to the Scriptural standard, “by the mouth of two or three witnesses shall a fact be established.” I first refer you to Louw and Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon, where we encounter the definition given for the semantic domain of ejxartivzw, I quote, “To make someone completely adequate, or sufficient for something; to make adequate, to furnish completely, to cause to be fully qualified; adequacy.” They translate our passage as, “completely qualified for every good deed.” While Louw and Nida give us two witnesses, I wish to direct you as well to the well-known scholarly resource by Fritz Reinecker and Cleon Rogers, entitled Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. Here, we find the following, in regards to both terms, here in verse 17: “a[rtios”: fit, complete, capable, sufficient, i.e., able to meet all demands; ejxartivzw: completely outfitted, fully furnished, fully equipped, fully supplied.”

Hence, we see the following:

Number 1: Paul here teaches that the Bible is A rule of faith. For he says the Church’s function of teaching and rebuking and instructing is to be based upon God-inspired Scriptures.

Number 2: We see that this passage teaches the sufficiency of the Scriptures to function in this way.

And, number 3: We see that Paul not only does not refer us to another rule of faith, but implicitly denies the necessity of such a rule of faith by his teaching on the ability of Scripture to completely equip the man of God.

 

 

 

Read the entire debate here.