This is part of a continuing series where I investigate the claims made by a pamphlet that was left for me asserting that Catholicism is not Christian. You can read the pamphlet in it’s entirety here: (page 1 and page 2). Today we’ll be discussing the section on page 2 entitled “Is The Bible Final Authority”.
Stumbling right out of the blocks
This section begins with a flawed assertion: “Catholics say no; men in their Church are.” This is simply not true. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly explains the appropriate orientation of the members of Christ’s faithful in Chapter 3, Article 9. A few relevant sections have been excerpted here:
871 “The Christian faithful are those who, inasmuch as they have been incorporated in Christ through Baptism, have been constituted as the people of God; for this reason, since they have become sharers in Christ’s priestly, prophetic, and royal office in their own manner, they are called to exercise the mission which God has entrusted to the Church to fulfill in the world, in accord with the condition proper to each one.”
872 “In virtue of their rebirth in Christ there exists among all the Christian faithful a true equality with regard to dignity and the activity whereby all cooperate in the building up of the Body of Christ in accord with each one’s own condition and function.”
873 The very differences which the Lord has willed to put between the members of his body serve its unity and mission. For “in the Church there is diversity of ministry but unity of mission. To the apostles and their successors Christ has entrusted the office of teaching, sanctifying and governing in his name and by his power. But the laity are made to share in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly office of Christ; they have therefore, in the Church and in the world, their own assignment in the mission of the whole People of God.” Finally, “from both groups [hierarchy and laity] there exist Christian faithful who are consecrated to God in their own special manner and serve the salvific mission of the Church through the profession of the evangelical counsels.” …
874 Christ is himself the source of ministry in the Church. He instituted the Church. He gave her authority and mission, orientation and goal[.]
The wording and phrasing here paints the full picture, culminating in section 874’s statement: “Christ is himself the source of ministry in the Church.” We are incorporated in Christ through Baptism and become sharers in his office and ministry. These are not words of an organization that puts itself before Christ, clearly we are sharer’s in Christ’s office and ministry because he made it so. It is in his name and by his power that the Church performs its important work.
Augustine, Sola Scriptura, and a Bible verse
The pamphlet continues with a quotation from Saint Augustine, intended to illustrate that Augustine deferred to the authority of the Catholic Church regarding the validity of the Gospel account. Why shouldn’t he? The Catholic Church is the organization responsible for discerning the work of the Holy Spirit and compiling the canon of Scripture in the first place. Said simply, the Church (under the power of the Holy Spirit) is where the Bible came from!
The paragraph continues to explain a bit about sola scriptura, which holds that the Bible is the final authority and quotes a verse from Acts regarding eagerly searching the Scriptures. Study of the Scriptures is a laudable practice (something that average Catholics fall short at, frankly). I’m certainly not going to spend any ink arguing with the sentiment in Acts.
What I will argue with is the notion that the Bible is the final authority. The Lord commands in the Great Commission:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” — Matthew 28:16-20 (NIV)
Notice that the Lord didn’t say “go forth and write a book” or “go forth and transmit only the written aspects of my teachings”. Instead, He commanded “everything I have commanded you.” This begs the question how this activity was transmitted before the early 3rd century? The answer: it was transmitted verbally by the apostles and the members of the early Church. They transmitted the Old Testament in the same way as it was before, incorporating written accounts of the epistles and Gospel accounts if they were available (accounts of the epistles already existing in written form can be found in the works of Justin Martyr in the early 2nd century).
Beyond this, the Gospel account has juicy little moments of intentional omission. One of my favorite examples of this is John 20:30:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.
Were these details unimportant? Doubtful. Instead, I like to believe that these details were omitted from the written account because they were witnessed in person and could be transmitted directly. Don’t misunderstand: the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God and is worthy of our ardent and prayerful study – like I said before, your average Catholic needs to do a better job at this! In asserting that it is the final authority you ignore the full value of the directly transmitted Truth of Christ’s ministry.
Strange citations and conclusions
Immediately following this, the author of the pamphlet makes an assertion that the Roman Catholic Church murdered many Christians for having a Bible. This seems strange, since they compiled the canon in the first place. Can you imagine how that conversation went? “Here, have this book that we compiled under the power of the Holy Spirit. Got it? Great. Now DIE.” With no citation or historical reference here, I have to chalk this up to nonsense and leave this one undefended.
The argument is then made that the “The two religions are diametrically opposed. Either God’s Word is the final authority, or man is; you can’t have two masters.” We don’t have two religions at war here, we’re all Christians (no matter how much the author of the pamphlet disagrees.) I can agree with the latter sentiment… God’s Word is the final authority, and you don’t have any men trying to deny that in the Catholic Church as far as I can see.
The difference: Catholics accept the full transmission of God’s Word, not only the written part. The Holy Spirit will indeed teach us everything.
I am currently reading a book that takes an in-depth look at 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura by Dave Armstrong. It explores what sola scriptura is (as defined by premiere Protestant apologists) and explores 100 arguments against the practice from Scripture itself. It has been a compelling read so far, check it out!